The Chinese Junk <i>Keying</i> and American Racialization of Chinese

  • Tao Zhang Sichuan International Studies University
Keywords: Chinese junk, America, racialization, triangulation


As the first Chinese wooden boat that ever reached the United States, the Keying, with its 40 Chinese sailors who composed the hitherto largest group of Chinese in America, not only satisfied Americans’ curiosity at Chinese junks and Chinese people, but prompted a nationwide attempt at racializing Chinese from 1847 to 1848. This prototypical Chinese racialization features a configuration in which Chinese were triangulated vis-a-vis American whites and nonwhites. Whites occupied the upper corner of the triangle, commanding discursive tools of mass publications to position Chinese relative to whites themselves and other minority groups on America’s racial ladder. Chinese were defined as an inferior, pitiable racial other that resembled Indians in appearance and stood somewhere in between Mexicans and blacks in terms of racial advancement. The triangular paradigm continued to function in American racialization of Chinese even after the departure of the Keying for Britain in February 1848, though with noticeable modifications.

Author Biography

Tao Zhang, Sichuan International Studies University
Tao Zhang earned his doctoral degree in U.S. history at Peking University, China, in 2000. He has been affiliated with Sichuan International Studies University (SISU) in Chongqing, China, ever since and is now the director and professor of American Studies Center at SISU. His research specialty is the history of Chinese Americans and Sino-American cultural interactions. He has published five book-length monographs and over forty scholarly essays in both international and Chinese journals. He can be reached at