Chinese anarchists in the U.S

Chinese anarchists in the U.S by Mike Harris

In 2005, the Chinese anarchist Ba Jin (Pa Chin) died at age 101. Upon
reading about his death, I recalled hearing bits and pieces about
Chinese anarchists in the United States (mainly from the late Sam and
Esther Dolgoff, Abe Bluestein and others of that generation). I also
recall reading that the late Ba Jin referred to Emma Goldman as his
“spiritual mother” and dedicated his collection of short stories The
General (1934) to her. However, I will leave his story to others to

Upon review of some materials in my possession, I thought it important
to share some of my observations and the words of the Chinese-American
anarchists with others. While this article is merely a glimpse of the
Chinese-American anarchists, we get a picture as to who some of the
anarchists were and what they did. I recognize that this article is
incomplete and imperfect. Since embarking on this article, I have come
across additional information, mainly in Chinese. So please accept this
as a work in progress on the life, times and ideas of Chinese-American

This article includes complete transcriptions of two articles from the
1920s written by the Chinese-American anarchist organization The
Equality Society. Both articles appeared in the New York City-based
English-language monthly newspaper The Road to Freedom.
In America, Chinese anarchists were few (“not more than 100”), but they
were active in the struggle. Some were workers, toiling in restaurants
and garment shops. Others were students. I am unaware of there being
much written, in English at least, about Chinese-American anarchists.
Ideologically, the Chinese-American anarchists seemed to be influenced
by the classical anarchists, such as Peter Kropotkin. This tends to
reflect a similar perspective amongst anarchists in China.1 The
classical anarchist-communist perspective was also promoted among
Chinese-American workers with the distribution of a reworked version of
Alexander Berkman’s “ABC of Communist Anarchism in 1930.” The comrades were also ardent anti-militarists and anti-nationalists and produced
propaganda on these topics.2

Who were these anarchists?

In her autobiography, Bread upon the Waters, Rose Pesotta briefly
mentions a “group of Chinese students” in San Francisco who were known
by, one can only presume, an anarchist “friend” in New York in the
mid-1930s. (p. 71) When Pesotta was on a union organizing visit to San
Francisco, she met with some of these “students.” In the tenement
apartment, Pesotta writes, she saw copies of Chinese “pamphlets with
portraits of … Kropotkin, Prodhoun… and others.”
Although Pesotta was a known anarchist when she wrote this book (1944),
she also served as a vice president of the AFL International Ladies
Garment Workers Union at the time of her San Francisco visit. Pesotta
never wrote about anarchism or anarchists in her autobiography. Her
autobiography was written years after she left union officialdom and
her return to the garment shop as a rank-and-filer. So we can only
infer that the initial people she met, Ray Jones, Chih Ling and Yung
Lee, were either active anarchists or sympathetic to anarchism even if
Pesotta did not directly come out and say so.

From the article by Joseph Spivak below and Pesotta’s description of
her physical surroundings, it appears that Pesotta and Spivak were
talking about the same people.

We do know there existed an anarchist organization named The Equality
Society. Mention of them appears in the English language anarchist
paper The Road to Freedom. There was a similar group in China by the
same name. It appears that they were in contact with each other. I am
aware of correspondence between the U.S. corresponding secretary, Ray
Jones, with Ganfei Li and Chienbo Lu of the China society. They
discussed the possibility of publishing The Equality Journal in both

Writing in his column, “Our Organized Movement: A Coast to Coast
Observation”, Joseph Spivak glowingly reported that:
The most encouraging group in San Francisco is the Chinese group, not
because they do much work “they are very few in number’s but on
account of their enthusiasm. The members of the Chinese group have the
same enthusiasm as the early revolutionists in Russia.
I went up to see Comrade Red [Ray] Jones the secretary of the group. He
lives on a second floor of a very old-fashioned building in the Chinese
section of San Francisco. He, as well as most of the Chinese there, is
very poor. He occupies a small room and according to the number of beds
in this room is occupied by three. Yet when I entered the room I felt I
was in an atmosphere of Ideal! The room was actually filled with
literature, every inch of space is made use of for this purpose.
Comrade Jones immediately began to show me one book after another in
the Chinese language which were received from China and which he
spreads among the Chinese population. I could not read the books, but
from the pictures of the authors, I could see they were translations
from Kropotkin, Bakunin, Berkman, Malatesta and almost every other
anarchist writer.

They also issue in China two monthly publications which this group
spreads in San Francisco. In China, Comrade Jones told me, our comrades
carry on a fight against the Nationalist party [of Chaing Kai-Shek,
the KMT] who are only a bunch of politicians: we do not want to make
the same mistake as the Anarchists made in Russia. [Apparently a
reference to some anarchists early alliances with the Bolsheviks and
being soft on the bolshevization of the revolution.]

This little group also issues their own publication in Chinese
language, Equality, which they distribute free of charge. They also
have a class in Chinese every Sunday for those who are interested.
[Sorry, the page with the date when this article appeared is not in my
files. I presume it was in 1927 as there are references to the
execution of Sacco-Vanzetti, which took place in August 1927.]

In Paul Avrich’s important book “Anarchist Voices” Sam Dolgoff spoke
about “a few Chinese members” (of the Vanguard and Challenge groups)
“who worked in a cooperative restaurant on Second Avenue.” Louis Genin
(of the Vanguard and later Challenge groups) puts the cooperative
restaurant on Second Avenue and Twelfth Street on New York City’s Lower
East Side. The restaurant was also the place where dinners were held
“to raise money for the movement.” (Dolgoff).

“Its main figures,” Sam says, “were Yat Tone and Eddie Wong, who came
to New York from the Equality Group in San Francisco.” Sam and others
observed that the Chinese comrades were both dedicated and idealistic
Yat Tone traveled to Spain in 1933 and then returned to China. In
China, according to Sam, he set up a Modern School. In Jo Ann
Burbank’s interview with Paul Avrich, she thought he was killed in the
Japanese bombing of Shanghai. Dolgoff believed he was arrested and
executed by the Chinese nationalists.

The main center of the Chinese-American anarchists was San Francisco.
It was here they published most of their literature, including their
paper. From what I can determine, the comrades who participated in the
Equality Society also went by other names. However, there seems to be a
direct link between the different groups or publishing imprints (for
example, the Anarchist-Communist Alliance).

Let me close with a report published in Road to Freedom:
The Equality Society issued a report to the October 1928 Anarchist
Conference (held at the International Center, 149 E 23rd St., NYC). The
comrades reported:

“1. The Chinese in America: Except for a few well-to-do class, most of
the Chinese in America are sweat earners. On account of their
ignorance, even [if] they feel their own sufferings under the present
economic order, they do not have class consciousness and revolutionary
spirit. However they are not to be blamed, for they do not have any
education at all. Even [when] they do have, they have only the
education under the capitalistic regime. Naturally, they object to all
radical changes of the present order. Under this situation, the Chinese
comrades have a very hard task to convert these poor Chinese workers to
be revolutionists. However, they begin to realize the solidarity of the
labor class.

“As for the well to do class, they can never give up their selfishness.
What they do care is to build up a bourgeois government in China to
protect their interest.

“2. Chinese in America toward Anarchism: The Chinese in America who
really believe anarchism are not more than one hundred. The reason for
that is they are followers of nationalism and have confidence in
politics and government. [My note: Of the then-ruling KMT in China].

“3. A short history of the Equality Society: The Chinese in America who
are interested [in] anarchism in America are less than one hundred. We
realize that the organization and propaganda are very important, so we
had this society organized in 1925. In the course of this short
history, there were several troubles with those well to do class, as
they tried to make this organization a failure but in vain. A few
months ago, the imperialistic government of America threatened to
destroy this society by arresting comrade Jones and confiscating all
our literatures. However, this only made us more militant than ever

“4. Some of the work of the Equality Society: In spite of the fact that
we do not have many comrades, we have made an effort to publish a
monthly in Chinese called The Equality. Just a few days ago, the
Chinese government notified the Chinese post office not to circulate
the same in China and send them abroad. This what they are doing now
and afraid of. Besides, we have published and send free all sorts of
pamphlets to all who understand Chinese from time to time. We also
distribute literature concerning anarchism in both English and Chinese.
Now, we are going to hold regular meetings even we have little time to
do so, as we are all long hour, poor working conditions and low pay

“5. The Anarchist movement in China: Comrades in China are very
faithful to their work for anarchism. They do it either by large
combination or small organizations. The ones which are worth to mention
are the Young Anarchists Federation in China and the South China
Anarchists Federation.

“Every organization has its publication. There is a bookstore in
Shanghai named the Freedom Bookstore, [which] has made a great
contribution in handling our anarchist literatures.

“Suggestions to the Conference:

“We suggest that: 1. The anarchists should pay more attention to the
current situation of all countries in the present day. 2. Anarchists
should have a well organized organization to facilitate our work. 3.
All local organizations, if possible, should hold regular meetings. If
possible, some kind of social gatherings should be held occasionally
for comrades of all nationalities in big cities. 4. All organizations
better send their news in English to Road To Freedom. 5. The Road To
Freedom better expand materials and pages. If possible, cheap paper may
be used for achieving these purposes.”
The Equality Society, per MING HSI

1. The Chinese Anarchist Movement by Robert A. Scalapino and George T.
2. For example, “Leaflet To the Working Class by the San Francisco
Anarchists Unite Group: Campaign to destroy militarism and capitalism
in order to establish anarchism” (1932).
3. Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America by Paul

This article appears in the Summer 2006 issue of “Anarcho-Syndicalist Review”

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