Introduction

Leaving China & the
Journey Across the
Pacific

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early
Chinatowns

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at
Work

Educational
Opportunities

Women in Cultural
Work

The Great Depression
and War

Conclusion

Additional Resources


 

 

 

“The Living Chinese”
Exhibited under the auspices of P.T. Barnum, proprietor of American and Chinese museums New York and Barnum’s Museum Philadelphia.
From L to R: Miss Pwam-Ye-Koo, aged 17 years a young lady with feet 2-1/2 inches long.  Miss Lum-Akum, aged 23 years her maid servant. Miss Amoon, aged 7 years, Master Mun-Chung, aged 5 years, son and daughter of the professor. Mr. Aleet-Mong, aged 18 years an interpreter.  Mr. Soo-Chune, aged 32 years, professor of Music.
Library of Congress, control number 2002708598

In 1850, P. T. Barnum’s traveling exhibition advertised the “most extraordinary curiosity yet,” and displayed Chinese women and their families as “exotic curios.” “Miss Pwan-Yekoo, the Chinese belle, with her Chinese suite of attendants, is drawing all Broadway to the Chinese collection. She is so pretty, so arch, so lively, and so graceful, while her minute feet are wondrous!” 4

Audiences found these exhibits and demonstrations “unusual”, “peculiar”, and “exotic”.  Large crowds attended the Chinese women’s “acts,” which again included lessons on how to count and speak in Chinese, and play Chinese instruments and use chopsticks.  Such shows gave rise to the earliest stereotype of Chinese women as foreign curiosities.

By marketing Chinese women as a form of public entertainment, businessmen like P.T. Barnum and the Carne Brothers developed and exploited a sensationalist mass culture in America, instructing American audiences to view the Chinese, especially Chinese women, as human oddities.