Sunday, August 8, 2010

Details: Leong Shee , Gold Mountain Wife

Jue Joe returns from Gold Mountain to China in 1902 to find a wife and settle down after spending 28 years in America . He is 42 years old . Leong Shee is married to Jue Joe in an arranged marriage . She is 17 years old . She bears him two sons . In 1906 Jue Joe leaves again for America leaving her with with their 4 month old and two year old sons. She hears nothing from him for 9 years and thinks he died in the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. She makes her own way , farming their land , raising her children by herself , protecting her children from bandits. Suddenly , out of nowhere , Jue Joe's younger brother Jue Shee returns to the village with news that Jue Joe is still alive and in Los Angeles. Shortly a letter follows from Jue Joe. .:"Good news! I'm well , I send you this " A bank note is enclosed.

Three years later, twelve years after he left Jue Joe finally sends for his family to join him in America.

Leong Shee's plight as a gold mountain wife was shared with many woman of her generation in China . Poems written by these women have surfaced and offer a poignant reminder of the sorrow in their lives. Leong Shee had married a Gold Mountain Man who had returned home . She did not realize that the pull of the Gold Mountain was strong and that in only 4 years she would be left a Gold Mountain widow as her husband left once more to find his fortune.

Gold Mountain Wives : Rhapsodies in blue.
by Marlon K. Hom

" "Jinshan fu xing" (Rhymes of the Gold Mountain Women) was written by Tan Bi'an in January 1949. It contained excerpts both from local folk rhymes and from writings by local literati about the tragic legacy of Gold Mountain Wives who suffered the effects of local cultural mores and emigration practices alike. This was the first extensive prose written on these women as forsaken spouses of participants in the rush to Gold Mountain. No further study has followed this thematic treatment since the 1949 publication of the essay. It was not until the 1980s that the plight of the Jinshan po (Gold Mountain wives) gained the scholarly attention of Chinese American Studies in the United States.
With news of the gold discovery in North America, Cantonese peasants desperate to survive joined the emigration to America in large numbers to fulfill their dream of gold . Some became miners; some later went to build railroads. Their Chinese cultural upbringing gave them the perseverance to withstand the hardship in their journey to North America, They left their wives, who tended the family and farmed the fields. Days and years passed. These women waited and waited, hoping their husbands would one day return with gold. Their youthful years were spent working in the fields and waiting in silence. They lived like widows because their husbands had gone to Gold Mountain and did not return"

"I beg of you, after you depart, to come back soon ,
Our separation will be only a flash of time;
I only wish that you would have good fortune.
In three years you would be home again.
Also , I beg of you that your heart won't change,
That you keep your heart and mind on taking care of your family;
Each month or half a month send a letter home.
In two or three years my wish is to welcome you home . "

"Tall is the ship to Gold Mountain.
It took my husband away;
It didn't bring my husband back.
I remember our moment to bid farewell:
We held our hands together, unable to let go.

It's been more than ten years of a forsaken life;
It's been more than ten years of conjugal separation.

In silence, I complain to no one;
Tossing and turning, I sit by an empty bed--
Tears falling like rain.

In the morning, I tend the fields in front of our house.
In the afternoon, I gather firewood by the mountain

In the evening, I hurry to the marketplace;
I sell the firewood for rice for the day.
There are wild beasts in the mountain,
There are idle gossips in the marketplace.

It is not that I don't have modesty or a sense of shame,
But the family is in poverty:
What can I do?

Dear husband, I wish not for you to become rich.
I care not for yellow gold or fine jewelry.
I only wish that you would come home quickly--
I only wish that you be by my side, every moment, every
O, when will we be together again?
My appearance in the mirror has completely changed!

The ocean winds are chillingly cold;
The ocean water is without an end.
So far away on the other side of the ocean,
Who is caring for your meal and bed?

The bright moon above the wall is solitary;
We look at each other with no words but sighs.
I pray the bright moon to show you the way home,
I pray the bright moon to show you the way--
You who have yet to return home.

In front of the house, morning and evening,
Tides rise and ebb in regularity
Why does a faraway traveler,
Once gone, never return?

Autumn brings solitary moments;
Spring brings new life forms.
Seasons come and go;

What good is my longing love for you?
I wish to climb the highest hill
And become the rock--
The Waiting Wife Rock! "

" O, just marry all the daughters to men from Gold Mountain :
All those trunks from Gold Mountain --
You can demand as many as you want!
O, don't ever marry your daughter to a man from Gold
Mountain :
Lonely and sad--
A cooking pot is her only companion! "

1 comment:

  1. We had an interesting Chinese couple for two weeks on the Jue Joe Ranch. The old man had not seen his wife in 42 years! As a young man he'd left his wife in China and had sailed to Gold Mountain to seek his fortune. Now, at 74-years old he'd finally sent for his wife, who was now 62-years old. My father had helped sponsor the old man's wife and felt that the couple should stay with us for a week or two so that she could get adjusted to America. When they met at LA's Immigration gate--after 42 years--they did not recognize each other. And at the end of their stay with us, each took my father aside and whispered, "Gosh, she/he is so old...that's not the person I married." My father smiled kindly and said to each, "It will take time to get to know each other again. Be patient." Auntie Soo-Yin.