Books of folk rhymes by early Chinese immigrants acquired and digitized

November 11, 2021
Joshua Capitanio
Image of Jinshan geji, a collection of folk rhymes by Chinese immigrants

Stanford Libraries has acquired and digitized three volumes of folk rhymes written by Chinese immigrants, published in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1910-1920s.

As soon as it is announced
     the ship has reached America:
I burst out cheering,
     I have found precious pearls.
How can I bear the detention upon arrival,
Doctors and immigration officials refusing
     to let me go?
All the abuse—
I can't describe it with a pen.
I'm held captive in a wooden barrack,
     like King Wen in Youli:
No end to the misery and sadness in my heart.*


Above is an English translation of a Chinese folk rhyme written by an early Cantonese immigrant about his first arrival at the port of San Francisco. The original folk rhyme in Chinese was included in an anthology of Chinatown folk rhymes  published in 1911, entitled Jinshan ge ji (Songs of Gold Mountain 金山歌集). It contains 808 rhymes in the Cantonese folk song format. A second anthology was published in 1915 containing an additional 832 rhymes, under the title Jinshan ge er ji (Songs of Gold Mountain, volume 2 金山歌二集). These two volumes contain a total of 1,640 rhymes. Recently these two rarely found books, as well as another anthology  compiled later in 1921, have been acquired and added to the East Asia Library's special collections. This acquisition is the result of a collaboration between Benjamin Stone, Curator for American and British History, and Zhaohui Xue, Chinese Studies Librarian, in an effort to collect resources pertinent to the history and experience of early Chinese immigrants in California.

Songs of Gold Mountain was created in the early 20th century, using a lot of Cantonese colloquialisms to tell the story of survival and life experience in the “new world,” to express hardships and loneness, the joys and sorrows, sentiment and tears of the early Chinese immigrants living in San Francisco. These songs are valuable resources for studying the history of early Chinese immigrants and Chinese American folk literature. They were used by Professors Gordon Chang and Shelley Fisher Fishkin as part of the research by the Stanford-based Chinese Railroad Workers in North America project.

All three books have been added to East Asia Library Special Collections. Digitized books are accessible in SearchWorks:

Jinshan ge ji 金山歌集
Jinshan ge er ji 金山歌二集
Zui xin Jinshan ge ji lian ji he ke 最新金山歌集聯集合刻

This post was co-authored by Zhaohui Xue and Benjamin Stone.

*Hom, Marlon K. Songs of Gold Mountain: Cantonese Rhymes from San Francisco Chinatown. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. P.74.