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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

9. Social

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Henry
- Abraham Cahan
- Theodore
- W. E. B. Du Bois
- Sui Sin Far
- Henry James
- Sarah Morgan
Bryan Piatt
- Booker T.
- Edith Wharton
- Anzia Yezierska
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Sui Sin Far (Edith Maud Eaton) (1865-1914)

Chinatown, New York City
[6169] Anonymous, Chinatown, New York City (1909), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-72475].

Sui Sin Far (Edith Maud Eaton) Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Writing around the turn of the twentieth century, Sui Sin Far, or Edith Maud Eaton, challenged entrenched social and political discrimination against Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans by publishing eloquent stories and articles about Chinese culture in North America. Her goal was to encourage mutual understanding and respect between the Anglo and Asian communities. As she said, "I give my right hand to the Occidentals and my left to the Orientals, hoping that between them they will not utterly destroy the insignificant 'connecting link.' " With her cosmopolitan background and mixed ethnicity, Sui Sin Far was an excellent spokesperson for these multicultural ideals. Born in England in 1865, she was one of fourteen children raised by a white English father and a Chinese mother who had been educated in England. Because Sui Sin Far's father, Edward Eaton, was a struggling landscape painter, the family moved frequently and was always financially unstable. Eventually settling in Montreal, the Eatons raised their children to be creative, individualistic, and self-sufficient. Sui Sin Far started earning money to contribute to the family's finances while she was still a girl, selling crocheted lace and paintings on the street, publishing poetry, and eventually undertaking stenography and office work. Later, she supplemented her income by publishing articles and stories in magazines and newspapers.

Although she was educated in British and Canadian schools, spoke only English, and could easily "pass" as white, Sui Sin Far chose to embrace and emphasize her Chinese heritage. Soon after she began publishing, she adopted the name Sui Sin Far in place of her English name, Edith Maud Eaton. The Chinese name translates as "fragrant water flower" and signifies "dignity and indestructible love for family and homeland." Sui Sin Far began her writing career in Montreal but later moved on to a variety of urban centers with large Chinese immigrant communities. Over the course of her career, she lived in eastern and western Canada, Jamaica, California, the Pacific Northwest, and Boston. In both her fiction and her journalism she worked to make the lives of Chinese immigrants understandable and sympathetic to a white audience, often highlighting the home life and domestic occupations of her Chinese women characters. Her presentation of Chinese characters who shared many of the same joys and concerns as European Americans was part of her ongoing effort to combat stereotypes of Chinese immigrants as "heathen," unclean, and untrustworthy. But even as Sui Sin Far dwelt on the similarities between Chinese and European Americans, she also used her stories and articles to document traditional Chinese customs and to provide her readers with insight into the unique culture that had developed in America's Chinatowns.

Sui Sin Far published nearly forty short stories and more than thirty articles about Chinese life in prominent national magazines. Near the end of her life she published two autobiographical accounts and collected some of her stories into a full-length book, Mrs. Spring Fragrance, which was well received by critics. When she died in Montreal, the Chinese community there erected a memorial to her inscribed with the characters "Yi bu wong hua," which translates as "The righteous one does not forget her country."

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