The First Chinese American

The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo


Scott D. Seligman

ISBN : 978-988-8139-90-3


March 2013

396 pages, 6″ x 9″, 39 b&w illus.

  • HK$250.00

Also available in Hardback HK$395.00

Chinese in America endured abuse and discrimination in the late nineteenth century, but they had a leader and a fighter in Wong Chin Foo (1847–1898), whose story is a forgotten chapter in the struggle for equal rights in America. The first to use the term “Chinese American,” Wong defended his compatriots against malicious scapegoating and urged them to become Americanized to win their rights. A trailblazer and a born showman who proclaimed himself China’s first Confucian missionary to the United States, he founded America’s first association of Chinese voters and testified before Congress to get laws that denied them citizenship repealed. Wong challenged Americans to live up to the principles they freely espoused but failed to apply to the Chinese in their midst. This evocative biography is the first book-length account of the life and times of one of America’s most famous Chinese—and one of its earliest campaigners for racial equality.

Scott D. Seligman is a writer, a historian, a genealogist, a retired corporate executive and a career “China hand.” He holds an undergraduate degree in history from Princeton University with distinction in American civilization and a master’s degree from Harvard University. Fluent in Mandarin and conversant in Cantonese, he lived in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China for eight years and reads and writes Chinese. He has worked as a legislative assistant to a member of the U.S. Congress, lobbied the Chinese government on behalf of American business, managed a multinational public relations agency in China, served as spokesperson and communications director for a Fortune 50 company and taught English to university students. He is the author of Three Tough Chinamen, Chinese Business Etiquette, and Dealing with the Chinese, and co-author of the best-selling The Cultural Revolution Cookbook, Chinese at a Glance, and Now You’re Talking Mandarin Chinese. He lives in Washington, DC.

“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. Scott Seligman has rescued his life story in 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.” —John Kuo Wei Tchen, New York University

“Scott Seligman, through exhaustive research of English and Chinese sources, presents a brilliant narrative of the colorful story of this man of unusual energy and resilience and the historical process in which he evolved into a Chinese American. Readers will find this a fascinating and rewarding read.” —Renqiu Yu, Purchase College, State University of New York

“In this lively, balanced and meticulously researched portrait of Wong Chin Foo’s adventures as a 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.” —Hsuan L. Hsu, University of California, Davis

“Thoroughly researched and elegantly written, Seligman’s The First Chinese American is an important contribution to Chinese-American history.” —Raymond Lum, Harvard-Yenching Library, Harvard University