The Paris Review

The Missing Images of Chinese Immigrants

Still from The Curse of Quon Gwon (1917)

The first known Chinese woman in America was nineteen-year-old Afong Moy, who arrived in New York City in 1834 on the steamship Washington. Three weeks later, she was put on display as part of an exhibit called the “Chinese Saloon.” For fifty cents, New Yorkers could purchase a ticket to gawk.

Afong Moy sat from ten to two  and then three  to five  daily. She performed for the crowds by using chopsticks and speaking in Chinese. Eventually she toured up and down the East Coast, and by 1848 was performing as part of a P. T. Barnum show. Then, her popularity eventually waned, and by 1850, she’d been replaced. There are no more records of what became of Afong Moy. All that remains is a black-and-white drawing of her performance that appeared in a newspaper. She appears as a tiny, round-faced woman seated on a large chair in the middle of her exhibition space, surrounded by paper lanterns and

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