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Wong Chin Foo Chronology



Britain provokes and wins First Opium War with China; forces the opening of five ports to foreign trade and missionary activity.


Wong Chin Foo is born in Jimo, Shandong Province, China to a well-to-do family.



Taiping Rebellion is fought against the Qing Dynasty. Rebels gain control of much of southern China before being defeated.



Britain and France win Second Opium War and force more concessions from China, including opening of diplomatic missions and additional ports.



Wong arrives with his father, in reduced circumstances, in Zhifu (now Yantai), Shandong, which opens to foreign commerce that year.



Wong is taken in by Southern Baptist missionary Rev. J. Landrum Holmes and wife Sallie. Rev. Holmes is murdered soon afterward.



Relocates to Dengzhou (now Penglai).


Baptized in Dengzhou. Accompanies Sallie Holmes to America.



Studies at Columbian College Preparatory School, Washington, DC. Begins lecturing on Chinese culture.



Studies at Lewisburg Academy, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.



Returns to China.



Marries Liu Yushan in Dengzhou.



Appointed interpreter in the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs Service in Shanghai and then in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province. Excommunicated from the Shanghai Baptist church.





Son Wang Foo Sheng is born.

Flees China after Qing government pursues him for revolutionary activities.

Begins multi-year, cross-country lecture tour of the United States.



Admitted to U.S. citizenship at Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Declares himself China’s first Confucian missionary to the United States.

A Manchu prince demands his extradition to China, but is rebuffed by the American chargé d’affaires in Beijing.



Meets Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, founder of the mystical Theosophical movement, and addresses members of her society in New York.



Settles temporarily in Chicago. Enemies attack him and seek to have him kidnapped and deported.


Cuts off hair queue and permanently adopts Western dress.



Opens a tea shop in Bay City, Michigan.



The Chinese Exclusion Act, which establishes a 10-year moratorium on immigration of Chinese laborers and prohibits naturalization of Chinese, is signed into law.






Publishes the Chinese American, Manhattan’s first Chinese newspaper. Believed to be the first time the term is used.

Charges a fellow Chinese with attempting to assassinate him and causes his arrest. He, in turn, is sued for criminal libel.

Challenges San Francisco anti-Chinese demagogue Denis Kearney to a duel.




Introduces Americans to “chop suey” for the first time in an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Convenes first meeting of “naturalized Chinamen” in New York - America’s first gathering of Chinese-American voters.




Publishes essay, “Why Am I A Heathen?” in North American Review, causing a firestorm of criticism and spurring a rebuttal.

Travels to Canada and protests payment of a $50 head tax.

Bests Denis Kearney in face-to-face debate in New York.







Threatens to sue the Canadian government for $25,000.

Publishes the New York Chinese Weekly News, an illustrated weekly.

Publishes “The Chinese in New York” in Cosmopolitan magazine.

President Grover Cleveland signs the Scott Act, banning entry of Chinese laborers and prohibiting those in America from returning if they depart.

Establishes the Chinese Citizens’ Union in New York City.



Refused a U.S. passport, despite his naturalization papers.

Acquitted of trumped up charges of illegal voter registration.



U.S. Congress passes the Geary Act, which extends the Chinese Exclusion Act for 10 years and requires Chinese to register under penalty of imprisonment and deportation.

Establishes the Chinese Equal Rights League to demand repeal of portions of the Geary Act. 





Testifies before the U.S. Congress in favor of a bill to repeal the citizenship portion of the Geary Act. Believed to be the first instance of a Chinese testifying before the Congress.

Publishes the Illustrated Chinese Weekly News, a.k.a. the Chinese American, in Chicago with the goal of “Americanizing” local Chinese.

Appointed Chinese Inspector in New York.



Briefly goes into the herbal medicine business in Atlanta.





Holds inaugural meeting of the American Liberty Party, whose platform seeks enfranchisement of “Americanized” Chinese.

Publishes first edition of the semi-monthly Chinese News in Chicago.

Probably meets Dr. Sun Yat-sen in Chicago.

Dr. Sun, released from incarceration in London, releases letter from Wong confirming support for his movement in America.

Announces that Chicago is to become headquarters of a Chinese revolutionary junta.

Inaugurates short-lived Temple of Confucius in Chicago.






Named Commissioner of Chinese Exhibits for the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska.

Organizes mass meeting in Chicago to push for citizenship rights for "Americanized" Chinese.




Departs the U.S. for Hong Kong.

Returns to China for family reunion. Dies of heart failure in Weihai, Shandong.


The Remarkable
Life of 

Wong Chin Foo

Wong was the first to use the term “Chinese American”– the name he gave to New York's first Chinese newspaper in 1883 – and more importantly, to define for his countrymen in the United States exactly what he thought it ought to mean. 

 Prince Gong, China’s de facto foreign minister, demanded Wong's extradition to China in 1874, but was rebuffed by the American Chargé d’Affaires in Beijing. 

"Why Am I a Heathen?" was Wong's most famous essay. An unvarnished polemic written in 1887 for the North American Review, it was more a condemnation of Christianity than a defense of heathenism per se, and it unleashed a veritable firestorm in reaction.

If any one individual personified the anti-Chinese movement in the United States, it was surely Irish-American Denis Kearney. Wong went head-to-head with this San Francisco demagogue and was generally conceded to have bested him in a debate. 

Wong gave a stirring speech in Boston in 1892 in favor of citizenship for Chinese Americans. He shared the stage with William Lloyd Garrison, Jr. and several other Massachusetts luminaries.

© 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 Scott D. Seligman