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Reviews

Tracy Lai, writing in International Examiner, July 30, 2014.

“Seligman describes Wong as having 'become someone who owed much to both cultures but was fully at home in neither—a Chinese American.' As a third generation Chinese American, I would add that as more Chinese Americans made their homes and communities in the United States, over time, we have made a new home: Chinese America. We don’t have to choose between places anymore." MORE

L. Ling-chi Wang, writing in the Journal of Chinese Studies, January, 2014.

The biography [Seligman] gave us provides a comprehensive portrait of a visionary, determined, articulate, and literate Chinese American who tirelessly took on the nation, through writings and public speaking tours in defense of Chinese immigrants’ rights not only to be in the U.S., like immigrants from countries throughout the world, but also to be citizens of the United States. He spoke in flawless, eloquent, and at times, biting and sarcastic English. He also showed a high degree of political sophistication rare in his days among Chinese in the United States. . . He was, in short, a Chinese American defender, advocate, and celebrity par excellence. . .

We owe Seligman a debt of gratitude for rescuing Wong Chin Foo from anonymity and amnesia. He unearthed massive documents from the dustbin of history and produced a well-documented, readable and indeed, inspiring biography through which we finally heard an authentic voice from Chinese America. This is a gift not just to Chinese America but to America as well.” MORE

Teow Lim Goh, writing in The Philadelphia Review of Books, September 19, 2013.

“As a biographer, Seligman is informative and entertaining. He quotes from articles by and about Wong liberally, often to great comic effect. He does not shrink from Wong’s contradictions even as he champions his achievements. He shows us the Wong who wrote that the educated Chinese should have equal rights to the slaves from the African jungle. He insists that Wong, as one of the first Chinese in America who publicly wrestled with his identity, at home neither among the Chinese nor the whites, defined a path for generations of Chinese Americans to come. And in writing Wong’s story, he also draws a portrait of American society during the Chinese exclusion era and by implication, questions America’s self-belief as the land of the free.” MORE

Tamara Treichel, writing in Asian Fortune, September 2013.

“Wong Chin Foo (1847-1898) was a real man with the flair of a Chinese American trickster hero, and he is brought back to life in Scott D. Seligman's new book . . . Throughout, Seligman stays true to historical sources and keeps his prose clean and controlled as suits a serious biography. Yet his narrative is so fast-paced and suspenseful that it will keep you turning the pages to see what the protean Wong is up to next.” MORE

Julianne Hing, writing for the Color Lines website, July 31, 2013.

“Seligman’s book is about Wong Chin Foo, a Chinese immigrant who . . . got caught in the middle of the debate about Chinese exclusion. [He] established a civil rights organization of Chinese-Americans in the United States [and] also used theater and sarcasm against the white supremacists. For instance, as a farcical critique of missionaries from the West who were trying to establish Christianity in China he set up a Chinese mission to establish Confucianism in the West. . . He was involved in freeing Chinese women who were forced into prostitution so he got into a lot of trouble with the Chinatown establishment. [Wong] was a real radical.” MORE

Rebecca Chang, writing for the Chinese Historical Society of America website, June 13, 2013.

Wong’s story is one of a brash and sharp-tongued public figure that never shied away from using courtrooms and newspapers to draw attention to the prevailing racist perceptions of the Chinese that provided the impetus for the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and Geary Act. It’s during this time of Chinese exclusion that popular societal views characterized the Chinese as being perpetual foreigners who were inherently incapable of becoming wholly American. Yet Wong, as Seligman demonstrates throughout the book, is able to find balance between these two identities. This confluence of two identities – Chinese and American, as in Wong’s case, – often involves a negotiation between two seemingly dichotomous aspects of one’s culture and history, and is a common experience that will resonate with immigrants today.” MORE

“美国学者出新书《华裔第一人王清福》, 僑報, June 14, 2013.

“ 王清福于1883年在纽约创办了第一份华文周报,名为《美华新报》,报纸的英文名称为 “Chinese American,” 这使王清福成为第一个创造和使用“华裔”这个名词的人,他希望以此来呼吁自己的同胞以美国化的方式来捍卫自己的权利。他还成立了第一个华人选民协会,并动员华人团结起来抵制“排华法案”。王清福同时也写了不少英文文章,发表在《北美评论》(North American Review)等英文期刊上。他并撰文来反驳当时美国社会对于华人食品的歧视.” MORE

Ann White, writing in the Washington Independent Review of Books, May 29, 2013.

“Is he an American civil rights champion, an asserter of China’s cultural superiority, or a bit of both? However puzzling Wong Chin Foo may be, about his biographer’s thoroughness there is no puzzle. Scott Seligman seems to have learned all that can be known about Wong Chin Foo’s activities in the United States. He organizes the book’s chapters year by year through Wong’s life and he footnotes his findings. An appendix has a list of Wong’s published works, 140 newspaper and periodical articles published between 1874 and 1897. . . And Seligman’s enthusiasm matches his thoroughness. In the preface he writes that he would have “enjoyed knowing this colorful and passionate man.” His enthusiasm for Wong animates his biography. The company of the first Chinese American may well charm the reader of the book, though perhaps puzzle and infuriate as well. MORE

Vanessa Ko, writing in the South China Morning Post, May 19, 2013.

“Wong Chin Foo did not manage to hold on to his celebrity posthumously: most Chinese Americans would not recognise his name today. But in the 1870s and '80s, Wong's fame was such that his antics were routinely covered in major papers such as the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. And it was no wonder. Not only was Wong one of the first Chinese to successfully gain U.S. citizenship and adopt American ways, making him stand out as an intriguing oddball, but he was also a gifted orator with a flair for the dramatic. MORE

Alfred Doyle, writing in That's Beijing, May 15, 2013.

“Scott D. Seligman’s vivid account of his life posits that Wong Chin Foo . . . was the first to conceive of himself as a Chinese American in the modern sense. He founded a newspaper of that name and indeed may have coined the term. He was a man with strong beliefs, great enthusiasm, impressive courage and a knack for self-marketing far exceeding his business skills. Most impressively, he was an advocate of the interests of the Chinese in America during an era of blatant racism and anti-Chinese legislation. This is the most fascinating part of the book, with a clear explanation of the anti-immigrant backlash of the late 19th century, a period when white Americans felt threatened by the thousands of Chinese laborers undercutting wages. MORE

Susan H. Gordon, writing in Biographile, April 16, 2013.

The First Chinese American, the biography of Wong Chin Foo -- nineteenth-century coiner of the term 'Chinese-American,' early campaigner for racial equality, and founder of a newspaper dedicated to the cause -- will make for lively reading when it arrives in bookstore next month. His biographer Scott D. Seligman reintroduces us to one of the most colorful figures in recent U.S. history, giving full attention to [Wong's] standing before Congress to battle laws that denied citizenship to Chinese immigrants, his outspoken appeals to fellow Americans to extend their principles of equality to their Chinese neighbors, and to his claim to being the first Confucian missionary to the United States.

 Peter Gordon, writing in the Asian Review of Books, April 11, 2013.

“Seligman’s achievement, in my eyes anyway, is to make Wong come alive as an individual — and an individual he most certainly was. He seems to have been a poseur, intellectual butterfly, hopeless when it came to women, a serial (if serially unsuccessful) entrepreneur, showman, a Chinese patriot and dissident, a good friend to many and a thorn in side to many others — both Chinese and whites. He was beaten up, imprisoned and threatened with death more than once. He fought, debated, lectured, lobbied and never knew when to hold his peace. He comes across as naive, annoying, impulsive, utterly committed to his cause of the moment — an American who threw himself head-first into the rough and tumble of American life . . .

“Seligman manages to be complete but never boring. This is a satisfying book, whether as an entertaining biography of an American (and Wong was American) original, as an evocative history of post-Civil War America, or as an in-depth introduction to the Chinese struggle for equal rights.”  MORE

Nicole Merritt, writing for Myshelf.com, May 19, 2013.

“This is a very inspiring story as well as an interesting time in American and Chinese history . . . Wong Chin Foo . . . would champion the injustices of the hyphenated Americans of the nineteenth century the rest of his life. He became a social activist, being mentioned in more than 3,000 newspapers, when Chinese in American small towns were nearly non-existent. I recommend this book highly as a unique and inspiring story and admire Seligman for his ability to pass this on to other Americans for their reading enjoyment.. MORE


John Kuo Wei Tchen, Associate Professor of History and Founding Director of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute, New York University

“Wong Chin Foo was the earliest, most visible Chinese public advocate speaking and writing in English for the rights of Chinese in the U.S. But until now nothing has been published about his personal history and very little about his significance to the story of Chinese Americans and the Chinese diaspora. Scott Seligman has rescued Wong's life story and placed him into a larger context, including economics in China, Christian missionary work, anti-Chinese legislation in the U.S. and the American press. A thorough researcher and an engaging writer, Seligman has years of experience in China, knows Chinese, and has accessed records others have not consulted. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable narrative that adds significantly to our knowledge of the late-19th and early-20th century history of the Chinese in north America.

Marsha Cohan, Director, Chinese Program, Maret School

“Loved it! I found The First Chinese American full of life and color. It describes a real human who tried lots of things and failed at some, but never stopped trying. There was nothing ‘inevitable’ about Wong Chin Foo's career. He took a brave and moral stance in favor of civil rights and justice, but at the same time was capable of running out without paying a hotel bill. Wong’s tale shows that at least one Chinese didn't fit the image of the docile, pidgin-speaking coolie we have been fed for so long. For this alone it is worth the cover price!”

Renqiu Yu, Professor of History, Purchase College, State University of New York

“Scott Seligman, based on exhaustive research of both English and Chinese sources, presents a brilliant narrative of not only the colorful stories of this man of unusual energy, determination and resilience, but also the historical process in which he evolved to be a Chinese American. Seligman, a skillful historian and writer, renders very well Wong Chin Foo’s faith in the founding principles of the United States, his articulation of the Chinese identification with these principles and his tenacious fight for fairness and equality under the most difficult conditions. Readers will find this a fascinating and rewarding read.

Edward J. M. Rhoads, Professor Emeritus in History, University of Texas at Austin

“Though born in China, Wong Chin Foo lived in the United States from 1873 to 1898, during which time he was a lecturer on things Chinese, a journalist and newspaper publisher, and a political organizer. His lectures and his political advocacy were what made him a highly controversial figure in late nineteenth-century America. The research is of scholarly quality, but the writing is conversational in tone. Illustrations abound. The book should appeal to a scholarly audience as well as to a general audience.

Helen Zia, Author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People

“With his masterful storytelling and meticulous research, Scott Seligman reveals new insights into American life through the trials and tribulations of a fearless U.S. citizen, Wong Chin Foo, the first self-declared Chinese American. Wong's quest for equality and his campaigns against vice in early Chinatowns despite numerous assassination attempts are fascinating and largely unknown. This book is a must-read for everyone interested in American and Chinese history.”

Hsuan L. Hsu, Associate Professor of English, University of California, Davis

“In this lively, balanced and meticulously researched portrait of Wong Chin Foo’s adventures as an author, journalist, lecturer, political organizer, Confucian preacher, immigration inspector and entrepreneur, Seligman greatly enhances our understanding of the social and political conditions of early Chinese migrants in the U.S.”

Raymond Lum, Librarian for the Western Languages Collection, Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University

“Thoroughly researched and documented and elegantly written, Seligman’s The First Chinese American is an important contribution to Chinese-American history. Very little of what Seligman has discovered about Wong Chin Foo has been presented in standard publications on the Chinese in the United States, which rarely focus in such depth on individuals.”

Keith Harper, Professor of Baptist Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Wong Chin Foo converted to Christianity in the mid-nineteenth century, came to America, ultimately abandoned his faith and in the process became the 'first Chinese American.' Meticulously researched and well-written, Scott Seligman's biography fills a significant gap in Asian-American history. Highly recommended!”

   

The Remarkable
Life of 

Wong Chin Foo

Wang Fan, great-great-grand grandson of Wong Chin Foo (left), and Wang Xiangzhen, his great-grandson, pose with the author. The Wang family has been very generous in its assistance with this book.

 Wong’s dispute with the Canadian government over payment of a $50 head tax was the subject of a satirical – and racist – cartoon by John Wilson Bengough in Grip, a Canadian humor magazine.

Wong almost certainly knew Dr. Sun Yat-sen. When Sun was freed from incarceration at the Chinese Embassy in London in 1896, he released a letter from Wong testifying to the strength of his movement among Chinese in America. 

A four-minute clip about Wong Chin Foo - an excerpt from the 2003 Bill Moyers special, Becoming American: The Chinese Experience - can be found on the web here. The video may be purchased in its entirety from PBS by clicking on the image at right.

 
   
   
 
© 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 Scott D. Seligman