Combining exhaustive archival research in Chinese language sources and oral history interviews, Renqiu Yu examines the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance (CHLA), an organization that originated in 1933 to help Chinese laundrymen break their isolation from American society. Yu brings to life the men who labored in New York hand laundries, depicting their meager existence, their struggles against discrimination and exploitation, and their attempts to change the power structure in the Chinese community. The persistent efforts of the CHLA succeeded in changing the laundrymen's status in American society and improving the image of the Chinese among the American public. Yu is especially concerned with the political activities of the CHLA, which was founded in reaction to racist behavior by white competitors and to proposed New York City legislation that would have put the Chinese laundrymen out of business. When the conservative Chinese social organization - the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association - proved ineffectual in helping the laundrymen, they broke with tradition and created their own organization. Not only did the CHLA succeed in reducing the legislative requirements that would have closed down the Chinese hand laundries, but its "people's diplomacy" subsequently took up the cause of providing aid to China during its war with Japan and winning American support for China in that war. The CHLA staged a campaign in the 1930s and 40s that took as its slogan, "To Save China, To Save Ourselves". Focusing on this campaign, Yu also examines the complex relationship between the democratically-oriented CHLA and the Chinese American left in the 1930s.
Renqiu Yu is Associate Professor of History in the Division of Humanities at Purchase College, State University of New York.
Acknowledgments Chinese Names and Transliteration Introduction 1. Chinese Laundrymen in New York City 2. The Emergence of the CHLA 3. The Alliance Is for the Laundrymen 4. "To Save China, To Save Ourselves" 5. "The People's Diplomacy" 6. The Struggle Over a Penny 7. Where Is the Gold Mountains? Conclusion Notes Bibliography Index
"Through extensive research of Chinese newspapers, such as China Daily News, and internal organizational documents, leavened with interviews of two dozen elderly Chinese laundrymen, Yu has reconstructed the political history o the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance (CHLA)... Aside from documenting the history of an important labor organization and giving voice to the oppressed Chinese laundrymen, Yu has written one of the few works that focus on the Chinese on the East Coast during the Twentieth century." --The Journal of Asian Studies "Yu's work, well-written and thoroughly researched, chronicles the CHLA's diverse successes and failures. To Save China is a good addition to the literature on Asian immigrants..." --Choice "Drawing upon Chinese-language sources, oral interviews, and FBI files, Yu has produced a rich and complex history of the CHLA." --The Journal of American History "[T]his study is a major contribution to Chinese American history, Asian American Studies, and American immigration history." --Amerasia Journal
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