A Chinese Immigrant Reacts to the Statue of Liberty
This letter, originally published in the New York Sun in 1885, was written by Saum Song Bo in response to a fund-raising campaign for the building of a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Three years earlier, Congress had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, barring the further immigration of Chinese to America and denying Chinese the right to become naturalized U.S. citizens. The French, who donated the Statue of Liberty to the U.S. were at the time colonizing Vietnam, home of the Annamese and Tonquinese people he refers to.
. . . Seeing that the heading is an appeal to American citizens, to their love of country and liberty, I feel that my countrymen and myself are honored in being thus appealed to as citizens in the cause of liberty. But the word liberty makes me think of the fact that this country is the land of liberty for men of all nations except the Chinese. I consider it as an insult to us Chinese to call on us to contribute toward building in this land a pedestal for a statue of Liberty. That statue represents Liberty holding a torch which lights the passage of those of all nations who come into this country. But are the Chinese allowed to come? As for the Chinese who are here, are they allowed to enjoy liberty as men of all other nationalities enjoy it? Are they allowed to go about everywhere free from the insults, abuse, assaults, wrongs and injuries form which men of other nationalities are free?
If there be a Chinaman who came to this country when a lad, who has passed through an American institution of learning of the highest grade, who has so fallen in love with American manners and ideas that he desires to make his home in this land, and who, seeing that his countrymen demand one of their own number to be their legal adviser, representative, advocate and protector, desires to study law, can he be a lawyer? By the law of the nation, he, being a Chinaman, cannot become a citizen, and consequently cannot be a lawyer. . . .
And this statue of Liberty is a gift to a people from another people who do not love or value liberty for the Chinese. Are not the Annamese and Tonquinese [Tonkinese] Chinese, to whom liberty is as dear to the French? What right have the French to deprive them of their liberty?
Whether this statute against the Chinese or the statue to Liberty will be the more lasting monument to tell future ages of the liberty and greatness of this country, will be known only to future generations.
Liberty, we Chinese do love and adore thee; but let not those who deny thee to us, make of thee a graven image and invite us to bow down to it.
Creator | Saum Song Bo
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Saum Song Bo, “A Chinese Immigrant Reacts to the Statue of Liberty,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 4, 2022, https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/950.