1891: Women spoke Chinese Pidgin English, too!

The West Coast variety of Chinese Pidgin English was only spoken by men, you’d think from the gender ratio you’ve been seeing on this site…

…But it turns out that women are documented speaking CPE too.

Here, from the early post-frontier era in California, we have quotations.

To my eyes, it appears these ladies, although they were interviewed in “good pigeon English” by a white cop, were talking in a style closer to standard English than your typical CPE.

Read on:

slaves in the city 1


Human Chattels Found in Los Angeles.

Chinese Women Bought and Sold Like Animals.

What a “Herald” Reporter Aided by the Police Has Ascertained.

Results of An Inspection of Chinatown.
Women Who Cost from Eight Hundred to Three Thousand Dollars—Child Slaves.
The Facts in the Matter.

There are sixty slaves in Los Angeles. These slaves do not hoe cotton, or make bricks, or build pyramids, or labor in the sun and out in the field. Most of them lead a luxurious life, living on the choicest food, wearing the most costly clothes, and leading a most lazy existence, but still they are slaves. Their owners hold bills of sale of their bodies, and transfer them as horses and cattle are sold.

These chattels are Chinese women. Last night a Herald reporter under the guidance of Police Officer Bevan, who is an authority on, and in Chinatown, made a thorough inspection of the place, with a view to obtaining some information about this traffic in human flesh which is being conducted in a land of liberty.

The police officer gave an air of authority to the expedition which had its effect in giving the reporter access to places he could not otherwise have entered and in inducing the inmates to talk.

Turning around the corner of the Pico house and diving into several narrow hallways, the officer pulled aside a curtain and entered a room, the reporter close at his heels. The room was about 6xl0 feet, and was decorated with great quantities of tinsel and China ornaments. A woman of about 30 years of age sat on the edge of the bed. Her name was Hoy. Officer Bevan, who could talk good pigeon English, talked with her, and the statement was elicited that her name was Hoy. She had lived here twenty years, and was a “lillel girl” when she first came. Her first husband” she said, paid the woman who owned her $800; she was not worth that much now because she was getting old. Her owner was out in the country. No she didn’t want to run away. Wha fo. No good run away. Woman run away she get killed.” She was perfectly frank about the matter, and seemed to think it natural that she should be a man’s property.

The next place visited was inhabited by a woman about 40 years old. She had cost $650, she said, “long time ago.” As she was talking the officer heard a rustle in the next little room, and on investigating found a remarkably pretty little Chinese girl, not more than 14 or 15 years old. She was frightened at first, but with the simplicity of a child, which she really was, soon lost her timidity. The old woman admitted that the girl was “all same like me” and the little thing had evidently not the slightest conception of the horrors of the life before her. She was bright, and pathetic ally pretty, and had not been in her present quarters long enough to have lost the gayety natural to children. She had cost a thousand dollars in China. How much was she worth now? “Oh, heap lot! She very young. Maybe worth $2000; maybe more.

Again the officer led the way through iron doors, up and down little stairways, and making a quick jump for a door entered just in time to prevent it being locked in his face. “Here is a place,” he said, “that white people are never

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admitted to,” and pulling aside a silken curtain he entered a room exquisitely furnished in Chinese style. The decorations and carvings were all beautiful. On a divan was a beautiful girl, who appeared to be a mestizo. Her features, whiie Mongolian, had some points which indicated mixed blood, and she was much taller than most of her race. She was playing cards with her master. Her clothing was all silk, richly embroidered. Her slippers had fallen from her feet, which were as pretty as a baby’s. They had never been deformed by binding, so she could not have been a high caste girl, but they had evidently never been in a shoe. The toes were perfectly formed, rosy and square like a child’s, and the foot, from the edge of the voluminous silken trousers, which ended at the ankle, to the tip of the toes, was fit for a model. This girl, it was learned, was worth $2500. She could read and write Chinese, and sing pretty love songs and twang a Chinese guitar, her master said, and was very accomplished. No, he would not sell her for $2500. She was worth much more now because it was very hard to get girls from China. It was learned from the officer that this slave owner was a “chistian” Chinaman; that he went to Sunday school once in a while, and was considered a very good man. This thing of turning Christian and going to Sunday school is often done by Chinamen for the purpose of learning the English language. People familiar with them say that in no case is their conversion genuine, or their professions to be believed. This fellowing [sic] playing cards with his human chattel, had his opium smoking outfit at his elbow. He made his living entirely from the proceeds of his slave’s infamy, and at the exhibition of any insubordination he would beat her and if she attempted to escape, and he saw she was likely to be successful, he would kill her with no more compunction, probably not as much in fact, as a white man would have in killing a dog. The police records show two such murders within a short space of time, and they happen at frequent intervals. The slave grows restive, or falls in love with some Chinaman. She tries to escape from her master and perhaps succeeds. Then it is only a matter ol time when she will be murdered, for it is the law of the race. She cannot escape her master’s vengeance. All the slaves know this; they have had frequent bloody examples of the law brought to their attention and this is why they seldom make an effort to gain their freedom, and when as often happens, good white women missionaries, try to break their bonds for them, they become so terrified that they resist all attempts to assist them.

Officer Rohn, another of the Chinatown squad, and an officer of great [illegible], took the reporter to a place in [illegible]

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the property of a Chinaman the officer knows. She had cost him $2,000. No, he would not sell her for $3,000. Half a dozen others were in the same building, each with their owner near by. One woman was seen in a place shown by officer Bevan, who had a little girl about three years old. This baby was also owned by the man who owned her mother, and in time she would have to lead the same life.

A thorough search was made through Chinatown and these chattels were found to number about sixty. They ranged from those who were kept in gorgeous apartments down to the lowest possible specimens of humanity. They were all docile, and submissive looking creatures, bearing on their faces the evidence of their slavery, for the indications of intelligence were overshadowed by their sensual and humble expressions. They were about as near being soulless as it is possible. Tbey had never known any other condition than slavery, they had been taught that they were only a little better than animals, that they were to regard themselves simply as the creatures and servants of mankind. They dare not complain; they dare not rebel, and most of them have no such inclination. They know no other life, expect no future, and probably believe that because life is as they find it, it is right that it is what it is.

There are not many people who will believe that actual slavery exists any where in the United States, least of all in a thoroughly civilized place like Los Angeles, yet there is no question about these facts. They are known to the police, and if the slaves or their crimes are approached in the right way they will freely admit the truth. Yet their customs are such, and the timidity of the slaves so great, that it is next to impossible to bring the cases under the jurisdiction of the law.

— from the Los Angeles (CA) Herald, August 02, 1891, page 6, columns 1 and 2

What do you think?