The Price of Dignity: Vincent Chin

Today we honour Vincent Chin. We honour his choices. We honour his way of life. We honour his dignity. We honour his life. This is why we choose the day that marked his life rather than the one that marked his death.

Vincent Chin and his mother, Lily Chin

Guangdong province, 18 May 1955 – a man was born who later be known by the name Vincent Chin. Today would have been his 67th birthday. The Chin family adopted Vincent Jen Chin 陳果仁 on 1961 from a Chinese orphanage. His father, Bing Hing “David” Chin, was married to Lily Chin and lived in the United States. Bing Hing had served in the US Army, and was therefore allowed to bring a bride to the US. Lily had miscarried before, and thus there is no doubt that Vincent was a blessing to their family. He spent his youth in Highland Park, Michigan, but Bing Hing got on in age and was targetted for mugging in 1971, so they moved to the Oak Park, Michigan after that. Vincent was a working man. After he graduated high school he spent a few years studying at the Control Data Institute and then at Lawrence Tech. He was a draftsman at Efficient Engineering, working in the automotive industry, not an odd choice for Detroit. He seemed to have his life ahead of him, especially as he was about to married to his fiancée, Vikki Wong, on the 28th of June 19821.

As is the custom for some Americans, before one is to be wed, one is to have a bachelor’s party. A last hurray for the careless days of being unwed. He was at the Fancy Pants Club on June 19th. Some men in the club took a disliking to Chin because of his race. Indeed, it was 1982 and many people working in the automotive industry were laid off due to increased automation, spurred on by Japanese competition. These workers took offense to that. They blamed Vincent for their woes. So, when Vincent gave a generous tip to the dancers at the club, the two men Ronald Madis Ebens and Michael Nitz took offense. “Hey, you little fuckers!” one would say. Ebens continued “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work!” At that moment, Vincent couldn’t take it. He walked up to Ebens and punched him in the jaw. Nitz responded by shoving Vincent, but Vincent shoved him right back. Ebens and Nitz were physically bested by one of those “little fuckers” they were just disparaging. Their egos couldn’t take it. Chin’s friends went up to them and apologised.

When Ebens and Nitz left the bar, Vincent and his friends were still there. After some verbal exchanges, Ebens made up his mind. He grabbed a baseball bat from his car and went after Vincent. Vincent and his friends ran for it. And, evidently, this was no spur of the moment decision for Nitz and Ebens, because they proceeded to look for Vincent for about half an hour. They hunted him and found him at a McDonalds. Vincent tried to escape, but his attempts were in vain. Nitz held Vincent down and Ebens smashed his head until his skull cracked open. Ebens was described as swinging for a “home run”.

It’s not fair.

Vincent Chin’s last words according to some testimonies at court.

Vincent was rushed to the hospital. He fell into a coma he would never wake from. He was pronounced dead on June 23rd. His wedding, which was to be held on the 28th, became his funeral, which was held on the 29th. His fiancée widowed before they were married.

Nitz and Ebens were arrested for second degree murder. Nitz was cleared of his charges and got off. Ebens was sentenced 25 years in prison. But, he never served that sentence a single day. The first conviction was appealed and in the second trial he faced, the jury overturned his conviction. The final verdict for Ebens was not guilty.

The judge said “these weren’t the kind of men you send to jail”2.

Vincent couldn’t stand the indignity. He was being accused of something neither he nor his people were responsible for. But even if he were the right ethnicity that Nitz and Ebens raged against, it still wouldn’t have been his fault. Asians were again used as a scapegoat to blame all problems on. It happened when Detroit, the automotive capital of the world was going through its worst crisis, and it’s happening today, when people feel justified killing Asian people because Covid-19. It doesn’t matter to them what kind of Asian you are. You’re all either japs, chinks, gooks or whatever slur they they might come up with next depending on what mood they’re in. So, Vincent’s reaction is terrifyingly recognisable as an Asian person. I can’t help but think that were I to have stood in his shoes, I could have done the same thing, and I could have undergone the same fate, as would many of us.

But this is the price of dignity. They expect and want you to be like dogs, kowtowing to them whenever they so much as look at us funny. When we break out of that mold, they can’t take it. Their world view is so dismantled by the fact that Asians dare to speak up, dare to resist, that they have to kill you to restore their view of the world. The message is clear, do as an Asian is supposed to be, servile, submissive, meek, and weak… and they will tolerate your existence. Stand up for yourself, and they will make sure that you are eliminated. Not just the people, but the law will aid them in that endeavour. Vincent Chin paid the price for dignity.

This article is part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage campaign. Check out the landing page to learn more about this, and to check the other articles in the line up!


  1. Paula Yoo, “Grieving Vincent Chin, 39 Years Later,” Medium (#StopAsianHate, May 11, 2021),
  2. Harmeet Kaur, “Vincent Chin’s Family Never Got the Justice They Wanted. but His Case Changed Things for Those Who Came after Him,” CNN (Cable News Network, October 10, 2021),

Ten Hours in Torreón: the Massacre of Cantonese Chinese during the Mexican Revolution

May 15th 1911, a military tribunal appointed by Emilio Madero met immediately after the tragedy we know today as the Torreón Massacre, or the Matanza de chinos de Torreón. After hearing testimonies, this tribunal concluded that the Maderista soldiers had committed atrocities. It was on May 15th that the Federal forces withdrew from Torreón, Coahuila, allowing the Maderista soldiers to enter the town. This is when 10 hours of mayhem commenced. Chinese owned shops were looted, banks picked clean, Chinese were dragged by their queues and had their heads severed, limbs hacked off and were mutilated. In total, the Chinese bank, the Chinese club, 40 grocery stores, four laundries, five restaurants, thirty three food stands, and some gardens were destroyed. As for the massacre, 303 Chinese and 5 Japanese were killed (they couldn’t tell the difference). Ten hours of terror, the Chinese community in Torreón was halved.

This article is part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage campaign. Check out the landing page to learn more about this, and to check the other articles in the line up!


Some might be unaware of the history of the Chinese in Mexico. Actually, the Chinese made some remarkable contributions to Mexican society. However, Chinese-Mexicans (usually of a Chinese father and a Mexican mother) are and were not seen as mestizo1. Evidently, the Chinese were never quite seen as part of Mexico and were regarded with suspicion. In fact, they were regarded as subhuman, much like how the natives of Mexico were regarded as subhuman. The Chinese were quite industrious and also had a good sense of business, managing to forge ties with US American Chinese merchant. Several factors combined made the Chinese one of the most prosperous communities in Mexico, especially in Torreón. The fact that they were rich angered the locals, much more so since Chinese men were marrying Mexican women. Now, Torreón is a special case, it is the story of a community of immigrants banding together against the desert2. In such a town, it is not fitting to have the ugly blemish of racial hatred against one particular community that also helped to build the town. For this reason, the Torreón massacre is not commemorated in Torreón, it is why memorials in the city have been vandalised, and it contributes to why nobody knows about it, unless you’re studying history.

The Chinese presence in Torreón had something to do with the famous Chinese proponent of Constitutional Monarchy, Kang Youwei. This Chinese politician and philosopher saw promise in Torreón, and chose to invest in it when he visited in 1906.

President Francisco Madero

During Independence Day celebrations in 1910, anti-foreign and also definite anti-Chinese sentiments were quite common in the speeches and demonstrations. In the following year, Chinese owned shops were targetted for vandalism. These acts reflected the resentment that the Mexicans felt toward the Chinese community. A certain Jésus C. Flores spoke of how the Chinese were replacing Mexican women’s jobs, such as doing the laundry. But also, he expressed the sentiment that Chinese men were competing with Mexican men for Mexican women, and this too was deemed unacceptable. Lastly, they would make fortunes in Torreón, only to send that money to China3. These were all reasons that Jésus felt were justifications for hating the Chinese. It was inciting and, much like politicians were doing elsewhere in the Americas, he called for the expulsion of the Chinese.

Only two weeks after this incendiary speech, Francisco Madero’s forces of the Mexican Revolution rocked up to Torreón’s doorsteps.

What happened?

The Federals defending Torreón were 800 strong and led by the General Emiliano Lojero. The revolutionary forces were led by Francisco’s brother, Emilio Madero, and numbered 4,500 men. The attacks on Torreón commenced on 13 May. The fighting lasted a few days, but on the 15th, the Federals abandoned the town to its fate, they deemed it a sinking ship, and left under the cover of darkness. 15 May, at 6 o’clock in the morning, Emilio and his forces entered the city.

That’s when some soldiers and the people of Torreón banded together to form a mob of around 4,000 people, women and children included4. Incited, no doubt, by Jésus’ speech and their long-standing prejudices and grievances they had toward the Chinese, they started looting. The Chinese were not the only targets, other foreigners, such as the Arabs, Turks, Germans, and Spanish were also attacked, and their stores were damaged5. The Chinese, however, suffered the brunt of the attacks and losses. The mob entered the Chinese district and went on a killing spree, chasing and killing any Chinese they could find. Those who fled outside of the city were ridden down by the Mexican horseman, either to be trampled or to be taken back to the slaughter. There was no discrimination, men, women, and children were all subject to the killing, stripping, and postmortem mutilation. The madness only stopped when Emilio Madero himself posted a proclamation that decreed death for those who would dare kill a Chinese.

To add insult to injury, after the killing ended, the Chinese dead were refused burial in the cemetary. Instead, they were denied their final dignity, naked bodies were ditched in a trench reserved for the Chinese6.


This was unacceptable. An investigation was launched. Initially at the tribunal, the perpetrators claimed that they acted in self-defense because the Chinese had supposedly opened fire first. Arthur Bassett, a lawman, was sent to Mexico to investigate the matter. He made three arguments:

  1. The Chinese were docile in character, and a circular (by the Torreón Chinese Merchants and Labourers Society) distributed on May 12 urged the Chinese not to resist the soldiers, even if they were attacked.
  2. Anti-Chinese sentiments and prejudice was already present in Torreón before.
  3. General Lojero left the city because he lacked ammunition, it does not make sense that he would have given the Chinese any to fire on the Maderista forces. General Lojero denied the allegation of giving weapons to the Chinese and none of the arms salesmen in Torreón admitted to ever selling firearms to the Chinese.

So, it appeared the revolutionary forces were at fault here, along with the mob that joined them. China, in turn, demanded reparations. In June of 1911, the China demanded 100,000 pesos for every Chinese killed. It was rumoured that China would send a gunboat to Mexico to reinforce this demand. Such a thing never came to pass. In 1912, China (keep in mind that China was transitioning from the Qing Empire to the Republic of China) and Mexico seemed to have resolved the issue. Mexico agreed to pay a sum of 3 million pesos. Franciso Madero was assassinated in 1913, and so, it no longer appeared Mexico was in any state to pay those indemnities. In the end, the perpetrators were not punished, not a penny of indemnity was paid to China, and the whole tragic affair was relegated to some footnotes in a history book. Resentment toward the Chinese was regarded as a natural response to the Chinese economic position in Mexico and the whole issue of anti-Chinese sentiments in Mexico were waved away as something trivial, not worthy of study7.


Some points to take away: East-Asians will be deemed as the same thing among other communities. The Japanese were killed just the same as the Chinese because they couldn’t tell the difference. The same is true for anti-Chinese violence today. How many Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, Kazakhs, Mongolians, or even some Native Mesoamericans have been mistaken for Chinese and subsequently attacked? Would it really hurt us so much if we were to connect with other Asian cultures?

Apparently, being industrious and prosperous is offensive to others. Flaunting your wealth is a dangerous thing to do. Apparently, the Chinese were living well, and this harbours jealousy. Obviously, we don’t know enough of the story to know how those Chinese did business in Torreón. Why did they garner so much hatred among the locals, was it purely jealousy, or was it because they really did bad business? Either way, killing the lot of them is not the right answer. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric of “well, the Chinese were pulling wealth out of the city, the Chinese deserved it”. Every time Chinese are massacred this argument comes out in some manner. “They must have deserved it…” Not an ounce of sympathy is often reserved for diaspora Chinese. But that’s fine, we don’t need sympathy, we need respect. I am not talking about them respecting us, I’m talking about us respecting ourselves. You can’t expect others to respect you if you don’t even respect yourself. This brings me to my next point.

The Chinese were told not to fight back by that Chinese Merchants and Labourers Society, even if they were attacked by the revolutionary forces. What came of it? They were still massacred. They were still mutilated. They were still destroyed. The Chinese didn’t even think to arm themselves. They trusted in the goodness of their neighbours and the grace of the revolutionaries. It didn’t work. So, honestly, it might have been better if they fought back. Facing the twin barrels of a shotgun is more of a deterrent than a man cowering for his life. One appeals to fear, the other appeals to mercy. We wish humans possess the quality of mercy, but we can’t expect it from others. We should demand the quality of mercy from ourselves when we hold the strings, but to expect it from others when you are at their mercy is dangerous. So, protect yourself.

Let us mourn the dead of May 15th. Let us honour their lives which they dedicated to the prosperity of their brethren. Let us honour their contribution toward Torreón.

A cart transporting the fallen.


  1. Rocío Gomez, “Chinese Mexicans: Mexico’s Forgotten and Overlooked Mestizos,” History in the Making 10 (January 2017): pp. 1-26, 2.
  2. David Agren, “Mexico Faces up to Uneasy Anniversary of Chinese Massacre,” The Guardian, May 16, 2021,
  3. Leo M. Dambourges Jacques, “The Chinese Massacre in Torreon (Coahuila) in 1911,” Arizona and the West 16, no. 3 (1974): pp. 233-246, 237.
  4. Ibid., 238.
  5. Ibid., 239.
  6. Ibid., 240.
  7. Rocío Gomez, “Chinese Mexicans: Mexico’s Forgotten and Overlooked Mestizos,” History in the Making 10 (January 2017): pp. 1-26, 9.


  • Agren, David. “Mexico Faces up to Uneasy Anniversary of Chinese Massacre.” The Guardian, May 16, 2021.
  • Dambourges Jacques, Leo M. “The Chinese Massacre in Torreon (Coahuila) in 1911.” Arizona and the West 16, no. 3 (1974): 233–46.
  • Gomez, Rocío. “Chinese Mexicans: Mexico’s Forgotten and Overlooked Mestizos.” History in the Making 10 (January 2017): 1–26.

O Canada, our home and native banned: Chinese Immigration Act 1923

Canada is known on the internet as a polite place where everyone is nice and apologises for everything, but really, that just describes traditional Southern Chinese culture. Canada is a whole different story. When last year May it was discovered that countless native children have been murdered by the Canadians, it blemished their precious imagine. Today, more truths shall be unveiled. Together we will release the world from its delusions about the moral superiority of Western countries.

Indeed, 14 May 1947 the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed. In practise, it was quite similar to the American Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. They were both deeply traumatic events that show the Chinese were viewed as subhumans. Both the US and Canada fought against the Nazis, and history construes it as good versus evil, but to us, neither the Allies nor the Axis saw us as humans.

So, what was the Chinese Immigration Act? In 1885, the Canadian decided to follow in the footsteps of the Americans 3 years prior. The Canadian Chinese Immigration Act imposed a head tax on every Chinese immigrant entering Canada.

In 1923, however, the act was updated. All Chinese by ethnicity were banned completely from entering Canada. Chinese-Canadians called the day the act was passed “humiliation day”. It wasn’t simply a thing about citizenship and nationality either, but was purely based on race. This is exemplified by this act also applying to ethnic Chinese with British nationality. Clearly, this was based on hatred of ethnic Chinese. Could you imagine one day you were just banned from gong into a place because of what, because you are Chinese. That’s not your actions, nor anything you had any control over that makes you guilty. See, this your Canada. This is your “nicest country in the world”.

Today in 1947 the act was repealed. And yes, Stephen Harper apologised for this in 2006. So, now we’re supposed to be even. It is certainly a good thing they admit their mistake, but I will not sing its praises. You can’t expect someone robbed to celebrate the highwayman returning the robbed goods and apologising. Don’t we require this highwayman to be punished first, aren’t we missing a few steps? It is quite like what Malik el-Shabazz (a.k.a. Malcolm X) said: “If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress”.

The thing is, they did us dirty. I wouldn’t have to dig up all this stuff about how they did us dirty if they just stopped portraying themselves as holy and innocent as a newborn and portraying us as dirty, dangerous threats to civilisation. We can live and let live, certainly, but when they start down the path of pulling up dirt on us, that’s a battle they don’t want to fight. We have got far more dirt on them than they do on us. But if we are all willing to let bygones be bygones, then certainly that is the best. For indeed, if they incline toward peace, then so should we. But if they incline toward oppression and violence, there is no reason we should be the ones to take the moral high road. When you forgive your enemy from a weak position, that’s not forgiveness, that’s you being oppressed and powerless to retaliate. True forgiveness comes when you’re in a position of power and you have the ability to destroy the one who wronged you, but we aren’t there by a long shot, let’s speak of forgiveness then, not now. Instead, we have a duty and obligation to arm ourselves with knowledge and defend ourselves with wisdom. Stay strong, stay safe, and stay knowledgable.

This article is part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage campaign. Check out the landing page to learn more about this, and to check the other articles in the line up!

Road to Rukun Negara: the Tragedy of 13 May

Malaysia was under British colonial rule for a century. How they chose to use the Chinese Kongsi as a middle-man between themselves and the Bumiputera (indigenous) Malay people was effective in generating inter-ethnic strife between the Malays and the Chinese, the very same inter-ethnic strife that caused the 13 May incident of 1969. It seems to be in the colonial playbook to disproportionately benefit one group over the other in order to divert hostilities from you to some other unfortunate group. Such was the case with the Hutu and the Tutsi in Rwanda.

The Chinese were deemed to hold a disproportional amount of wealth in Malaysia, as such, they were controlled much of Malaysia’s economy. The Malays, in contrast, were more rural and generally less affluent. The Malays could not stand this status-quo, how is it that the Chinese can live it large in Malaysia, the land of the Malays? They decided that change would have to come. Ketuanan Melayu was considered: Malay supremacy. The Chinese-Malaysians did not take any of this lying down. They advocated for causes that protected their Chinese interests and rights.

These racial tensions were a wider problem not just isolated to the 13 May incident, in fact, in 1964, Singapore broke away from Malaysia partially because of the 1964 Race Riots.

This article is part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage campaign. Check out the landing page to learn more about this, and to check the other articles in the line up!

The Election

While the Chinese dominated in the economic life of Malaysia, it was a reassurance for the Malays to know that politically, the Malays still dominated the scene. In the 1969 elections, the ruling coalition called the Alliance Party faced strong opposition from newly formed parties —the Democratic Action Party and the Parti Gerakan— that advocated more for Chinese-Malaysian interests. The Malays felt like their position in Malaysia was being threatened, now not only economically, but also politically.

The two new opposition parties that had eroded the traditional power base of the Alliance part (which included the UMNO, more on them later) organised processions as celebrations and shows of power. They certainly were perceived as shows of power. On the nights of 11 and 12 May there large processions were organised. The UMNO could not stand idly by as these upstart non-Malay opposition parties had their shows of power unchecked. As a retort, they announced their very own UMNO victory procession for the 13th of May.

The First Clash

The procession was planned for the evening of titular day of 13 May, but, a crowd already began to gather at the house of the Menteri Besar (First/Chief Minister) of Selangor in the morning, and some had even arrived on Sunday, just to illustrate the feverish fanaticism that politics can evoke in people. Supporters came to the procession in droves, emerging from all the land. The first hostilities began in Setapak, where one travelling group of Malay supporters were taunted by some Chinese bystanders, stones and bottles were thrown. When news of the fighting reached the main crowd near the Menteri Besar‘s residence, many of the crowd, perhaps itching for a fight, took off into the adjacent Chinese neighbourhoods with kris and parang in hand, ready to rip and tear.

They burned cars, looted shops, killed, and maimed as they rampaged through these Chinese neighbourhoods, visiting their violence upon unsuspecting residents. How many were killed in this first attack wave is unclear, but the violence could no longer be contained. Like a virus of madness, the rampaging infected much of the rest of Kuala Lumpur.



Someone said, Repay hatred with virtue—how would that do? The Master said, Then how would you repay virtue? Repay hatred with uprightness. Repay virtue with virtue.

An excerpt from the 14th book of the Analects of Confucius.
Burton Watson, tran., The Analects of Confucius (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2007), PAGE NUMBER.

And so, what came to pass on May 13th was a test of hearts. A horde was thrust upon the people who bear a love for the simple things, a love for mundane pleasures. They were no band of mere disgruntled protestors, but an army carrying the white mark of death on their foreheads, needing no motivation but the sheer hatred of the Tionghoa. they are fast encroaching upon your homes. Rumours of knives in the shadows, flames in the darkness. That reclining edge, that parang, it bites, it hacks, it slashes, breaks, and smashes. That billowing blade, that kris, it slices, it wounds, it severs and it cuts. They are coming, angry voices in the distance, there is no way out. Those stricken with fear hide behind their eyelids in desperation. No longer did the laughter of the child, or the idle banter of the elder echo through the hallowed halls of their ancestors. They are coming. One wonders what he can do. There is no way out.

How is one to respond? Fight, my friend. I bid you find the courage to take those steps, little though they may seem, and take up arms to fight for that which you hold dear; for the sake of our good friends, our pastures ever green, our children yet to wax and our elders yet to wane, those are some causes worth fighting for. And I shan’t say they’re worth dying for, because they seem to me rather worth living for instead. Though noble it is to protect the cherished and the loved, I recognise there is no cause more worthy than which our noble soul directs us to: it is the steady course we plot toward goodness. Though we may doubt our course at this junction, or lose our footing on that rocky path, when destiny beckons, the trueness of our hearts will give us a courage with the resilience to carry us through to the end of all things.

I believe some Chinese-Malaysians and Indian-Malaysians found that courage. An ancient truth was called upon that cannot be denied. “We fight united, or perish divided.” Such was the terrible choice that faced them. Destiny beckoned to them. It beckoned to every able-bodied man who had the strength to fight and the heart to stand. And they gave their answer. From their dwellings they emerged, carrying what arms they had; cutlery, spades, and garden tools. Perhaps ancient blades with some fight in them yet. Perhaps, those blades were honed in the unwitting hands of the descendants for this very day. For that day they would once again feel war-drums beating and the battle-horn trumpetting. The glistening steel calls to draw blood once more, not for glory, not for triumph, but for a desperate battle for survival. With heavy hearts they barricaded their streets and manned the walls. From their makeshift battlements they stood guard. They stood guard as -Lo! their enemy stretched out before them. Visages contorted by the hatred they bore in their hearts, they brandished their deadly weapons. Vulgar war-chants deafened the noble defenders. That Malay horde stormed the barricades. But the men held fast, they stood against the tide, with their will and that courage, that calling of destiny, it allowed them no choice but to fight! Fight!


But all was not well in the hearts of men. We shall never know if it was the loss of what they held dearly in their heart, or whether it was the hatred that was infectuous that drove these defenders to err. It must always be goodness and righteousness that guides our actions. And the call of our lower soul is not so easily undone. It calls for vengeance, for retribution, to visit upon them what they visited upon us and to make them feel as they made us feel.

There were elements of Chinese less accustomed to the daylight. In times of order, they survive by the way of the cutthroat, by extortion, running gambling dens, selling narcotics, engaging in human trafficking. They are shunned. In times of chaos, they represent a force to be reckoned with. Accustomed to fighting as a necessity in their day to day struggle for survival in a world that cares not for the wretches and dredges of society. It is these secret societies that played a role in exacting revenge upon the rioters.

But too often people think in terms of tribe and not of deeds. Because the attackers were Malay, the retribution deemed just was visited upon any Malay they could find. Unfortunate and innocent Malays were put to the sword by the revenge crazed Chinese. Their forces gathered. They mustered enough strength to besiege that bastion of the enemy, the UMNO headquarters. They even laid siege to a police station.

A message for those listening

By the dusking of the day, police forces had begun to use tear gas. The situation had clearly gone out of hand, and more extreme measures had to be taken. A state of emergency was declared at 7:35 p.m., a curfew was in place. Anyone found outside their homes was to be shot with live ammunition. The army was eventually deployed and swept through the city, cleaning up wherever they saw fit.

The hospitals reported many casualties. Early, they reported the Chinese mutilated by the terrible gashes left by the krisses and parangs. Later, Malay and Chinese casualties both appeared. But, by the end of the evening, most victims were Chinese again, this time with gunshot wounds.

The official reports tell of a total death count just shy of 200 people. Other, accounts tell of at least triple that number. Most of the victims were Chinese.

The Problem of the Narrative

By this point, you may be suspecting where I am going with this article. Obviously, it is an semi-fictionalised account of the riots told from the perspective of the Chinese sympathisers. Since the Malay government is controlling the narrative on this incident, it is only fair that others bring out their own version of events that runs counter to theirs. As with any piece of history, take into account who is writing it and why. The past is what happened, history is what we make of it.

The winner becomes the king, the loser becomes the villain

The Malaysian government is known for obscuring, rewriting, and editing history in order to better fit their own nation-building goals. The 13 May incident is something that apart the very fabric of a nation, what made a Malaysian, what role do the Chinese play in this society?

When the 13 May incident happened, the official accounts of the event were quick to characterise the parties involved. They, first of all, sketched the violence as mainly a result following from a Sino-Malay clash instigated by two actors:

  1. The Chinese supporters of the DAP (Democratic Action Party)
  2. The Gerakan (Malaysian People’s Movement Party)

Other forces that were deemed to influence the violence were the following:

  1. The infiltration and influence in the elections exerted by Communist agents.
  2. Chinese secret societies involved in subversion.

The official reports also downplay the total number of deaths that occurred. Note that the ones blamed are the two opposition parties that have a large Chinese support base. Notice also, that the other sources of blame are also connected to the Chinese. Obviously, Chinese secret societies were prominent among especially diaspora Chinese communities as they were largely eliminated by the Communists in Mainland China. The Communist connection probably warrants little explanation either, since China had been ruled by the communists since the Communist victory more than a decade before.

As one can clearly see, race was at the forefront. The Chinese were suspicious because of their race and the perceived creed of that race.

Whereby Our Country, Malaysia nurtures the ambitions of:

  • Achieving and fostering better unity amongst the society;
  • Preserving a democratic way of life;
  • Creating a just society where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a fair and equitable manner;
  • Ensuring a liberal approach towards the rich and varied cultural traditions;
  • Building a progressive society that will make use of science and modern technology.

NOW THEREFORE, we, the people of Malaysia, pledge to concentrate our energy and efforts to achieve these ambitions based on the following principles:

  • Belief in God
  • Loyalty to the King and Country
  • Supremacy of the Constitution
  • Rules of Law
  • Courtesy and Morality

Source: Malaysia 2016 (Department of Information)

Peranakan or not, the Chinese must rot: the 1998 Riots in Indonesia

The first time I heard a ChineseIndonesian speak about his experiences was at a anniversary celebration in a Chinese Saturday school somewhere in the Netherlands (I forgot where, but it was a short drive from Utrecht). The speaker was a middle-aged man from Indonesia. He had a sort of demeanour about him that set him apart from other speakers that day. While others spoke of the incredible achievement in a jubilant and cheerful manner, quite typical of Chinese anniversary celebrations, he seemed troubled. I recall that he walked slowly onto the stage as he grabbed the microphone. He started out with the formalities, thanking the organisers and the crowd, but then continued with warnings. He told us about the importance of community, identity, and most of all, unity. “Without unity,” he stated with humble confidence “we are doomed to suffer, us Chinese must band together or perish.

I thought his speech somewhat out of place. He was the only one who gave such a stern warning, as if speaking at a wake rather than a celebration. His exact speech eludes me, but the impression he left behind stayed with me. Later, I learned that this was a Totok Chinese man from Indonesia and it all fell into place for me. It piqued my interest, what experiences forged that man that spoke that day? This man probably would have been alive in the 1960s, but he certainly was of an age where he would have consciously lived through most of the New Order period under Suharto, under which some of the worst excesses against the Indonesian-Chinese community happened.

Sometimes we must delve into the evil of human hearts. What drives people to such reckless hatred that drives them to atrocities beyond comprehension, and ugliness beyond imagination? How does one, either victim or perpetrator pick up the threads of normalcy after that? Today is 12 may, it marks the beginning of the riots in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. In today’s article, we shall explore the May 1998 riots in Indonesia. This was the violent conclusion to Suharto’s reign, but forever changed a generation of Chinese-Indonesians.

This article is part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage campaign. Check out the landing page to learn more about this, and to check the other articles in the line up!

City of Medan

May 4th: The end of the millennium in South East Asia was marked by a financial crisis, one that drove people to desperation, and the already extant social unrest in Indonesia certainly was perfect staging ground for rioting. The turmoil started in earnest when the Indonesian government announced on May 4th that the gas prices would rise by 70% and that electricity prices would triple… that’s when students took to the streets en masse. Security forces and police clashes with the people, shops were looted, cars were burnt.

May 5th-7th: The following days the mayhem continued. Shops that were marked “milik pribumi” (owned by sons of the soil, ergo native Indonesians) were left alone, shops owned by Chinese-Indonesians were looted. During this early stage of the riots, Chinese majority districts like Medan Kota and Maimun were spared of the violence because the streets were locked down well by the local residents (this shows the importance of forming strong communities and being proactive about your community’s safety).


May 12th: 10,000 students gathered in Trisakti University. Enough was enough and they would march down to the Parliament to give those politicians a what-for. The Indonesian police forces refused to let the students leave campus grounds. Violence ensued, 4 students were killed.

May 13th: The people of Jakarta had enough. The death of the students galvanised Jakarta into mass rioting and violence. For example, the Matahari department store was barricaded and burnt, incinerating approximately a thousand people inside. Like a large scale version of that fictional scene in Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, where civilians were barricaded inside a church and then the church was burned, except this was real. Reportedly, many of the trapped and burned were the arsonists and looters themselves. Glodok in Northwestern Jakarta was also attacked, its Chinatown was heavily damaged. I have personally heard of some Chinese-Indonesian who could afford it that they hired bodyguards to keep themselves protected. Others hired local thugs for protection. All throughout the riots, property owned by Chinese-Indonesians were the most prominent targets.

Other Cities

May 14th: Mobs in Surabaya took to the streets to loot and burn Chinese shops. Multiple cases of rape and sexual assault were reported. Mobs in South Sumatra also took to the streets, shops and cars were burned, sexual assault was also reported.

Rampant Rape

Violence is often gendered. That means that the types of violence men face often differ from the types of violence women face. During wars and civil unrest, it is often women who face the threat of being raped. The 1998 riots were unfortunately not an exception. As arsonists and looters targetted Chinese-Indonesian shops, rapists targetted Chinese-Indonesian women. Indeed, in Jakarta alone, an estimated 100 Chinese-Indonesian women and girl aged 10-55 had been raped. It is very difficult for women to speak out about sexual violence inflicted upon them. The shame, the loss of social standing, the blemishing of the family’s image, these are all factors that encourage on to stay silent about their suffering. It is safe to say that in such an environment, many rapes simply remained unreported, unmentioned, unmourned.

‘You must be raped because you are Chinese and non-Muslim,’

crisis centre employee Ms. Ita, paraphrasing some of the rapists

The horror stories left behind by the victims or eyewitnesses are gut-wrenching, heart-rending accounts of things that should not happen, but have. If these events are forgotten, that would perhaps be better for our mental health, yet we are then bereft of the knowledge required to prevent such events from happening again. As such, we have a duty to remember that which we want to forget and should not have happened. To this end, I feel obliged to share a few of these accounts here, but will warn the reader beforehand that you should turn away if such stories are difficult for you to stomach.

The quote above “You must be raped because you are Chinese and non-Muslim” deserves some extra attention. I struggle to believe my brothers in faith would be so ignorant of our religion that they would say something disgusting like this. Were those women wrong for being born Chinese? Who gave you the sheer gall to rape, let alone involve your religion with this heinous act? In which ayah is it written that it is okay to rape someone if they are non-Muslim? Do you think the Cherubim are singing your praise and this is recorded in your book of good deeds as you destroy someone’s life? Don’t insult the religion of Allah and don’t insult my people. It goes without saying this attitude is against Islam and any standards of human dignity. Shame on anyone who uses religion to justify crimes against God and humanity. It is truly astonishing how humans continuously look for justification for doing things we shouldn’t. I find it difficult to stomach people who think themselves elevated above other human beings just because they belong to a certain identity.

Nevertheless, the quote does lay bare an ugly truth. The Chinese have always been cast as public enemy number one. Generations of Chinese-Indonesians grew up like this, being hated is the norm, not the exception. That they would mention Chinese and non-Muslim in one breath is certainly not surprising. The Chinese had their own religions (even though some were also Muslim and had a historical role in bringing Islam to Indonesia) but many turned to some form of Christianity also. It just goes to show that these so-called “Chinese pigs” were given the worst labels, the wrong race and the wrong religion to boot.

Stop reading here if you want to avoid the accounts.

A 10-year-old girl returning from school discovered that the shop-house where her family lived and worked had been burned. As she went in search of her parents, she was seized by two men and raped in front of her neighbors.

As quoted in Mydans “In Jakarta, Reports Of Numerous Rapes Of Chinese in Riots.”

A student was abducted at a bus stop, taken to a swamp near the airport and raped by four men in a car. There was a green uniform in the car and she asked her abductors if they were police officers. ”If you are police, you have to save me,” she told them, according to Ms. Ita. One of them answered: ”No, I have to give you a lesson. You are a woman and you are beautiful and you are part of the Chinese.”

As quoted in Mydans “In Jakarta, Reports Of Numerous Rapes Of Chinese in Riots.”

In the midst of the riot, a group of men stopped a city bus and forced out all the non-Chinese women. ”Then they chose the beautiful women among the Chinese and raped them inside the bus,” Father Sandiyawan said. ”The victims of that incident are really depressive. They are in the hospital with their families. They are trying to hide themselves from the public.”

As quoted in Mydans “In Jakarta, Reports Of Numerous Rapes Of Chinese in Riots.”

Continue reading here if you skipped the accounts.

Anti-Chineseness in Indonesia

The Chinese-Indonesians were blamed for the poverty of the pribumi Indonesians. Chinese in Indonesia had actually long since been characterised as collaborators of the Dutch and later collaborators of the corrupt Suharto regime. They saw the Chinese as affluent profiteers that exploited the pribumi Indonesians, moreover, they were discriminated because most of them were non-Muslim.

This doesn’t mean that the Suharto regime was kind to the Chinese-Indonesians. Actually, Suharto strongly encourages the abandoning of Chinese surnames through the following law 127/U/Kep/12/1966, this is one of the reasons why many Indonesians of Chinese descent have so-called Indonesian sounding surnames that roughly correspond to their Chinese surnames. For example, the surname Yap would become something like Yapardi, Yaputra or Toyib, the surname Lim would become Limanto or Halim among many others, or they would translate the Chinese meaning of the name into Bahasa Indonesia. Other policies included the banning of Chinese script in public or setting up Chinese language school. Suharto did not want the Chinese to integrate, he wanted them to assimilate.

The multi-generational legacy of anti-Chinese persecution in Indonesia

The history of Chinese in Indonesia is one of segregation and violence. Even before the independence of Indonesia, we saw the large-scale massacre of Chinese in Batavia, with an estimated 10,000 dead. We saw the destruction of the Kongsi and the Lanfang Republic on Borneo, where the local Dayak people were incited by the Dutch to destroy the Chinese. The Qing Empire was indifferent to both of these events, by the way.

After the independence, we saw Sukarno attempting to limit foreign influences, and immediately the Chinese were questioned about their loyalty. Were they truly Indonesians, or would they be subversive elements? When the New Order came to power, and it was time for the Communists to be rounded up, Chinese-Indonesians were deemed guilty by ethnicity. China was had been communist since 1949, so these Chinese-Indonesians were cast under suspicion as well. Thousands were killed. Recall also the expulsion of 10,000 Chinese from Aceh in 1966, 10,000 from West Kalimantan in 1967, the attacks on the Chinese consulates in Makassar and Medan in 1965. The violence against the Chinese was extraordinary, yet the Chinese state again gave a rather mild and indifferent answer.

In 1998, as this article has covered, again, multitudes of Chinese-Indonesians faced the wrath of the pribumi population. To make amends, the Indonesian government has tried to symbolically allow Chinese to be taught once more, and Chinese holidays to be celebrated once more. But the murder, burning, looting, raping left a psychological scar that no reparations could fix. After all, what amount of money can mend a shattered soul? After Suharto’s downfall, Habibie’s efforts to bring back the Chinese-Indonesians after their mass exodus —in order to bring back the Chinese capital as well— were deemed inconsistent, ineffective, and unconvincing (Coppel, 21). Tens of thousands of Chinese Indonesian left home and hearth for safer havens and never returned. Once more, China response was mild and rather under-the-radar, though pressure was exterted from Mainland, Taiwan, and also Chinese-Americans. To answer the question of how people pick-up normalcy after madness, I don’t think most people ever truly do, a wound may heal but it leaves a scar.

Chinese-Indonesians were forced to give up their names, they were beaten, humiliated, robbed, killed, and raped for generations. There was a grave breach of trust, not the military nor the state could be trusted to offer protection (Dieleman, 30). Instead of acknowledging these grave injustices, the Indonesian government continues to try to forget and move on as if nothing happened at all. The threat of erasure, of the eradication of experiences, of even rewriting history is ever present. Seeing as how the Chinese state doesn’t appear to be all that concerned with diaspora Chinese, we the people must be the ones to acknowledge the untold sufferings of our kin in Indonesia as well as their diaspora descendants. Let us be the ones to draw lessons from their generational experiences. Let us be the ones to realise that what the Totok Chinese man said at that speech stems from generations of experience living as the Other. His message marches with steady determination through our pulsing veins and echoes like solemn war-drum in our beating hearts: unite or perish.

Special thanks to my Chinese-Indonesian friends for providing me with invaluable insight.


  1. Coppel, Charles A., Timothy Lindsey, and Helen Pausacker. Chinese Indonesians: Remembering, Distorting, Forgetting. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006.
  2. Dieleman, Marleen, and Juliette Koning. Chinese Indonesians and Regime Change. Leiden: Brill, 2011.
  3. Mydans, Seth. “In Jakarta, Reports Of Numerous Rapes Of Chinese in Riots.” The New York Times, June 10, 1998, sec. A.
  4. Smith, Philip. “Writing in the Rain: Erasure, Trauma, and Chinese Indonesian Identity in the Recent Work of FX Harsono.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 46, no. 1 (2015): 119–33.
  5. Zha, Daojiong. “China and the May 1998 Riots of Indonesia: Exploring the Issues.” The Pacific Review 13, no. 4 (2000): 557–75.

The Eight May Incident: Bombing the Chinese in Belgrade

On the night of May 7th to May 8th 1999, a US B2 bomber dropped 5 JDAM GPS precision guided bombs on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. 3 people died, 20 more were injured. We should take care to remember Shao Yunhuan, Xu Xinghu and Zhu Ying. This was a blatant attack on China, a violation of the Geneva convention. What did the United States do? They said “oops, it was a mistake!” There was 0% chance that this was a mistake. Three direct hits hit the building, the message was clear “we are NATO and we do whatever we want, what are you going to do about it?” The China of 1999 could do nothing but swallow it.

The Chinese people, whether by ethnicity or nationality, will never forget this

This article is part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage campaign. Check out the landing page to learn more about this, and to check the other articles in the line up!

What was happening?

NATO was getting itself involved in the Yugoslav Wars, that turbulent period of history where Yugoslavia broke up into multiple nations. This incident happened during the Kosovo War. It was during the Kosovo War that NATO decided to involve itself. They demanded that Slobodan Milošević’s Yugoslav forces cease hostilities and to put a stop to his ethnic cleansing of Albanians. Obviously, this article cannot delve into a detailed analysis of the war and its background, or NATO’s motives (because I lack the expertise), but it is safe to say it was mayhem.

Nevertheless, the UN Security Council did not grant their approval for NATO’s involvement because Russia and China said they would veto such a measure. So, NATO just went ahead without the approval needed.

NATO decided it would be best to start a bombing campaign. They used air superiority to destroy Yugoslav military infrastructure. The goal was to dismantle Yugoslav military capabilities and ultimately use this to pressure Milošević into accepting terms favourable to NATO.

NATO bombed not only military targets, but also so-called dual-use targets. These were targets that were used by civilians as well as military. The NATO justification was that these targets were potentially useful to the Yugoslav military. Remember this point.

So how did the US manage to bomb the Chinese Embassy during this NATO campaign?

As is usual in modern wars, the United States were involved. Now, it seems that, aside from China saying they would veto a NATO intervention in the UN Security council, it would seem out of left field for the US to commence hostilities with China all of the sudden. In fact, this sentiment was expressed by the US journalist Mike Wallace when he interviewed the Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

The United States have said that the bombing was absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, an honest mistake. A mistake caused by using outdated maps which apparently did not show the Chinese Embassy’s location in Belgrade. The US claims that the actual intended target was the Yugoslav Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement (FDSP), nearby to the Chinese Embassy.

US President Bill Clinton had this to say: “I apologize, I regret this, but I think it is important to draw a clear distinction between a tragic mistake and a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing, and the United States will continue to make that distinction.” President Clinton isn’t very convincing when he is lying, as history has shown us. I will now simply present the facts so the reader can decide whether the bombing of the Chinese Embassy was deliberate or not.

  1. This mission was done differently from other mission and was the first and last mission to have been orchestrated by the CIA during Operation Noble Anvil.
  2. A single hardcopy paper map is not intended as the sole source for target identification and approval*. So, how can the US claim the bombing instructions were based on an outdated map? The NIMA basically said the wrong map story is a lie.
  3. There are multiple checks in place before sensitive targets are bombed. How come all of those checks failed? The explanation is that all those checks were also based on outdated maps. But, it was later shown that the CIA did indeed have maps that showed the location of the Chinese Embassy. Moreover, the CIA had been monitoring communications from the Chinese Embassy since it moved to Belgrade in 1996. So, it is simply not true that the CIA was unaware of where the Chinese Embassy was.
  4. If the bombings were by accident, why did they claim that the three deaths Shao Yunhuan, Xu Xinghu and his wife Zhu Ying were actually operatives working for Milošević**? This implies that the strike was, in fact, not an accident at all.

So , yes, it is quite like what President Jiang Zemin told Wallace: “the United States has state of the art technology, so all of the explanation that they have given us for what they call a mistaken bombing are absolutely unconvincing.”

*A hardcopy map is neither intended, nor used, as the sole source for target identification and approval. What are relied upon for target nomination and approval are a variety of collection sources and automated databases that are compiled from all-source intelligence and operational information. Similarly, maps are not the sole information source for aeronautical or nautical information. They are designed to be supplemented by periodic currency updates such as Flight Information Publications and Notice to Mariners, weather information, and situational updates by military commanders.

“NIMA: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Release Number 990516-2: Chinese Embassy Bombing”. National Imagery and Mapping Agency. May 16, 1999. Archived from the original on February 29, 2000. Retrieved October 26, 2021.

**Why the Chinese were prepared to help Milosevic is a more murky question. One possible explanation is that the Chinese lack Stealth technology, and the Yugoslavs, having shot down a Stealth fighter in the early days of the air campaign, were in a good position to trade. The Chinese may have calculated that Nato would not dare strike its embassy, but the five-storey building was emptied every night of personnel. Only three people died in the attack, two of whom were, reportedly, not journalists – the official Chinese version – but intelligence officers.

Vulliamy, Ed; Sweeney, John (October 17, 1999). “Nato bombed Chinese deliberately”. The Guardian. London. Retrieved December 15, 2021. Only three people died in the attack, two of whom were, reportedly, not journalists – the official Chinese version – but intelligence officers.

Chinese Reaction

Shock. Grief. Anger.

The bombing of the Chinese Embassy sparked national outrage in China. In every city where a US Consulate was present in China, angry mobs took to the streets to protest the attack. Students organised great protests with slogans, banners, and seething with rage, demanding justice.

US Embassies were besmirched and pelted with stones. Diplomats had to hide inside eating MREs. China erupted in an anti-US, anti-NATO frenzy. It had a profound impact an Sino-American relations. An entire generation of Chinese thus turned hostile to the US. This was a watershed moment.

Down with the American Empire; Down with NATO

All that anger from the people, but China’s lack of strength in those days meant that the United States got away with it. The CIA members responsible for the “mistake” were talked to harshly and one was sacked. All the Chinese state could do was to condemn it harshly, but it had no means of actually enforcing demands.

The bombing is something we will never forget. In 2011, when NATO mistakenly killed many Pakistani soldiers, State Secretary Hillary Clinton could do nothing but what her husband did: apologise for the mistake. General Ma Xiaotian quipped: “Were you use the wrong maps again?”

Never forget, my brothers and sisters, we see through their lies and deceit.


Meyers, Steven Lee. “C.I.A. FIRES OFFICER BLAMED IN BOMBING OF CHINA EMBASSY.” The New York Times, April 9, 2000, sec. 1.

Youth Violence and Embassy Bombing Apology. C-Span, 1999.

Hartman, Rome, and Shari Finkelstein. 2000. 60 minutes. New York, NY: Columbia Broadcasting System.

Get out and stay out! the Chinese Exclusion Act

Almond-eyed, spindle-legged,” “yellow-skinned,” “pig-tailed,” ”bald-pated,” “filthy, unnatural, and abominable,” “dependent, ignorant . . . animal machine.” These are just a few of the words American newspapers used to describe us, John Chinaman. It was a time in which such words were deemed acceptable when the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed.

Exactly 140 years ago on 6 May 1882. The 21st President of the United States of America, Chester A. Arthur, signed the federal law called the Chinese Exclusion Act. The law banned nearly banned all ethnic Chinese from America for 61 years until it was repealed during WWII when Soong Mei-ling apparently swayed American Congress and got the Exclusion (and American Extraterritoriality in China) ended in 1943. The Chinese Exclusion Act was a blemish on the American ideal, it was a broken promise of a New World where the wretched and downtrodden of the world could go and pursue the lives they never could in their homelands. This law once again reinforced the fact that America only ever was a “beacon of hope, refuge for the poor, and the oppressed the world over” to the people of Northwestern Europe.

This article is part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage campaign. Check out the landing page to learn more about this, and to check the other articles in the line up!

Initial reception of the Chinese

The first Chinese were actually received by the Californians with open arms. The “Daily Alta Californian” of May 12, 1852 said the following about the Chinese immigrants: “scarcely a ship arrives that does not bring an increase to this worthy integers of our population. The China boys will try vote at the same polls, study at the same schools, and now at the same altar as our countrymen.”

The Chinese were deemed cleanly, unobtrusive, and industrious. Of course, in those days, labour was in short supply, so the influx of Chinese immigrants capable of working on railroads, ranches, but also adept at domestic tasks was welcomed, and the Chinese were lauded.

John Chinaman, John Chinaman,
But five short years ago,
I welcomed you from Canton, John—
But wish I hadn’t though.

Rhetoric prior to the Act, and other justifications

James Blaine was a U.S. Senator in favour of the exclusion of the Chinese. His reasons for doing so are famously typical of his age. I believe his words speak for themselves:

The question lies in my mind thus: either the Anglo-Saxon race will possess the Pacific slope or the Mongolians will possess it.”

Senator James G. Blaine

“We have this day to choose . . . whether our legislation shall be in the interest of the American free laborer or for the servile laborer from China. . . . You cannot work a man who must have beef and bread, and would prefer beer, alongside of a man who can live on rice. It cannot be done.”

Senator James G. Blaine

“loathsome . . . revolting . . . monstrosity . . . [who] lives in herds and sleeps like packs of dogs in kennels.”

Representative George Hazelton (R-Wisc.)

The Chinese were characterised as vicious, odious, abominable, dangerous, and revolting. This attitude can be detected among some Late Qing and Republican intellectuals. Authors that come to mind are the highly respected Lao She (1899-1966) and Lu Xun (1881-1936). (I recommend reading George Townsend’s Ways That Are Dark in order to gain understanding of the Western antebellum attitude towards the Chinese). It is not terribly strange that US Politicians and indeed the US public would have had these notions about the Chinese as well. After all, even the Chinese urban intelligentsia looked at the traditional agricultural society with disdain and sought to reform it.

“There is no common ground of assimilation,”

Senator George F. Edmunds (R-Vt.)

”are not a desirable population. . . . They are not good citizens.”

Senator John Sherman (R-Ohio)

It just so happened that the vast majority of China’s population was rural and that it was precisely these downtrodden souls who sought their fortune elsewhere, lured by the promises of mountains of gold. Indeed, the Chinese name for San Francisco is 舊金山 (gau gam saan), this means old golden mountain, California itself was known as 金山 (gam saan). So, can it be true that the Chinese that the Americans came in contact with were indeed vicious, odious, abominable, dangerous, and revolting? It is quite possible by European-American standards of the time, but these are traits not unique to the Chinese. I would argue that whatever the European-Americans did next was far more vicious, odious, abominable, dangerous, and revolting. Moreover, those so-called vicious and dangerous Chinese would not be desperately leaving their ancestral lands —which is frowned upon in sedentary Chinese culture— if they were not forced out of China through war, famine, and plague; war, famine, and plague that was partially facilitated by Western imperialist meddling to begin with.

“spread mildew and rot throughout the entire community,”

Representative William Calkins (R-Ind.)

Nevertheless, anti-Chinese movements spread throughout the US like a racist wildfire. The support for banning the Chinese wasn’t merely Republican or Democrat, it was bipartisan and spread across many layers of society.

“Alien in manners, servile in labor, pagan in religion, they are fundamentally un-American,”

Representative Addison McClure (R-Ohio) (Gyory 5)

The grievances that the common man had with the Chinese were not limited to their supposed viciousness and barbarity. Another great issue, and what was hailed as the main issue, was that the Chinese were willing to provide cheap labour, which would undermine the other Americans who would demand higher wages. The Chinese were seen as a kind of strike-breakers, as well as being industrious enough to out compete the European-American. In other words, the Chinese were cast as threats to the livelihoods of the common American labourer. More concisely: they took our jobs!

Was the European-American justified in thinking so? We must look at the reasons why the Chinese were willing to work for so little. There exists the question of the thrift of the Chinese. They required little extravagance and subsisted on a “mere pittance”. Without the extravagance the European-Americans demanded, the Chinese were welcomed by the capitalists. Much to the discontent of the European-American labourer.

Yet, we must not assume that all Chinese people were there based on free will. In fact, most Chinese women in the US were actually brought there as slaves or indentured servants of one or the other richer merchant. Of course, the Americans were afraid the Chinese would grow in population, so they banned the entry of Chinese women through the Page Act in 1875. As for the men, many were enticed by the lure of an equal and fair life in the Americas. They signed contracts in China and entered into contract labour in one of the Six Companies. The terms of such contracts would be considered exploitative in the United States, but in Qing China, these could fly. Once aboard the ships —often ships modelled after slave ships of an earlier age— they would find themselves being transported off to a life of slavery or indentured servitude. The Chinese in the Americas were nominally free, but performed the work of slavery, thus the coolie was born, a name given to the Chinese, and also what gave name to the phenomenon of coolie trade. So, of course the Chinese worked for cheaper than the European-American labourer, they too were bamboozled into working for almost nothing!

Modern historians still maintain that the Chinese Exclusion Act was a great victory for American labour. The idea that “servile coolie” labour would out compete “honest American” work is a deep fear that still exists today. The argument is that back in the day, the Chinese Exclusion Act united American labour against a single enemy. Their nativist tendencies gave them a common enemy to unite against, and this strengthened the union. So, of course, the whole story is a whole lot more complicated, and it’s not simply workers who managed to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act on their own. It was ultimately politicians who pushed the idea from the top down and much of it was rooted in classism, racist rhetoric, classic bigotry and other bad words. The fact is, not only did politicians manage to garner support for Chinese Exclusion, they also managed to spin it in such a way that history blames the workers for this egregious law.

What did the Chinese Exclusion Act do

There are 15 sections to the Chinese Exclusion Act. I have prepared a short summary of the 15 sections:

  1. Chinese labourers were banned from going to the United States, effective from 90 days after the passing of the act, lasting thereafter for 10 years*.
  2. Anyone bringing Chinese to the United States would be deemed guilty of a misdemeanour. They would be fined for each Chinese they brought, but could also be incarcerated.
  3. The law did not apply to Chinese labourers before 17 November 1880, nor the masters of a vessels bringing Chinese to the United States due to emergency, provided that the Chinese they brought leave from the same port they arrived in.
  4. In order to ascertain which of the Chinese labourers came before 17 November 1880 (or the 90 days following it), custom collectors were supposed to keep detailed record on the Chinese coming and going on vessels. The Chinese should then receive a certificate which would facilitate their re-entry into the United States.
  5. Chinese labourers desiring to leave the US by land have the same right to the certificate of re-entry as the ones leaving the US by sea as stipulated in section 4.
  6. Any Chinese seeking to enter the United States who was not a labourer should have documentation in English (or the document should have an English translation) from the Chinese Government with detailed information such as physical description and a description of their occupation, rank, and title.
  7. Circumventing section 6 by using a false name, impersonating someone else, or forging documents would have been deemed a misdemeanour. One could be fined for up to a thousand dollars, or be incarcerated for up to five years.
  8. Any master of a vessel arriving at a US port would be required to hand over a list detailing all of the Chinese passengers they have on board at the same time they would hand over a manifest of the cargo. Failure to comply would result in the same penalty as failing to hand over a manifest of the cargo.
  9. Before any Chinese passengers may land, they should first be examined by the customs collector.
  10. Any master of a vessel who knowingly violated any of the provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act will be deemed to be forfeiting his vessel to the United States. The vessel would then be liable to seizure or condemnation in any district of the United States.
  11. Anyone knowingly bringing Chinese people into the United States unlawfully would be deemed guilty of a misdemeanour. They could be fined for up to a thousand dollars or incarcerated for up to a year.
  12. Any Chinese coming to the United States without the proper paperwork as stipulated by the Chinese Exclusion Act will be refused entry. If a Chinese is found to be present inside the United States in violation of the Chinese Exclusion Act would be deported after trial.
  13. Chinese diplomats and other Chinese officials on government business were exempted from the restrictions stipulated in the Chinese Exclusion Act.
  14. No state court or court of the United States would be allowed to admit Chinese to citizenship. All acts in conflict with this act were also repealed.
  15. “Chinese labourer” refers to both skilled and unskilled labourers and Chinese miners.

*I highlighted the part where it says it was supposed to last for ten years. That is because it didn’t. It lasted until 1943, when it was finally repealed, that’s 61 years, not 10.

Sometimes it is misunderstood that all Chinese already present in the United States were actually deported from the United States, as was the case for the famous Chinese deportation from the Netherlands in the 1930s. Yet, as we can observe, the Chinese Exclusion Act makes clear that labourers already present were exempted from the law. Nevertheless, the passing of this act sparked the “Driving Out”, during which countless of Chinese living in the United States were driven from their homes, robbed, and murdered.

Additionally, when we consider section 14, it becomes apparent this was a very far reaching act. To ban an entire race of people from obtaining citizenship simply because of their ethnicity or nationality is clearly counter to the self-proclaimed spirit of the United States. The Chinese were judged for both their apparently non-American creed and non-American colour.

An act to execute certain treaty stipulations relating to the Chinese, May 6, 1882; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789-1996; General Records of the United States Government; Record Group 11; National Archives

Implementing the Law

The Chinese were very numerous in California. It was here that the Chinese mined the mines and laid the railroad tracks. In order to evict the Chinese, over 200 pogroms were organised to round up the Chinese and deport them. As one can imagine, this did not go peacefully, nor were the Chinese given proper time to prepare. Shopkeepers, merchants and craftsmen were not given time to pack up their stocks and were forced to leave behind tens of thousands of dollars in property (I did not factor in inflation, so imagine how much that would be in today’s terms).

Originally, it was the white miners who spurred on the violence. Trade union members who were bootmakers, cigar rollers, cooks, and woodcutters banded together against the Chinese, because the Chinese competed with them directly over work. It was mainly the Irish, Germans and the West-Coast Jews who participated in violence against the Chinese.

In this period, two major massacres occurred. The first one is the Rock Springs Massacre and the second one is the Hells Canyon Massacre. Both of these massacres were aimed at the Chinese and the Chinese were the main victims.

I could go on about the pain and suffering, but I’d rather elaborate on that in articles dedicated solely to those tragic episodes in history. The victims at least deserve that. For now, I think it is sufficient to remember that the economic damages, psychological damages, as well as the actual loss of life was great. All of it sparked by hatred for the “Mongolian” race.

Long Term Effects

You might think that the US has always been racist like this (after all, what rights existed for Africans and Native Americans?). You’d be right. But the Chinese Exclusion Act is remarkable in American history because it’s the first time the United States ever passed an immigration law that barred a specific group from entry because of race or nationality.

It set the precedent for similar policies in the future concerning other Asian immigrant groups as well as some European immigrant groups.

Let’s tie this back to the present day. What similarities do we see? Is Sinophobia back and stronger than ever? Are we seeing an increase in violence against Chinese (and other Asians who look Chinese), and is it racially motivated? Are the Chinese again used as a scapegoat to blame American problems on? I think with the Chinese Exclusion Act in mind, it’s quite easy to see that we’re heading down a similar path. I would urge all of us to stay vigilant lest you be pushed down a subway track, beaten, shot, raped and mutilated, robbed, stabbed, or a number of other recent violent occurrences against Asians.

Works Consulted

  1. Gyory, Andrew. Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Univ. of North Carolina Press, n.d.
  2. Pfaelzer, Jean. Driven out: The Forgotten War against Chinese America. New York: Random House, 2007.

May Fourth Movement, Commemorating the Dead and Liberation Day

Today is the fifth of May. In a tiny country in northwestern Europe, the liberation from foreign occupation, German in this case, is celebrated. Yesterday, the fourth of May, the entire country would remain silent for two minutes in order to remember and honour the Dutch lost who their lives in WWII and other subsequent wars. The Fourth of May is also a very important date in China, no, not because they are such Star Wars fans, but because of the May Fourth Movement.

I would like to dedicate this article to these three celebrations. What do they mean individually, and traditionally, and how can we interpret them in light of Asian Pacific Heritage month? How do our own past and suffering fit into these holidays, and, is it in the spirit of these holidays to spin them in a certain way, or even combine them?

This article is part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage campaign. Check out the landing page to learn more about this, and to check the other articles in the line up!

May Fourth Movement 五四運動

By 1919, China was dissected, trampled underfoot, bullied and devastated for a half a century by foreign Imperialists. On May 4th 1919, Students gathered in front of Tiananmen to protest China’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty allowed Japan to retain territories in China, and this was unacceptable. The May Fourth Movement sparked nationwide nationalistic fervour and protests. Chinese Nationalism was well and truly on its way now, as it marked a shift from its previously rather elite and intellectual base of support to a more populist base.

The Dodenherdenking (May 4th)

Since WWII, the Dutch commemorated the fallen Dutch of WWII every year on May 4th. However, since 1961, this changed into commemorating those Dutch war casualties anytime after WWII. There have been some issues with this. There are groups that are of the opinion the purpose of this commemoration must be kept clear, ergo, it should only commemorate WWII casualties, and not any other war that claimed Dutch lives.

Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day – May 5th)

A Dutch national holiday that coincides with Cinco de Mayo. The reasons for celebrating Bevrijdingsdag on May 5th is because the German admiral Von Friedenburg, who presided over large swaths of the Western front, capitulated on the 5th of May. As one can see, it is very specific to the Dutch in WWII. Other European countries celebrate the 8th of May, the official day that Germany capitulated to the Allies.

Combine them, what do we get?

I’m sure many nationalists will oppose this, but we don’t have to limit ourselves to the official reasons these days are celebrated. When we think of Dutch casualties on the 4th of May, I cannot help but think of all the other war casualties of WWII, not just Dutch, but Chinese, Malay, Javan, Filipino, Korean, and many more. But the Chinese especially lost more civilians in the war than Jews were killed by the Nazis. If you have Chinese heritage, but you are a Dutch citizen, and you are commemorating the fallen Dutch on May 4th, perhaps think of your own forebears, whose countrymen gave their lives in defense of China, but have been forgotten.

The May Fourth movement was a reaction against Imperialism. The very same Imperialism the Japanese unleashed upon China in the First Sino-Japanese war, the Boxer Rebellion and the Second Sino-Japanese War. Time and again, the Chinese nation was beset on all sides by foreign predators. And so, on May Fourth we must think of how we can strengthen the nation to keep out the barbarians at the gates.

That is when we get to May 5th. Liberation Day. The Germans surrendered, the Netherlands were free again. But how does a nation pick itself up after occupation? While nominally, the Chinese were liberated from the Manchus in 1911, the ghost of subjugation haunted the nation. With the nation still reeling from the terrible defeats dealt them by Western powers and internal strife, the Japanese struck again. This time leaving behind a wound so deep it yet rends the mind of countless Chinese.

So, even when the Japanese left and surrendered, can we speak of liberation? When the Germans left the Netherlands, was it truly liberated? And when the Dutch left Indonesia, was Indonesia truly liberated? Hardly. We celebrate liberation while we don’t have it, but all the more should we aspire to it. Remove the yoke of subjugation, these are coils that weigh us down. The German occupation lasted only five years, but left visible scars on the land. Consider the centuries the Dutch were in Nusantara, consider China’s long standing status as a hypocolony of the many.

There you have it, Liberation Day, May Fourth and the commemoration of the fallen, interpreted in light of Asian Heritage Month. When next the flags are raised at half mast, and the next day the orange pennants billow bravely into the stark blue sky of a Dutch spring, will you think of the deaths that give the date a Chinese meaning?

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Here it is, the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. While I appreciate the sentiment, it implies that every other month isn’t Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. It feels like we’re being thrown a bone from the table of the master as he gets to enjoy the real prize, whatever that might be.

At any rate, we may enjoy the boons of Asia, but it feels empty to enjoy the nice cultures and peoples without knowing, acknowledging and respecting the history behind it all. Is it not senseless to enjoy sushi, dim sum, boba and more typically Asian things without acknowledging the suffering of the hands that made them? May is a month in which many things happened to the Chinese. This history of pain is oft swept under the rug, this is a travesty of history, and one we seek to correct.

To this end, Afakv’s Memories will (with aid of friends behind the scenes) publish several articles in May in order to bring to light these important events in Chinese history and therefore Chinese heritage.

Stay tuned to learn more.

This article is part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage campaign. Check out the landing page to learn more about this, and to check the other articles in the line up!

Update (May 3rd, 2022):

This article will be periodically updated with links to the articles published over the course of May. The yet to be published articles will not have a hyperlink attached to them.

Topics covered:

  1. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (1 May)
  2. May Fourth Movement, Commemorating the Dead and Liberation Day (5 May)
  3. Get out and stay out! the Chinese Exclusion Act (6 May)
  4. The Eight May Incident: Bombing the Chinese in Belgrade (7-8 May)
  5. Peranakan or not, the Chinese must rot: the 1998 Riots in Indonesia (12 May)
  6. Road to Rukun Negara: the Tragedy of 13 May (13 May)
  7. O Canada, our home and native banned: Chinese Immigration Act 1885 (14 May)
  8. Ten Hours in Torréon: the Massacre of Cantonese Chinese during the Mexican Revolution (15 May)
  9. The Price of Dignity: Vincent Chin (18 May)
  10. Wu Sangui’s Open Door Policy: the Contribution of Chinese Traitors (25 May)
  11. Hells Canyon Massacre (27 May)
  12. The Shots that Woke China: the Nanjing Road Incident (30 May)
  13. ??? (31 May)

Ten Reasons to stop Gambling

The Manchu established Qing Empire lasted from 1636 to 1911. They entered China proper in 1644, within a century or so they controlled large swaths of East Asia and Inner-Asia, spanning from the Eastern extremes of modern day Kazakhstan to Vladivostok. The Manchus prided themselves on their martial prowess, frugality, and bravery, certainly, in the early days of their conquest, this might have been true. However, the first generation of Manchus who hunted in forests and braved the frigid cold of Northeastern China and Southern Siberia acclimated to a sedentary, government-subsidised life in the Gemun Heqen (capital city, ergo, Beijing). They forgot how to shoot arrows and neglected the hunt. Instead, they took up new pursuits, they frequented Chinese theatres, brothels, and gambling dens.

Note: This post contains a number of Manchu terms, which I have highlighted in bold font. The definitions are given behind each highlighted word in brackets. Whenever a Manchu phrase appears between quotation marks, I have used square brackets to denote the translation of the Manchu phrase.

The widespread degeneracy of the Manchu bannermen’s frugal qualities and martial prowess seems to have started by the second half of the eighteenth century (Elliott, 282). Toward the late Qing, the battle-readiness of the Manchus had all but disappeared; melted like the ice cubes they brought from Manchuria. In light of this development, some Manchus became worried. The government had already passed laws that made gambling illegal, but they had limited effect. As Gionai wrote in his preface: “uttu bime hafan data fafulaha seme ilibume muterakv” [Moreover, the government chieftains prohibited it, but it could not be stopped]. They made extra efforts to prevent debauchery from spreading among the bannermen. An example from 1728 shows that garrison general Unaha was instructed to prevent bannermen from wearing fine-clothing, killing cows, copper tools and weapons, and gambling (Elliott, 289). The Manchu Great Khans of the Qing, especially Elhe Taifin (Kangxi) and Hvwaliyasun Tob (Yongzheng) orchestrated extensive campaigns to rid the common folk of the vice of gambling (Chan et al., 40). Abkai Wehiyehe (Qianlong) even went as far as to call gambling one of four evil practises—the others being theft, fighting, and prostitution (Chan et al., 41). The following is an example of an essay written in the same spirit to put a halt to gambling.

afakv - shows gambling
Some gamblers in the late Qing.

Gionai was a gvsai da (Regiment Colonel) and in charge of alban taqikvi baita (official education affairs). He published his essay jiha efire be targabure juwan haqin (ten reasons to stop gambling) in the third year of Saiqvngga Fengxen (Jiaqing, the third year is 1798). He mentions that he found an essay titled “ten precepts to stop gambling”, and thought it “as a treasured raft for the lost and as a panacea for the ill”. In the introduction to this essay, he says the reason for translating it into Manchu is that the people in his kvwaran (barracks) aren’t as proficient in Chinese as they are in Manchu. He remains humble by referring to himself as someone superficial and simple and that scholars would certainly laugh at his attempt to publish his ramblings. He hoped that the “enlighted future generations” could improve upon his writings.

Now, I am not enlightened by any stretch of the imagination, but I am of a future generation. In addition to translating (somewhat freely and inadequately) his essay, I also wanted to add some of my own inane ramblings by comparing this essay with arguments we know from other cultural backgrounds and eras to see how they compare. I also have my own axe to grind against gambling, so, I’m not so secretly hoping that all of these arguments will be convincing to at least some readers. I also wanted to seek to explain some aspects of Chinese or Manchu culture through the points mentioned in his text. A few of the works consulted are Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s Mafatih al-Ghayb and Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.

It is important, as with any discussion, to denote what we mean with the term gambling. The word Gionai uses is “jiha efimbi”, literally, to play with money. As to what exactly he defines as “jiha efimbi”, he does not say. However, we can safely assume he equates it to the Chinese term “du” 賭 because Gionai himself uses jiha efimbi to translate this Chinese word. It roughly refers to the act of tying monetary exchange to a certain game or happening. It is a rather broad definition, but from the context in Gionai is translating, it probably refers to typical Qing dynasty activities such as páijiǔ 牌九, mǎdiào 馬吊, yābǎo 押寶, and other popular games of the era. It probably also refers to betting games, which took the form of cockfighting and cricket fighting. Also, Gionai published before the restrictions on gambling were lifted during the end of the Qing, this means that legal gambling houses were not part of Qing life yet.

A final point on the commentary. Since this is a work of translation, the arguments made in the essay can hardly be considered Gionai’s own. For ease of reference, I do just say things like “Gionai wrote” and “Gionai argues”, knowing fully that he is actually the translator. Admittedly, since he thinks highly of the original text, we can assume he agreed with them. Since he was a Manchu fluent in his own language and the people around him lacked Chinese language skills, I assume that he viewed the world with a Manchu lens (whatever that might mean). As such, for the commentary I provide, I try to provide a plausible explanation for the concepts mentioned in the text from a Manchu vantage point first and foremost. When it is clearly a Chinese concept, I don’t shy from also providing the Chinese cultural context (as was probably initially intended anyway). Though, since it is essentially a Chinese work, I think we should be aware that this text doesn’t reflect how much or how little Manchus like Gionai sinicised.

jiha efire baita, niyalma de ebderen ojorongge, muke tuwa hvlha holo qi hono nimequke. boo boigon garjame efujerakvngge akv.

The matter of gambling is that which destroys people, it is even worse than water, fire, robbers, or thieves. There are none who do not destroy their family fortune.


  1. Destruction of mentality
  2. Impropriety
  3. Harming of health
  4. Disgracing ancestors
  5. Forsaking upbringing
  6. Squandering family property
  7. Creating emergencies
  8. Distancing from kin
  9. Violating the law of the land
  10. Violating the law of God
  11. Closing remarks

1. Destruction of mentality

The first problem of gambling that Gionai identifies is that it “gvnin mujilen be ebderebumbi” [causes destruction of mentality]. The following will be a translation of this subsection:

From the moment one enters a gambling den, a place where one plays with money, you are there for one purpose alone: to make money. One will try to make money by any means necessary; pure greed is what is in their minds. They only care about winning money, it is the origin of all kinds of evil mentalities. How many closest kin face off against each other, secretly planning for each other’s loss? Even when they gamble with good friends, the moment the gambling starts, they will treat each other like enemies. They think of nothing but their own profits, and care not about others losing their family fortune. So, how can this not cause the destruction of one’s mentality?

Here we see that Gionai sees gambling as evil because it stems from greed. He also emphasises kith and kin will treat each other as enemies. He regards this as evil. As such, it remains a central theme throughout the rest of his essay that gambling ruins interpersonal bonds. He argues clearly that one’s wish for their own success means that they wish for others to fail, this is selfishness in practise. The gambler rejoices as his friends lose, Gionai surmises “urunakv dorgidere arga jali be baitalambi” [they certainly plan against each other secretly]. Of course, this is precisely how gambling works, one can only gain money if others lose. Gamblers do not strive together for a common goal, but instead fight amongst themselves for personal gain while the sum of the wealth remains equal. This is why gambling is a useless activity. It can only ever redistribute wealth, but not create it.

When we look at Gionai’s argument, one can’t help but notice the similarity with the Qur’an. Consider the following ayah:

Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain?

An interpretation of The Holy Qur’an 5:91

Abdul-Rahman al-Sa’di explains this by saying that when one gambler defeats the other, the loser gives up his wealth for nothing in return, this is a source for “great enmity and resentment” (al-Sa’di, 27).

When we look at Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, we can detect a similar disdain towards gambling, approached from a similar angle. Gambling, according to Aquinas, is a species of covetousness rather than a daughter as claimed by Aristotle (Aquinas, 160). Covetousness renders one insensitive to mercy, and it makes one want to receive in excess. So, wishing to acquire and keep immodestly, which is what covetousness entails, this is what Aquinas considers an evident sin (145). Indeed, he even considers it a capital vice (157). At the same time, this covetousness leads one to “disgraceful means” with which one tries to acquire wealth (160). One of these means is indeed by “preying on one’s friends, as gamblers do” (160). This argument is almost identical to the argument in Gionai’s text and seems to agree with the Qur’an as well.

To elaborate on covetousness, Gionai says gamblers have a “yooni doosi gvnin” [pure mentality of greed]. In Confucian thought, it is regarded as appalling to love wealth more than virtue. This is illustrated by a passage in “Liren” section of Confucius’ Analects, which reads:


The Master said, The gentleman is alert to what is right.
The petty man is alert to what is profitable.

Burton Watson, tran., The Analects of Confucius (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2007), 34.

Greed leads to many other problems. This, in turn, is also reminiscent of why covetousness is regarded by Aquinas as one of the worst states of being, or “habitus”. While one might interpret greed purely in terms of love for money or wealth, the concept is actually broader. Covetousness (greed, or avarice by another name) exacerbates other vices. It moves one to desire and acquire beyond what one needs. This extends to love, leisure, hunger, honour, righteous indignation, and admiration, which, once greed corrupts, grows into lust, sloth, gluttony, pride, wrath and envy, respectively (Ogilvy, 87). Ogilvy argues that justice is to virtue what greed is to vice. Without justice, the other virtues become empty, without greed, the other vices aren’t vices because greed is the very thing that drives us into excess.

Of course, it is impossible that either Gionai or the original author studied Ogilvy’s writing. Even so, the concept itself was likely familiar to the original author and Gionai. That is because in Buddhism, the idea of greed, more accurately attachment or desire, doesn’t just refer to money. Māhāyana Buddhism (the dominant school of Buddhism in China) calls this concept the triviṣa, three poisons. The triviṣa are what prevent a person from reaching enlightenment, they are also the root of all other kleśa, afflictions. The three poisons are rāga (desire, attachment; 貪 tān), dveṣa (anger; 嗔 chēn), and moha (delusion, ignorance; 癡 chī). Rāga does not just refer to desire for money, but all manners of desire. The Chinese translation of the Dharmaskandha by Xuanzhuang defines it as follows:


What is rāga? To have all manners of desires in a situation of plenty is rāga. To gain without giving, to be mired in amusements, to be inclined towards indulgences, to be shackled by yearning, to abandon oneself to heavy drinking, collecting hardships, to care for nothing but saving one’s life, that is altogether called rāga.

Chapter 16 “Zashipin” in Fascicle 9 of Apidamo fayunzulun 《阿毘達磨法蘊足論》卷9〈16 雜事品〉. Book. From CBETA, T26, no. 1537. p. 494c20-22. Web, http:// (accessed February 19, 2022).

Greed stands at the root of many other afflictions. The original text seems to understand well that gambling is an expression of greed, of covetousness, and that this desire leads to other “ehe gvnin” [evil mentalities]. Not surprisingly, the Chinese characters used that are used in the text is tānxīn 貪心 (the same character as rāga), which Gionai translates as “doosi mujilen” [greed]. Therefore, I think it’s a distinct possibility that the author of the text was influenced by Buddhist thought.

Additionally, the way the text describes gambling as “hala haqin i ehe gvnin deribure de isinambi” [gives rise to all manner of evil mentalities] is reminiscent of the following passage from “The Pardoner’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales:

And now that I have spoken of glotonye,
Now wol I yow deffenden hasardrye.
Hasard is verray mooder of lesynges,
And of deceite, and cursed forswerynges,
Blaspheme of Crist, manslaughtre, and wast also
Of catel and of tyme; and forthermo,
It is repreeve and contrarie of honour
For to ben holde a commune hasardour.

[Now that I have spoken enough about gluttony,
here’s what I have to say about gambling.
Gambling is the true mother of lies,
deceit, and false swearing.
It causes blasphemy and manslaughter,
and it’s a complete waste of time and money.
Furthermore, it’s shameful and dishounorable
to be regarded as a habitual gambler.]

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Dean Benson (Oxford University Press, 2008), 198.

The similarity is most striking when Chaucer mentions that “hasard is verray mooder of lesynges”, which means that gambling is the true mother of lies. He continues to say also deceit and blasphemy stem from “hasard” [gambling]. In other words, the Pardoner in Canterbury Tales also claims that gambling specifically (and not greed, as Ogilvy argued) gives rise to all manner of evil mentalities. The similarities do not end there, almost all points of critique mentioned by the Pardoner Gionai’s text also discusses. We will go over them in the subsequent headings.

2. Impropriety

The second point mentioned is “beyei yabun efunebumbi” [destruction of one’s proper conduct]. The passage is as follows:

Every person, no matter revered or humble, high or low, has their own designated place. At gambling dens, all that is considered is how many or few coins one has. Who will distinguish one’s reveredness or humbleness? Since no difference is made in the seating according to the proper rites, servants and attendants immediately become friends and companions, equals. Therefore, no consideration is given to high or low status. Slaves and bondservants become equal and call people brothers. They say whatever they want and make merry together, then they speak casually and vulgarly, calling each other familiarly. What decorum is this? What proper conduct is this?

A note on the translation: it is not immediately clear from the text itself whether those servants, attendants, slaves, and bondservants immediately become equals with each other, or someone else of a freeman status that Gionai expresses disgust at. I think it is implied that they are addressing freemen or even masters or people of higher status as equals, and this is what breaks decorum. If not, then what breaks decorum is that slaves are addressing other kinds of slaves familiarly. This strikes me as unlikely to have been a concern for Gionai. Additionally, For ease of reading, I translated dangkan as bondservant, but this actually refers to a slave who is hereditarily bound to a household. A dahalji is translated as attendant and refers to a servant who receives pay but is under a lifetime contract.

To modern eyes, this does not seem a convincing argument against gambling. Indeed, the fraternisation among different social classes might even seem a good thing. This is a result of many societies no longer have slavery or feudalism. What Gionai says here is rooted in the Qing Empire’s society and the difference between nobles and commoners, and masters and slaves. The Manchus conquered China and created an apartheid that separated the conquerors from the conquered. Elliott calls May 27, 1644 China’s Hastings (Elliot, i). It is an apt comparison, because like the Norman conquest that subjugated Britain and the Anglo-Saxons, the Manchus put the Chinese underneath the “tatar yoke” once more. The clear separation of classes and its accompanying sentiments are what are visible in this passage through repeated use of “wesihun fusihvn” [exalted and common] as well as “dele wala” [high and low].

Slaves were very much a part of the Qing system. Originally, before the Jurchens (ethnic Manchus before they called themselves Manchu) founded the amaga aisin gurun (latter Jin), the aha (slaves) were taken from captive Koreans, Chinese, other Jurchens and Mongols. Later, such booi bondservants (note that this is different from the word dangkan used in the text) were put into banners and were still regarded as property. The bondservants were also ethnically diverse, the bondservant companies contained Jurchen company leaders also with a slave status (Elliott, 84).

Consider the sentence: “jiha efire falan de damu jiha i labdu komso be bodoro dabala” [at the gambling den, only how much or how little money one has is considered]. He thinks it is not proper to consider status by amount of wealth. While in some societies today this has indeed become the case, to not take heed of noble or common birth is improper. Gionai implies that nobles, whether poor or rich, should still be treated with the proper rites, by virtue of their status as nobles.

What is noteworthy is his emphasis on proper conduct. It is unbecoming of a nobleman to behave vulgarly with people beneath his station. As illustrated by “anggai iqi balai tukiyeme hvlara” [called each other casually and vulgarly]. He proceeds to call for proper decorum befitting of people of their status. This is shown through the following: “yaya niyalma wesihun fusihvn dele wala de gemu meni meni teisu bi” [Every person, no matter revered or humble, high or low, has their own designated place]. The argument is that gambling dens, since no proper regard is held for the noble’s status, is not a suitable place for a noble to spend his time.

The notion that a gambling is not a fitting activity for a noble is also present in the Pardoner’s Tale. It speaks of what is proper conduct for rulers, in which gambling is not an activity befitting his status, precisely because he is of “estaat”. The Pardoner in Chaucer’s tale does emphasise how harmful it is for a ruler to be regarded as a gambler because his reputation as a ruler will suffer. He also raises a few historical examples through which he illustrates his point in the following paragraphs, which are not quoted here.

And ever the hyer he is of estaat,
The moore he is holden desolaat.
If that a prynce useth hasardrye,
In alle governaunce and policye
He is, as by commune opinioun,
Yholde the lasse in reputacioun.

[And ever the higher he is of estate,
The more he is considered abandoned (to shame).
If a prince plays at gambling,
In all governance and policy
He is, by common opinion,
Held the less in reputation.]

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Dean Benson (Oxford University Press, 2008), 198.

Indeed, while both Gionai and Chaucer write of reasons why it is inadvisable for a noble to be a gambler, they argue the point from differing perspectives. Chaucer’s Pardoner thinks of the untrustworthy reputation of the gambler, while Gionai thinks of the breaking of proper conduct in light of Qing society’s strict division of classes.

3. Harming of health

The third point Gionai states is “ergen beyebe kokirabumbi” [causes harm to life and body]. This passage is as follows:

After a win, excitement increases after which they will play until the sun sets, all the way through the night. After a loss, they will neglect hunger and cold, they will go at it again without regard to their lives. Since this causes harm to one’s life essence and vigor, it will certainly lead to death. Some cannot repay their owed sum after putting themselves in a debt. After which, reputation loss will make meeting difficult, feeling stifled and ashamed inside. All manners of illness come to violate the body. After plans are exhausted, the situation is dire. However, such matters will be over immediately after death. They depart on the road to the city of the wronged dead. So, this is the final destination of the people of the gambling den. Is this not the destruction of the spirit?

This passage has a few cultural elements that need explaining. If one subscribes to the Platonic concept of separation of body and mind, it might not be immediately clear what the link is between feeling stifled and ashamed as a cause for illnesses to violate the body. It seems strange why Gionai would incorporate not being able to repay debts in a passage about health. It is true enough that being a debtor to a loan shark might be bad for one’s health for more violent reasons. Yet, he does not make that connection in this passage. Instead, he puts a causal relation between feeling stifled and ashamed and having illnesses violate the body. This requires further elaboration.

Manchu medicine cannot just be equated to Chinese medicine, nevertheless, there are certainly some areas of overlap. In Chinese medical theory, organ systems house emotions. Emotions can therefore impact physical organs and vice versa. An example would be that excessive anger can spike the fire of the heart, which can lead to imbalances that can deregulate the body. A deregulated body, according Chinese medicine and Galen’s theory, is weakened. A weakened body is more susceptible to pathogens. In this way, feeling stifled and ashamed might be detrimental to physical health. This connection of mind and body is further reinforced at the end of the passage when he mentions “gvnin” [mind, spirit] in a passage about physical wellbeing. It is evident that physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing are not separated.

Another point that should be discussed is the concept of “oori simen” [life essence and vigour]. In Chinese medicine, a part of your life essence (精 jīng) is a nonrenewable resource that defines one’s constitution and is given to a child by the parents at birth, so-called prenatal essence. Once this resource runs out, the person dies. The quintessential book in traditional Chinese medicine puts it as follows:

They drink wine as though it were water, indulge excessively in destructive activities, drain their jing—the body’s essence that is stored in the kidneys—and deplete their qi. They do not know the secret of conserving their energy and vitality. Seeking emotional excitement and momentary pleasures, people disregard the natural rhythm and order of the universe. They fail to regulate their lifestyle and diet, and sleep improperly. So it is not surprising that they look old at fifty and die soon after.

Maoshing Ni, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine: A New Translation of the Neijing Suwen with Commentary (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1995), 1.

Steps can be taken in one’s life to preserve prenatal essence or to limit its expenditure. Sleeping well, eating well, and staying warm can build up postnatal essence which act as a buffer before one starts to consume prenatal essence (Maciocia, 45). As one can see, the original author rooted his essay in Chinese medicinal theory. Staying up late, from dawn to dusk, not caring about food or cold will deplete life essence, leading one to an early grave, just as is written in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine.

Note: To ascertain whether the perspective of Manchu medicine would have been the same on this issue, I would have liked to be able to peruse the Manchu manuscript Yanshou Geyan《延壽格言》(Maxims on Prolonging Life), published in 1779. Not only is it contemporary to Gionai, Manchus also had a unique look on medicine owing to their contact with frontier peoples and their own medical heritage, this book might have been a way to peer into that outlook. Regrettably, this source is not available online. Admittedly, this manuscript was translated from Chinese as well and therefore likely does not depart from Chinese medical theory.

He also mentions that people will end up in “sui mangga buqehe ursei hoton” [city of the wronged dead]. This is a concept that refers to a hellish destination in the underworld of souls who died an unjust death, and a popular occurrence in folk tales from the Ming and Qing (Chen, 28). This includes all manners of death that are deemed unnatural, such as accidents, murder and definitely suicide. It is implied that, once they are driven to desperation, will seek to end their own lives, because death is an end to all their worldly problems. This is made clear by the phrase “damu emgeri buqehe de uthai baita wajiha de obumbi” [However, matters are all caused to be over immediately after death]. Of course, being murdered by a loan shark is also not off the table.

Do keep in mind that Gionai did not use the word na i loo (literally: earth’s prison; hell, the underworld), reserved for wrongdoers. Hell in Dante’s conception and na i loo sound like similar concepts, but differ in implication. In Tungusic Shamanism (Manchus were a Tungusic people) there was a belief in the immortality of the soul, so the soul exists beyond the death of the body. Where they differ from Dante’s hell is that their funeral rites emphasise reincarnation (Ma et al., 385). Moreover, Buddhist deities are often in Manchu Shamanistic prayers (Vovin). Buddhism famously argues for the existence of reincarnation, it follows that this strong presence of Buddhism within Shamanism is another factor that reinforces the doctrine of reincarnation. With the concept of reincarnation so strongly present, it follows that suffering in hell cannot be eternal, for eventually these souls must be reborn. Moreover, Buddhists, Daoists, and Chinese culture in general conceived that hell is not eternal (Katz, 27).

Interestingly, Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy writes that those who wantonly spend their money or are avaricious may end up in Hell. The following passage focuses on those who waste their money.

‘Without exception, all of these,’ he said,
‘when first they lived, had such strabismic minds
they’d bear no check or measure on expense.’

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Books, 2012), 31. (Inferno, Canto 7, 40-42)

Of course, the traditional Christian view that suicide is a sin is also reflected in the Divine Comedy. In Canto 13 it is written:

When any soul abandons savagely
its body, rending self by self away,
Minos consigns it to the seventh gulf.

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Books, 2012), 58. (Inferno, Canto 13, 94-96)

He also specifically mentions violence against oneself or one’s belongings through gambling that is punished in the seventh ring of Hell. Alighieri writes:

In violence, too, we turn against ourselves
or else our own belongings. And thus
in Sub-ring Two are those (regret now vain)
who by their own free will strips off your world
or gambles all their competence away,
and weeps where, properly, they should rejoice.

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Books, 2012), 48. (Inferno, Canto 11, 40-43)

There is a similarity between Gionai’s argument and Alighieri’s, no less, since Gionai is bringing up the city of the wrongful dead in a section he headed “ergen beyebe kokirabumbi” [causes harm to life and body]. It should be noted that the word “beye” can be translated both as body and as self (this is also the case in Chinese, where ‘shēn 身’ can mean either ‘body’ or ‘self’). As such, the heading might also be translated as causing harm to life and self. In this manner, the assumption is identical, causing harm to oneself through gambling or suicide will land you in this form of purgatory. Though Dante also asserts that avarice (for gambling is motivated by a desire to gain), violence against the self (through gambling), and suicide by themselves can be enough to land one in Hell. Gionai does not make this explicit argument. For Gionai, gambling leads to premature death, in this case through suicide, that will lead to the city of the wronged dead.

The city of the wronged dead is not the same as na i loo. Indeed, the city of the wronged dead is reserved for those who died unjust deaths, including suicide. However, since suicide is deemed as largely caused by oneself, the Judge of the Underworld has ruled that no one who died by suicide will be reincarnated (Chen, 29). People who are murdered also end up in this city, but only as a temporary place of residence until their own or their murderer’s natural lifespan expires, after which they can move on to be judged. If they are deemed sinful, they will be sentenced to be suffered in na i loo, and after their sentence they can be reincarnated.

The city of the wronged dead is also not explicitly a place of suffering. It doesn’t appear that any sentences of the punishments are carried out there, but it also can’t be considered a pleasant destination. The city is ruled by Mara, the same Mara as the devil in Buddhist canon. Its guards and gaolers are demonic figures with ox heads and horse faces. Its permanent inhabitants are those who died by suicide, and all who reside there keep their wounds that killed them. Those who go there are doomed to wander its streets and alleys, maimed, bruised, and mangled, besmirched with their own blood, for an eternity. It is said that the city emanates an air of grief and anguish (Chen, 29). This is similar to the “grief-wracked city” and everlasting nature of Dante’s Hell, illustrated by the phrase written on the gates of Hell:

Through me you go to the grief-wracked city.
Through me to everlasting pain you go.
Through me you go and pass among lost souls.
Justice inspired my exalted Creator.
I am a creature of the Holiest Power,
of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love.
Nothing till I was made was made, only
eternal beings. And I endure eternally.
Surrender as you enter every hope you have.

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Books, 2012), 12. (Inferno, Canto 3, 1-9)

Dante’s conception of Hell’s eternity is relevant because it aligns with traditional Christian views of hell that were argued by Augustine of Hippo in his De civitate Dei.

In short, in this passage Gionai makes two arguments. The first argument is that the gamblers become addicted to gambling, regardless of win or loss. This addiction leads to them neglecting their own health, harming their bodies and minds, resulting in premature death. The second point he mentions is the fact that gamblers will go into debt. They will be driven to desperation if they cannot pay off their debts, then they will meet an unnatural end to their lives by suicide, or perhaps murder. Since he mentions the city of the wrongful dead, he is saying, in short, that gamblers end up in a destination in the afterlife in which the soul is punished, albeit temporarily.

4. Disgracing ancestors

[When] silver and coins are taken by someone, they will still ridicule by calling one a foolish decadent child, ruining and destroying your family fortune. It causes the foolish son’s sins to be discussed. Not only can this not bring glory to the ancestors, it can, on the contrary, bring ruin and shame to the family. Then, they discuss among each other and accuse that the clansmen are all like their forebear. The forefathers died, but they certainly hate this still.

One must therefore also not make the mistake that if one loses money to others, that they will like you for giving them money. Instead, the loser will still be seen as a wasteful lout, which in turn reflects badly on the ancestor.

In this passage, Gionai argues that the actions of the descendant reflect upon the ancestor. Indeed, if a descendant acts in a reprehensible manner, Gionai argues that it is assumed they have learned that behaviour from the ancestor. In Confucian thought, it is assumed that if a child is fed but not taught properly, it is the fault of the father. The following passage from the Sanzijing illustrates this concisely: “养不教,父之过” [to feed without teaching is the father’s fault]. This manner of thinking is reflected strongly in this passage by the segment “ede gaxan falga gemu inu nenehe niyalma be wakaxame leoleqere be dahame” [Then, they discuss among each other and accuse that the clansmen all follow their forebear].

This point about disgracing ancestors probably resonated with Gionai because ancestors are important in Manchu culture, just as in Chinese culture. The hala (surname/clan) among the Manchus denoted a common ancestry from a few male progenitors. An example of the importance the Manchus placed on these forebears is the mythical origin of the Aisin Gioro hala (surname/clan). The Imperial family is said to be descended from a mythical founding ancestor by the name of Bukvri Yongxon. His immaculate conception from the maiden Fekulen and the enduri saksaha (sacred magpie) gave legitimacy to the reign of the Aisin Gioro line (Di Cosmo, 368). Clearly, the Manchus prided themselves on illustrious ancestors, disgracing them would certainly be taboo.

In fact, in Manchu shamanism, it is believed that the spirits they offer sacrifices to are ancestral spirits. Among the Manchus, people with the same hala (surname/clan) offered to the same spirit (Ma et al., 381). In fact, important members of the clan are believed to become protective ancestral spirits for the entire clan (Ma et al., 385). If such ancestors are disgraced, ancestors who also serve as protective deities called weqeku (household deity), then destroying their reputation might have certain tangible negative effects to the Manchus who believed in their power.

Moreover, the Confucian culture that the original writings seem to have come from probably also influenced Gionai’s thinking. It is widely known that Confucians worship their ancestors. To take it a step further, since Gionai is clearly familiar with popular Chinese conceptions of the afterlife, he likely also believed in the concept of ancestors that were conscious of what happened among the living. For example, they believe there is a place known as the terrace of gazing upon home (wàngxiāngtái 望乡台) in the underworld, where the deceased souls can gaze upon their living relatives and what they’ve been up to. This means that his final sentence “the forefathers died, but they certainly hate this still” should be taken quite literally.

5. Forsaking upbringing

This matter of gambling, people are very easily enticed by it. Within a family unit, it is quite easy to observe [each other]. Children and juniors are taught through day-to-day affairs. It is commonly said that there must be a good behaviour to be imitated. They watch their elders play from the sides on the spot. It is also said that they learn to play from this example. Fathers and sons play with each other, brothers play with each other, slaves and bondservants play among each other. These are only the rules of the game, where are the rules of the house? They play at daytime, they play at midnight, they play in the inner chambers. This is the start of the arrival of the wicked doctrine of playing cards and tiles, and the wicked doctrine of dissoluteness. Then, the family upbringing is greatly forsaken. The heart is indeed able to become bitterly disappointed.

Playing in the inner chambers, with cards and tiles, most likely refers to games like mǎdiào 馬吊 and májiàng 麻將. Though, no distinction appears to be made in terminology concerning gambling done in inner chambers or gambling done in gambling dens. The term “dorgi boo” can also refer to bedrooms or women’s quarters. It is possible that it is alluded to the idea that women also become addicted to the vice. It was considered improper for women to go out, especially to places like gambling dens. If they gambled, it would have been within the privacy of their own estates or indeed inner chambers. Of course, this is speculation based on the use of “dorgi boo”. The text itself makes no reference to women gambling.

afakv - supports the arguments in the text regarding informality
Probably a photograph during the very late Qing. On the table is a set of májiàng tiles. Notice how informally they are seated, men and women intermingle freely, there appears to be no regard for proper social decorum.

The main point Gionai is making is the fact that gambling is so time-consuming that children of the family will be overly exposed to it. As such, it is easy for these children to pick up the vice of gambling. After all, children will follow the example of their elders. If the elders are gambling all day, it is only natural the children will adopt this behaviour too. However, listing the fact that children might learn gambling as a reason that gambling is bad seems a tad circular. The fact that children might learn to gamble from their elders is only bad if gambling is shown to be bad. Though, the circularity of the argument is somewhat mitigated by mentioning the time-consuming nature of gambling displacing time for raising children. He shows this through “ere efin i taqihiyan oho dabala, booi taqihiyan aba” [These are only the rules of the game, where are the rules of the house?]

Certainly, the idea that gambling is an intense waste of time also shines through in the passage. It is illustrated in “inenggi xun de efire, xumin dobori de efire” [they play at daytime, they play at midnight]. Gionai then argues that gambling and wasting time result in dissoluteness. We begin to see the core of his arguments in each of his points: gambling is and will lead to breaching of proper behaviour.

Also, as promised, this is the point that is corroborated in the Pardoner’s tale. Indeed, gambling is a complete waste of time. The next section will illustrate the other point the Pardoner made, that it is a complete waste of money as well.

6. Squandering family property

Because in the beginning one is impetuous, money and family fortune are wasted alike. In the end, the heart is burdened. Family fortune will be disposed like discarded objects. After the forefathers toiled a lifetime, they painstakingly established a family. Because the descendants have suddenly lavishly wasted money, the reputation of the family is destroyed. After the clothes are all pawned off, after all that is left is yourself, which of your friends and family is going to cherish you? After all your lands and properties are sold, and after you go into debt again, there will not be a resting place for you on the in the margins of the sky. Having thought of this, it is quite pitiful indeed.

To me, this is where Gionai makes a very compelling argument. He presupposes that nothing can be gained from gambling. It is always a loss. This inevitable losing makes gambling equal to heedlessly throwing money away and lavishly wasting it. He uses the words “mamgiyame fayafi” [to have lavishly wasted money]. He also assumes that the gambler will be forced to sell all of his possessions, even the clothes on his back, his house and lands, until there is no resting place in the “abkai buten” [margins of the sky, ergo: the farthest reaches of the earth]. In other words, you shall possess nothing and will have no place to call home anywhere on earth: you will become homeless and penniless. Such is the fate of gamblers.

It is also important how much he brings the family into this argument. He does this thrice. The first is when he mentions how difficult it was for the forefathers to establish generational wealth. Illustrated by this phrase: “mafa ama emu jalan jobome suilambi, arkan i duka uqe ilibuha bime” [After the forefathers toiled a lifetime, they painstakingly established a family]. The second is when he mentions the destruction of “booi alga” [family reputation]. The third is when he mentions that no friends or family will cherish you after you ruin yourself. This is shown by the phrase “niyaman guqu we simbe hairambi” [which of your friends and family is going to cherish you?]. It is obvious that to Gionai, family and its reputation was a very important point of consideration. It also seems that he assumes that friends and family will only cherish you, provided you did not squander your family fortune. Perhaps this is a rather cynical view of humans in general, nevertheless, it might be an accurate one in his time.

Nonetheless, the point is clear: if you gamble, you will squander generational wealth, you will be destroyed as you will have no house, clothes, or friends to care for you, your family reputation will be destroyed and still you will languish in debt.

7. Creating emergencies

After they go out, they gamble until the sun comes out. The people who play in the gambling den all night do not close their doors. This makes it so that robbers and thieves have much opportunity to take a peek. The fire of the lamps is never extinguished, (so) the house could even be burned down. After they have been excessive again, the good-for-nothing children begin to continuously plot for ways (to make money). Base people spy in order to do evil. *After the fires are put out, they knock on the door, as if things are normal. It is impossible to tell anyone apart. Tassels on the hat removed, underwear taken off, all things are the same. Even doing immoral matters between man and woman. Such origins of disaster, it cannot be left unconsidered.

*Note on the translation: there is a phrase “endan be” which I have been unable to translate, so I have left it untranslated. In fact, I had trouble with the grammar of this section. Please forgive my shoddy translation.

In this passage, one argument is made, but it is illustrated with two or three examples. The argument is that gamblers are too preoccupied during the night and away from home, so anything can happen while the man of the house is away. He sketches two or three scenarios of what might potentially happen.

The first example of a calamity that might befall someone is that the house might be burgled. Indeed, he says that “hvlha holo” [thieves and robbers] might sneak peek into the house.

The second example is that the house might burn down because the lamps are never put out during the night. It is not exactly certain what is meant with this. Presumably, if the gambler is away at the gambling den, he would have no need to light the lamps in his house. Unless he has family waiting for him at home, however, if this is the case, why would burglars have more opportunities? On the other hand, if he is merely gambling at home, there is indeed an opportunity for the building to burn down. Yet, if one is gambling at home, then why would the burglars have ample opportunity for observing the house? Maybe a house is more easily visible from the outside when lamps are lit and the windows are open. Although, the section starts with “tuqifi geretele jiha efire” [after they go out, they gamble until the sun comes out], so, he clearly isn’t talking about gamblers at home. A final possibility is that he is actually referring to the lamps used by the burglars, which also seems strange, since burglars would probably prefer to remain hidden, and a lamp would be counterproductive. Nevertheless, I am not familiar with how burglars operated during Gionai’s or the original author’s time, so I won’t draw any conclusions.

In the final example, Gionai appeals to a very primal emotion within men, the very natural feeling of protectiveness felt over the women of the family. The idea that one’s wife or female family members are unsafe from potential bad men because one is too preoccupied during the night, trying to make money in a gambling den, seems plausible. Gionai does not mention violation by name. The situation he sketches can certainly refer to a number of things, such as adultery or fornication. But, he writes that the bad men enter the house under cover of darkness, in which nobody can tell anybody apart. This means that the woman thinks the ruffian is her husband. The Manchu word he uses to describe the base person that is looking to do immoral things is “ehelinggu”. This is a word that can be translated as inferior, low grade or mediocre. With this mild language in mind, rather than the stronger words for criminals he used elsewhere, it seems he could also be referring to a potential adulterer. He stops short from accusing the gambler’s womenfolk from immoral behaviour directly this way, but of course, we can all see that the gambler’s absence would realistically allow for voluntary adultery as well. Perhaps this point would be understood between the lines.

Taken together, this section is rather straightforward. Gambling causes one to stay home late or to be away from home unnecessarily. This gives rise to the possibility of calamities to occur.

8. Distancing from kin

The people of the book, the men of the farmlands, the working artisans, and the merchants. If each of them exerts themselves in their assigned roles, then fathers, mothers, children, and wives are happy together. This is bliss of God’s law. It is also the normal way of human life. Actually, after one enters the gambling den, it is as if one immediately sinks into an ocean of suffering. After the jewels and trinkets are pawned off, while bearing hatred within the hearts of the children and wife, they also dare not to express it. After the lands and houses are sold, the eyes of the parents are wide awake and their eyebrows are furrowed. One but only acts in order to attain one’s own pleasure and enjoyment. But if one does not desire to consider the hatred and anguish of the entire family, if the heart turns, how can you obtain peace?

Gionai appeals to the family men in this section. Clearly, his text is revealed to be targetted at a male audience. As in the previous section and the current section, he assumes the reader is a man because he talks about their wives. While the previous section talks about eventual calamities forming within the family because of outsiders, in this section the distancing from family is entirely a result of the gambling.

In this section, Gionai also does something he doesn’t do in any of the other sections. Instead of focusing merely on what might go wrong and awry, he contrasts it with a beautiful vision of an ideal family life as envisioned by Confucians. He paints a canvas of a harmonious society, where everyone does as is expected and bliss befalls upon all the adherents, as humans should do. In the “Yanyuan” section of the Analects the following ideal is provided that illustrates how a proper country should look:


Confucius replied, Let the ruler be a ruler; the subject, a subject; the father, a father; the son, a son.

Burton Watson, tran., The Analects of Confucius (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2007), 82.

He then brutally disturbs that idyllic Confucian dreamscape the moment gambling enters the frame. Gionai juxtaposes the beautifully phrased “abkai qiktan i sebjen” [bliss of God’s law] with the abject horrors of the sinking into a “gosihon namu” [ocean of suffering; lit. ocean of bitterness]. With this technique, he entices and warns the reader with two possible lives, the sweet bliss of heavenly order, or the sinking bitterness of suffering.

In the final few lines of this section, he also mentions how selfish it is to forego the needs of the entire family for the pleasure of one. It appeals to the sense of duty that befalls upon a man. It also tells us that Gionai believed that the fate of a family could be decided by the actions of a single person. In this case, the decision of a man who chooses to gamble or to abstain can be the difference between suffering or bliss, but also that the pleasure of one is subservient to the needs of the collective.

In the final line, he appeals to the conscience of the man. He appeals to the sense of righteousness and the guilt that is felt knowing that he destroyed his family’s happiness for a temporary feeling of contentment. Gionai is asking the gambler how he can sleep at night. Gionai’s writing reminds me of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in which a potential bad future is presented in order to shock and shame the Manchu version of Ebenezer Scrooge onto the right path.

9. Violating the law of the land

Gambling is forbidden. The established new laws are most strict, because for a light (punishment), after receiving a hundred lashes from the stick, one is forced to wear a cangue for two months, until it gains distance on skin and flesh. As for a heavy (punishment), one is to be sentenced to hard labour for three years, and exiled to a place three thousand ba away. Forever to depart from village and tribe. Fifty idle officials were removed from office precisely because of the accordance of this law. What face do they have to meet with others? Because they were employees of the government office, the severity of the crime was to be increased immediately. If one should continuously protect one’s family and oneself, after this happens, then it is not only impossible to chase regret, one wonders how it would be if one abstained (from gambling) before the fact.

In the Qing Empire and during the time of Gionai, gambling was against the law. The punishments he mentions here are corroborated in the Great Qing Legal Code. In the version of Ijishvn Dasan‘s era from 1644-1661, the punishments described are similar to what Gionai describes. Flogging seems to be the standard punishment for gamblers. The following excerpt is from the Legal Code itself:


All who gamble for wealth and property (receive) eighty lashes with the stick.

The section on gambling under Xinglü – Zafan 刑律-杂犯 in Daqing Lüli 大清律例, by Xu Ben 徐本 and San Tai 三泰, 1646,, n.d, n.d, Universal Library, China-America Digital Academic Library, Zhejiang University Library 浙江大学图书馆, Yuhangtang Road, Hangzhou, Zhejiang.

Gamblers, especially those who hold official positions, are subject to increased punishment, such as being relieved from office. They are also bid to wear the cangue, a mobile stockade that is carried by the prisoner. This is illustrated by the following excerpt:


Officials who violate (this law) are relieved from office and (subjected to) cangue punishment (which) may not be broken.

The section on gambling under Xinglü – Zafan 刑律-杂犯 in Daqing Lüli 大清律例, by Xu Ben 徐本 and San Tai 三泰, 1646,, n.d, n.d, Universal Library, China-America Digital Academic Library, Zhejiang University Library 浙江大学图书馆, Yuhangtang Road, Hangzhou, Zhejiang.

The precise punishments vary according to the nature of the gamble and the status of the gambler, such as whether he is a first time offender or not. Nevertheless, the range of punishments vary from hard labour for a few years, to transportation from two thousand ba (a unit of distance equivalent to half a kilometer during the Qing) to three thousand ba or flogging.

afakv - shows a cangue
Universal Photo Art Co. Feeding a prisoner in the cangue, China. China, ca. 1902. Phila., U.S.A.: C.H. Graves, publisher. Photograph.

Gionai does mention the new laws. It is true that after Ijishvn Dasan (Shunzhi), Elhe Taifin (Kangxi), Hvwaliyasun Tob (Yongzheng), and Abkai Wehiyehe (Qianlong) all endeavoured to root out gambling and completely criminalised the vice. Gionai published in the third year of Saiqungga Fengxen, which followed shortly after Abkai Wehiyehe. One can imagine that the policies pushed by Abkai Wehiyehe could still be referred to as the new laws which Gionai deems “umesi qira” [most strict]. Indeed, the laws from Ijishvn Dasan’s era seem comparatively lenient, there are, on the whole, fewer lashes and shorter sentences as compared to what Gionai writes.

It is also true that Gionai translated this text from an earlier period. This might mean that when this text was written, the laws by Elhe Taifin or some other early Manchu khan might have been newly implemented. Alternatively, if this original text was written during the Ming era, it might be referring to the strict anti-gambling laws implemented by Zhu Yuanzhang (Chan et al., 37). Though, the punishments described in this text line up with the punishments that appear in the Great Qing Legal Code (which, admittedly, were inspired by the Ming’s Legal Code). Or, it might mean that Gionai adapted this particular section of text toward the era he is writing in. After all, he is using this text as a way to instil moral behaviour into his contemporaries, and not to provide a faithful translation.

So, the question of why anyone would still be gambling, if such heavy punishments were the price to be paid, remains to be answered. This would probably be a valid question if the sentences were actually carried out. The Qing government suffered from corruption, gambling was so widespread that the officials sentencing people to life transportation or other harsh punishments did not want to carry out the sentences, or they were bribed. Moreover, the vice of gambling was so widespread, it proved impossible to spare all the extra manpower to monitor every potential gambler (Chan et al., 44).

Concerning Gionai’s writing in this section, he touches and expands upon themes mentioned in the previous section. Indeed, he says “gaxan falga qi enteheme aljambi” [forever to depart from village and tribe], contrasting and reinforcing the notion that not gambling can not only cause emotional distance, but also physical distance between one and one’s family. It is also an example of distancing from kin, but quite literal in the sense that a sentenced gambler will not see them again.

Secondly, In the very last sentence Gionai again invokes the idea of how beautiful life could have been, if only one never chose to gamble. This is similar to how he sketched an ideal life previously, but this time he leaves the sketching to the reader himself. He allows the reader to fill in his own version of what life could have been if it hadn’t been ruined by gambling. While such advice is hardly useful for one already slaving away at a prison, it does serve as a warning to any contemplating to gamble. Gionai is obviously aware, this is shown through the phrase “amqame aqiyara” [to regret while chasing]. Freely translated, it means something like crying over spilt milk. It is therefore no use to cry over spilt milk, much better to never spill the milk in the first place.

For us, since the Qing empire and its laws are gone, the specific punishments mentioned are irrelevant to us. Yet, the general idea still applies because many countries do have stringent anti-gambling laws, and hopefully it remains so. These include but are not limited to China (except Macau), Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, North-Korea, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Saudi-Arabia, Sudan, Mauritania, Mali, Eritrea, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, UAE and Yemen.

10. Violating the law of God

If we observe those who frequent the gambling den in order, while disaster frequently befalls them, contrary (to what one would assume), many of those who win money become especially impoverished. In any case, after someone else’s silver and coin are gained through schemes, after one’s own greed caused someone else’s loathing and torment, after one acted only for one’s own delight and satisfaction, then one has incurred the wrath of demons and deities; while one receives retribution, not one bit of mercy is shown. After determined retribution is given cause to arrive through God’s law, (you will) mutually be left with nothing at all. Observing from beginning to end, what benefit is there even to speak of?

“Abkai doro”, God’s law. To the author of this text, gambling is a deed that angers the divine and invites divine retribution to be visited upon the transgressor. Of the monotheistic religions, gambling is frowned upon, but not forbidden in Catholicism and Judaism. It is true that legal gambling is often opposed by Protestant denominations, but while the Bible itself has many verses that condemn the love of money—1 Timothy 6:10, Matthew 6:21, and Hebrews 13:5—there is no explicit command regarding gambling itself. There is only one religion I know of that explicitly bans gambling. It is Islam. Islam prohibits maisir—that is, gambling or games of chance—unanimously because Allah ﷻ says so, for the Qur’an is the literal word of Allah ﷻ. Consider the following ayah:

O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.

An interpretation of The Holy Qur’an 5:90

Muhammad Shafi’ writes in his Quranic exegesis Ma’ariful-Qur’an that maisir is classified as harām, forbidden (Shafi’, 248). As for what maisir means, Yusuf Ali used the English word gambling, but maisir can be used to refer to all kinds of games of chance (it is actually the translation that Pickthall uses in his Qur’an translation). Ibn Kathir mentioned that even chess can be regarded as a type of maisir. Nevertheless, the scriptures are clear. Gambling is of the devil and should be avoided. So, yes, in this sense, the Manchu text is right, gamblers are in violation of God’s law, but the Manchus and Chinese usually weren’t Muslims, and it seems unlikely that the author of this text was one. So why did he even mention the law of God, then?

Manchus believed in a supreme deity that ruled above all else. In the Tangse (a temple complex in Beijing) in the Gemun Heqen (Beijing), they worship a deity they call Abkai Enduri (God of Heaven), also called Xangsi. There has been some debate over the meaning of this name Xangsi, but Stary argues that it is this name is equivalent to the Chinese Shàngshén 上神, meaning supreme deity. For Manchus living in the Gemun Heqen, but not in more remote places in Manchuria, it appears the word Xangsi gradually replaced Abka (Stary, The Manchu Imperial Shamanic Complex Tangse, 174). One wonder what the conception is of this God, whether he is like the Abrahamic God at all.

afakv - illustrates argument in text
How the pentaglot dictionary should be read is from top to bottom, from left to right. The rows presented are Manchu on top, Tibetan second, a row of Manchu transcription of the Tibetan, Mongolian, Chagatai (ancestor of modern Uyghur), a Manchu transcription of the Chagatai underneath, and then Chinese. The leftmost column is the entry for “abka”. From top to bottom it reads “abka”, “gnam”, “tengri”, “asman”, and “tian”.

In brief, we can say the Shamanist Manchus were not monotheists, they ascribed many partners onto their supreme deity while at the same time recognising that this Abkai Enduri stands supreme. This might sound familiar, since other polytheists, such as the pre-Islamic Arabs, had similar ideas. Also, the Manchus shared a crucial cultural trait with other Inner-Asian peoples, namely, they venerate a Sky-God or Heaven akin to Tengri/Tanrı among the Mongols and Turks. In the pentaglot dictionary of Abkai Wehiyehe, we do see this corroborated, as the translation of the Manchu word “abka” is “tengri” in Mongolian. I should take care here not to equate the concept of the pagan Tengri to Abkai Enduri entirely, but there do seem to be strong overlaps.

Incidentally, in Turkish, tanrı—with a lower case t—can be seen as the equivalent of the Arabic word ilah إله, a general word for god (Alida). When capitalised, it is used to refer to Allah ﷻ, the Abrahamic God. As for the Manchus, their name for the God of Musa, Ibrahim, Isa, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all) is Abkai Enduri, but more prominently Abkai Ejen (equivalent to the Chinese tiānzhǔ 天主, all coined by Christian missionaries). We know this because the Manchu Bibles use Abkai Enduri alongside the term Abkai Ejen (Lord of Heaven) (Stary, Christian Literature in Manchu, 307). Abkai Enduri more literally means God of Heaven.

Both the term “abka” [heaven, sky, or God] and “enduri” [God, deity, or spirit] are mentioned in this section. “Abka” occurs in the phrase “abkai doro”, which means more literally “law of God” or “law of heaven”. In English, heaven is not the same as God. To the medieval Turkic scholar Mahmud al-Kashgari, from modern day Xinjiang, those who called the sky Tengri and worshipped it were infidels (Dankoff, 70). But, to the Manchus, Heaven and the God of Moses seemed to be synonymous. In an indictment of Manchu nobles who converted to Christianity, the Manchu khan Abkai Wehiyehe said the following: “The Lord of Heaven is Heaven itself… In the empire we have a temple for honouring Heaven and sacrificing to Him” (Elliott, 241). The khan is referring to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, which is remarkably also entirely free of idols. Furthermore, the etymological roots of the Manchu word “doro” [doctrine, way, law, precept] lie in the Mongol word “dörö”, which in turn is argued to come from the Hebrew Torah by some scholars. All of this could mean that the Manchus believed ultimately in the same God as the Muslims, Jews and Christians, but that polytheism entered the fold later. At any rate, it is not likely that Gionai is interpreting this to mean the actual Pentateuch when he writes “abkai doro”. It is much more likely he is referring to some primordial law, or way of God that is just and also seeks to impose justice.

afakv - dergi abkai han 皇天上帝
A building inside the Temple of Heaven complex in Beijing. Not only does the interior contain no statues or images of idols, the blue plaque at the back of the room reads “dergi abkai han” meaning the sovereign of heaven above. Image taken from:

When Gionai mentions “hutu enduri” [demons and deities], one should note that “hutu” has a broad meaning that can mean ghost, demon, or spirit, likewise, “enduri” also has multiple meanings as noted above. Neither “hutu” nor “enduri” are written in the explicit plural form, but when put together in a construction like this, it doesn’t need to have the plural ending to denote plurality. It seems more fitting to say that one has “incurred the wrath of demons and deities”, certainly more fitting than “the wrath of a demon and God”. This is because the Manchus of the Court sacrificed to multiple deities such as fucihi (Buddha), guwan in pusa (Avalokiteśvara), and guwan mafa (Guandi) and certainly a multitude of “hutu”.

So, what constitutes this primordial Godly law according to this essay? From the text, we can infer that it deems selfish greed and harming others to be crimes worthy of being set straight. We can also see that whoever is exacting the punishment will not show mercy. The reason that no mercy is shown is rooted in the fundamental belief in Chinese justice that every wrong must necessarily be paid back. All wrongdoers must eventually suffer some form of punishment, in this life, or the next (Katz, 4).

Gionai does mention that the transgressors incur the wrath of demons and deities, it follows then that those who act to punish the transgressor are also those demons and deities. Where Chinese religion differs from an Islamic or Christian conception of a demon is that the demons punish evil souls in hell. Ergo, demons are servants of the Godly order, and not transgressors like Iblīs (Satan) and his fallen brethren are. This is why, to Gionai, transgression incurs the wrath and not the joy of demons.

Then, the phrase “ishunde gemu untuhun ojoro de isinambikai” [mutually be left with nothing at all] requires some explanation. The word “ishunde” [each other, mutual] refers to the winner and the loser. It should not be interpreted as the demons and deities punishing even the loser. Rather, the loser has nothing because the winner took all his belongings, and the winner will also have nothing because he is punished for his ill-gotten gains by God. Therefore, Gionai argues, both will be left with nothing.

Finally, Gionai closes his essay and the current section with a single rhetorical question:

erebe daqi dubede isitala tuwaha de geli ai tusa sere be bini

Observing from beginning to end, what benefit is there even to speak of?

Closing Remarks

When all the arguments are observed, I notice that they are very similar to arguments brought forth by other cultures and other eras. I am no theologian, but I have to cover these religious texts anyway because it seems these admonitions against gambling usually come from religious minds. That is why we have seen the character of the Pardoner from Chaucer speak on this, why Alighieri wrote on it and indeed why Thomas Aquinas mentioned it. I wanted to close with Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s exegesis of the Qur’an, which will serve as doubly as a means to review the arguments presented and as a final reminder of why we shouldn’t gamble. Abdullah summarises Al-Razi’s views as follows:

… among the consequences of maysir and qimar are, hostility, cursing and disagreement among the participants, harmful to economic growth besides distracting people from remembering Allah and performing prayers. He added that betting in qimar and maysir also gave rise to the desire to try to win, especially after losing until all the property was finally used to gambling so much that he was able to neglect his wife and children. Surely the loser of this gambling will fall poorly. This will cause a lot of social malaise and destroy the socio-economic fabric of a society.

Atikullah Abdullah, “Islamic Law on Gambling and Some Modern Business Practices,” International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences 7, no. 11 (2017),, 739.

The similarities I notice are the hostility argument which is mentioned in section 1, when people plot against each other for gain. Cursing and disagreement might be found in the section about decorum and propriety, this is section 2, where casual addressing and speaking vulgarly are criticised. Also, the idea that gambling gives rise to the desire of winning, after which one will neglect his family, are reflected in sections 3 and 8 respectively. Finally, distracting from remembrance of Allah ﷻ and prayer are not mentioned in the Manchu text, but wasting time can be seen as distraction from important matters like worship and is mentioned in 5. Angering the supreme deity by violating his law is considered in section 10.

None of the texts I perused speak in favour of gambling, and they aren’t peripheral texts by any definition. Each of the texts I selected were and are extremely influential and almost foundational to civilisations. Their arguments against gambling are firmly rooted in reasons I trust anyone can understand, regardless of creed or culture. As for what I think, I put Al-Razi’s Quranic exegesis last, since it think it aligns with my own views. It pains my heart knowing that there are still people who gamble away their trust, friendships, spouses, wealth and ultimately, perhaps even their good standing with their Creator. I just hope that Gionai’s efforts managed to sway some hearts two centuries post-publication.


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