1885 Letter from Saum Song Bo

[Editor’s note: It is 1885, just three years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Flyers are distributed to raise money for the "Pedestal Fund" for the erection of the Statue of Liberty. Saum Song Bo, an aspiring attorney and citizen who is prevented from being either, writes a poignant letter to the irony of it all.

The letter was first published in the October 1885 issue of American Missionary, and repinted in the June 16, 1986 issue of the East/West Chinese American Journal. It reappears in the Summer/Fall 1986 issue of Bau Gao Ban, published by the New York Chinatown History Project in New York City (now known as MoCA, the Museum of Chinese in the Americas). This reprint of the English and Chinese version of Saum Song Bo's original letter is with the permission of MoCA.]


A paper was presented to me yesterday for inspection, and I found it to be specially drawn up for subscription among my countrymen toward the Pedestal Fund of the Bartholdi Statue of Liberty. Seeing that the heading is an appeal to American citizens, to their love of country and liberty, I feel that my countrymen and myself are honored in being thus appealed to as citizens in the cause of liberty. But the word liberty makes me think of the fact that this country is the land of liberty for men of all nations except the Chinese. I consider it as an insult to us Chinese to call on us to contribute toward building in this land a pedestal for a statue of liberty. That statue represents liberty holding a torch which lights the passage of those of all nations who come into this country. But are the Chinese allowed to come? As for the Chinese who are here, are they allowed to enjoy liberty as men of all other nationalities enjoy it? Are they allowed to go about everywhere free from the insults, abuses, assaults, wrongs, and injuries from which men of other nationalities are free?

If there be a Chinaman who came to this country when a lad, who has passed through an American institution of learning of the highest grade, who has so fallen in love with American manners and ideas that he desires to make his home in this land, and who, seeing that his countrymen demand one of their own number to be their legal adviser, representative, advocate, and protector, desires to study law, can he be a lawyer? By the law of this nation, he, being a Chinaman, cannot become a citizen, and consequently cannot be a lawyer.

And this statue of liberty is a gift to a people from another people who do not love or value liberty for the Chinese. Are not the Annamese and Tonquinese Chinese, to whom liberty is as dear as to the French? What right have the French to deprive them of their liberty?

Whether this statute against the Chinese or the statue of liberty will be the more lasting monument to tell future ages of the liberty and greatness of this country, will be known only to future generations.

Liberty, we Chinese do love and adore thee; but let not those who deny thee to us, make of thee a graven image and invite us to bow down to it.

Saum Song Bo

[Reprinted from East/West Chinese American Journal, SF, 6/26/86]