Mississippi Delta Chinese

Life in Chinese Grocery Stores


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Dilemmas of An Unexpected Invitation to Tour the Mississippi Delta in 2008

Posted by John Jung on February 26, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

       In researching background material for writing Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton, a social history of Mississippi Delta Chinese grocers, I used several different types of material ranging from academic scholarly work, other accounts about the Delta Chinese grocers, interviews, and a small set of oral histories from the Delta State University Archives recorded back in the 1970s or 80s. The latter material came from interviews of about 20 Chinese from grocery store families. The transcripts provided rich details of the daily lives of Chinese family life not only in store operations but also about the social interactions, relations, and community ties among this small population of less than 1,000 Chinese living miles apart from each other in numerous small delta towns around the middle of the past century. I wanted to include direct quotes from some of these documents in my book, and to make sure that I had not misinterpreted them or taken them out of context, I contacted the respondents so they could examine the materials I attributed to them.

     One unexpected outcome was some concern among a few respondents that these never edited transcripts contained some mistakes and that the conversational nature of the comments might make the respondents come across as poorly educated and inarticulate. Some even asked if they could "revise" the transcripts even though they were based on interviews from well over 20 years back. I tried to reassure them that no one expects conversations to contain polished statements, free of grammatical flaws, repetitions, hesitations, etc. And, I insisted that it would not be suitable for my research if they were to now re-write or edit what they had previously said over 20 years ago.

      Frieda Quon was one of the individuals who was most engaged in this negotiation. Frieda was an about-to-retire librarian at Delta State University who grew up in her family's grocery store in Greenville. She had read my memoir, Southern Fried Rice, and had very positive conviction that I could relate to and understand the lives of Delta Chinese, even though I had grown up in Macon, Georgia, where my family was the only Chinese in town, and we ran a laundry rather than a grocery. Frieda, along with Blanche Yee, Shirley Kwan, Gilroy Chow, and Audrey Sidney, among others, spearheaded a plan to invite me to 'tour' the Delta so I could meet Delta Chinese in person and get to know about their grocery store lives better than I could from reading documents and books.

 Frieda Quon and John Jung

    I was torn about accepting the invitation. Clearly, on one hand, it would be invaluable to visit the Delta in person even though I was at a stage in my thinking and writing about the Delta Chinese where I felt I had a firm understanding. A visit, however, might show me that my views were not correct and I'd have to rewrite my book. That was a risk that I'd have to take, and was willing to do, but there was a greater risk that I feared. Suppose I went down to the Delta, and while receiving 16 days of 'Southern hospitality' as house guests in towns up and down the Delta, I only got to see and hear the 'good side' of the Delta Chinese experience. Would my trip bias me toward seeing only the good images that the hosts might display? And, then if I wrote anything the least bit unflattering about the Delta Chinese, might they feel that I had betrayed them?

     Fortunately, my worst fears were unfounded. The visit basically validated the conceptions I had formulated before my tour. I did have a few disagreements about discussions on the sensitive topic of racial attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs between Chinese and the whites and blacks. I think I was able to persuade those with objections that any historical analysis of Delta society that ignored racial issues would seem seriously flawed even if the main goal was to depict Chinese family life.

Mississippi-Style Char Siu recipe

Posted by John Jung on November 16, 2011 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (2)

A recipe from Martha Hall Foose’s cookbook, "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook" for a roast pork dish that Chinese in the Delta prepared, named aptly, "Chinese Grocery Roast Pork."

Foose noted that

"In 1920 the city of Greenville reportedly had 12 paved streets, 20 trains stopped there a day, and there were 50 Chinese grocery stores. Several families still run fourth- and fifth-generation groceries in tiny towns scattered across the Delta."

She reported that many versions of this red-tinged pork have been cooked on stoves in the back of Chinese family-run groceries in the area for years and years.


MS Public Broadcasting: Delta Chinese Grocery Stores

Posted by John Jung on October 30, 2011 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (0)

   Chinese in the Delta

     AIR DATE 09/19/11

   An isolated group of Chinese Americans managed to maintain a vital, albeit small community in the  Mississippi Delta for roughly a hundred years. Now largely forgotten, Chinese groceries once dotted small Delta towns, serving mostly the black community. They  also provided the essential ticket to survival for the Chinese immigrants in a society strictly segregated between black and white. MPB's Sandra Knispel spoke with California State University professor emeritus John Jung. Jung is the author of four books about the life,

Magnolias and Chopsticks: The Mississippi Delta Chinese Experience Part 1


The Chinese of the Mississippi Delta are an often-overlooked part of the history of the Deep South. In part one of our two-part series, MPB’s Sandra Knispel tells the story of what made them come all the way to the small towns of the Delta.


China is a long way from the United States. Yet many made the voyage, hoping for a better life. In the late 1860s, the first Chinese reached the Mississippi Delta. According to data collected by the University of Mississippi's Center for Population Studies, in 1870 only 16 Chinese lived in the Magnolia state.

Magnolias and Chopsticks: The Chinese Experience in the Mississippi Delta Part 2


The Chinese of the Mississippi Delta are an often-overlooked mosaic in the history of the Deep South. In the second installment of our two-part series, MPB’s Sandra Knispel looks at their rapid economic and social ascent -- from grocery store owner to professional. She interviews three Chinese in the  MississippiDelta,

Harold Lum, Luck Wing, and Frieda Quon. whose families owned grocery stores .





Return Visit of John Jung to Speak at Delta State

Posted by John Jung on September 17, 2011 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)


John Jung, author of "Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton" to Speak at Delta State


Paul Wong signs copies of book on Chinese Mission School in Cleveland

Posted by John Jung on September 8, 2011 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Delta State Archives and Martin & Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum co-host book signing

Paul Wong signs a copy of Journey Stories from the Chinese Mission School at the Martin & Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum.


The Delta State University Archives and the Martin & Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum recently co-hosted a book signing for Journey Stories from the Chinese Mission School edited and compiled by Paul Wong and Doris Ling Lee. In conjunction with the book signing, the University Archives teamed with Delta State’s Department of Facilities Management to have the cornerstone from the Chinese Baptist Church installed in the front garden of the Capps Archives & Museum building.  Those in town attending the book signing were able to visit the marker for the first time in over four years since its donation to the University Archives. The former Chinese Baptist Church building still stands on Highway 8; however, the Chinese Mission School building was demolished in 2003.  The school provided an education for area Chinese children from 1937-1946. Please contact the University Archives if you would like to share your history as it relates to the Chinese Mission School or the Chinese Baptist Church.


To reserve your copy of the Journey Stories from the Chinese Mission School contact Emily Jones at 662.846.4780.  Proceeds from the sale of the book support the University Archives’ efforts to collect and preserve MS Delta Chinese culture and history.


Sharing Memories of Growing Up With Delta Chinese

Posted by John Jung on September 4, 2011 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Marietta Hurst Massey posted on FACEBOOK:   "Mississippi Delta Chinese R Us".

"I grew up and lived in the MS Delta, Clarksdale, my entire life until moving to Tupelo, MS., 12 years ago. As a child, I recall my father catering to the Chinese grocers for his purchase of meats and he would get them to grind the fresh beef and slice the steaks right there. I loved going with him to King's, Yick Joe's and Chat Sue's (Mc Sue and Moon Sue) family stores. Chat was a classmate of mine and shared a humorous story with me not long ago. He said that the white men would stop by their store in the afternoon, sit around and drink beer several hours and then get tipsy. Several nights he would have to drive them home !!! The Chinese people were so very friendly and personable even though their English was limited."

"Reflections On The Chinese Mission School " Book Launch, Aug. 27

Posted by John Jung on July 25, 2011 at 9:00 PM Comments comments (0)

     The launch of the book, "Reflections on the Chinese Mission School" edited by Paul Wong and the late Doris Ling Lee will occur in Cleveland, Ms. on Aug. 27th. 

Books available for purchase:  Order by August 1, 2011 to guarantee

Contact Emily Jones 662.846.4780 or email [email protected]

Proceeds benefit:  Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum, Inc.

***Paul Wong generously donated his book to benefit the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum, Inc. to be located in Cleveland, MS.   The proceeds from the purchase of this book go toward the support the Chinese Museum project.***

First printing limited to 100 copies

Contributors and Family Members: We would be honored by your presence at the book signing and hope that you and family members will join us at the premiere presentation of Reflections on the Chinese Mission, Cleveland, MS.  Paul Wong will speak and would appreciate you and/or family members sharing comments.  The contribution that you made in this milestone publication is a tribute and testimony to the dedication and perseverance of the MS Delta Chinese in seeking excellent education for their children.

Your first hand written documentation on your experiences at the Chinese Mission School as charter students is an inspiration to all those who value education.  The pioneer spirit exhibited by you and your family is clearly demonstrated in the book and will be a lasting legacy that will not be forgotten and will always set the standard for the rest of us.  It is significant and fitting that the premiere of this book marks the first official event of the future Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum, Inc.  We will always be grateful for the role you played in gaining quality education for the MS Delta Chinese students.

"Reflections On The Chinese Mission School " Book Launch, Aug. 27

Posted by John Jung on July 11, 2011 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Meet Paul Wong, Editor 

Reflections on the Chinese Mission School, Cleveland. Mississippi

Sun Wei County Roots of Delta Chinese

Posted by John Jung on June 5, 2011 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Raymond Seid, originally from Greenville, just returned from a month-long stay in Sun Wui, one of the 4 Sze Yup Counties/Districts in the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong Province in China. Thanks to Raymond for pointing out in his post on the Facebook page for Delta Chinese that,

"Much is mentioned in this blog about the Mississippi Delta Chinese having roots in Toisan or Hoiping County/District, but a number of Chinese Mississippians has roots in Sun Wui County/District as well."

Raymond urged that, "If not already included in its master plan, the Mississippi Delta Chinese Museum Project will not have come full circle unless some effort is devoted to the Sze Yup region from which most Chinese Mississipians have roots." 

Cleveland Chinese Mission School Commemorative Album

Posted by John Jung on April 7, 2011 at 12:44 PM Comments comments (4)

Congratulations... it is almost done!

Paul Wong and the late Doris Ling Lee worked on creating a historical document about the experiences of the Delta Chinese children who attended the Chinese Mission School in Cleveland that functioned from 1937 until the late 1940s.  Over a dozen of these students wrote personal accounts of their school memories and provided updates on their lives. Final production is underway with Delta State University arranging for publication and sales, the proceeds of which have been generously donated by Paul Wong to the Chinese Historic Preservation project that is currently seeking grant funds to create a Chinese History Museum in Cleveland.

When more details are available, they will be posted.