Robert Wells Voices of the South China Sea


Voices from the Bottom of the South China Sea represents new U.S. and Chinese History that will provide a fresh and intimate look about the first critical years of U.S.-China trans-Pacific trade and implementation of the Burlingame Treaty from 1868-1875.  Although most Asia-Pacific studies curriculum regarding late 19th Century relations between the U.S. and China seize on the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act as a starting point to assess the broader U.S.-China relationship, a story that reveals the post-U.S. Civil War and Chinese Taiping period of Chinese relations during the 1868-1874 timeframe provides readers and undergraduate and Asia-Pacific graduate students with a fresh perspective on the beginnings of U.S.-China relations under the Burlingame Treaty, insight into the economic forces that compelled the greatest migration of Chinese labor in history and a new appreciation of the trans-Pacific “magic carpet ride” ushered in by the world’s largest passenger steamships of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company.

Using a primary source research methodology to maintain the period’s context and to stay as authentic as possible, a story narrative has been painstakingly pieced together to describes how the Chinese left their homes in Guangdong (Kwangtung) Province to work in Gum Shan or “Gold Mountain” via San Francisco during the critically important years from 1868 to 1874.

The Voices story is historic and is represents an important contribution to Asian-Pacific or Chinese studies’ programs by shedding light on this overlooked period of U.S.-China relations by describing the “how” behind the transport of the largest migration of Chinese citizens from 1868 Imperial China to San Francisco in U.S. and Chinese history.

Readers will also have the opportunity to discover the final resting place of the shipwreck and the souls of the Chinese emigrating under the new Burlingame Treaty to advertised job opportunities in America.

Conclusions and Findings:

  • Voices represents the untold story of America’s largest Chinese emigrant disaster
  • Recalls the largest Chinese emigration in history-instructive in today’s political climate.
  • Dramatically introduces to the world a U.S. flagged treasure ship in Chinese waters in the geopolitically hot South China Sea.
  • Provides a modern day discovery opportunity. An archeological memorial wreck site in the South China Sea awaits treasure discovery and ancestor ceremonial honor by millions of Chinese descendants. This honor runs deep in Confucian tradition that one’s soul cannot be released to heaven until it rests in China. The emigrants made it home to China and their resting place can now be revealed
  • Restores a famous ship to her rightful place in history-at the heart of the “China Question” in U.S. politics, the 1875 Page Act and the road to the historic 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
  • Identifies ground zero of the “China Question” in late 19th century along the San Francisco waterfront and the docks of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (just over the present left-field wall of the San Francisco Giants ballpark) along today’s “China Basin.” Walking the China Basin today, you can still imagine the arrival of each steamer from China. Along the third-class gangplank walked cheap Chinese emigrant labor, wealthy Chinese merchants, and the infamous Chinese Maidens, crossing paths with rough-edged seamen lugging back aboard heavy containers of silver-dollar treasure bound for China’s tea and silk trade. Along the first-class gangplank walked the agents of the Central Pacific railroad’s “Big 4”—Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker, who travelled to China to recruit “half a million” Chinese, leading to the historic 1868 arrival of the Imperial Chinese delegation and their Envoy, Anson Burlingame. The historic Burlingame Treaty-ushered in “most favored nation” trade for “free passage of emigrant labor.”
  • Links the Chinese emigrants by region to the ship’s they journeyed on (U.S. immigration history is rich with chronicles of the European diaspora’s journey to America-the Chinese passage across the Pacific during this period is not available for scholars.)
  • Provides an unexpected rendezvous with Samuel Clemens becoming Mark Twain during his final visit ever to San Francisco, with his Innocents Abroad manuscript in hand.  Twain referred to the Japan as a “Perfect Palace of a ship” upon her first arrival in San Francisco after her transit from New York.
  • Recalls the legal Supreme Court legacy originating from sensational front-page lightning rod represented by the Chinese Maiden women prostitutes being trafficked into Chinatown, who arrived on the SS Japanon a precedingvoyage. Their sensational habeas corpus trial process would end up in the highest court whose judgment remains the landmark Chy Lung vs. Freeman (92.US.275) 1875 Supreme Court ruling which clarified the power of the states to regulate immigration and the rights of the Burlingame Treaty for all Chinese to freely immigrate. Significantly, it was the first case regarding the right of access to equal protection of the laws under the 14th Amendment to the constitution.
  • Remains the largest side-wheel passenger steamship in the world when lost in 1874.