By Julia Varner
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Born in the Qing Dynasty in 1828, Yung Wing was the first Asian student to graduate from an American university. Wing published his autobiography My Life in China and America in 1909, and it chronicles his life straddling China and America during a time of U.S.-China political turbulence. Although much was included in his autobiography, Wing made significant omissions from his narratives, such as experiences with racism or discrimination, mention of his wife and two sons, his loss of U.S. citizenship, and the Boxer Rebellion. The current analysis of Yung Wing’s life evaluates how his autobiography illuminated the nature of U.S.-China relations around 1909 when Wing wrote his story. With events and legislation like the Boston Chinatown Raid of 1903 and United States v. Ju Toy in 1905, America was riddled with anti-Asian racism, causing political tensions between these two countries. The upcoming expiration of the Gresham-Yang Treaty in 1904 forced U.S. and China to renegotiate immigration policies diplomatically. Still, when diplomacy failed, China used economic sanctions to create more open borders between the two countries. Wing witnessed these events and understood that the U.S. and China now had the potential to mend relations and create stability. Gearing his narrative to an American audience, Yung Wing carefully wrote his autobiography as an attempt at peace between the United States and China. He represents one life and one story that fits into the narrative of two countries. Wing’s autobiography informs us less about the time he was writing and more about the time he was writing.
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