The China Trade at the Penobscot Marine Museum

Betty Schopmeyer

Betty Schopmeyer, Education Director, Penobscot Marine Museum

The beautiful Penobscot Bay town of Searsport boasts many old homes dating from the great seafaring era. Here one can find the Penobscot Marine Museum. Its principal exhibits illuminate the industry of Penobscot Bay in the 19th century and illustrate life on one of the great square-rigged ships, and what it was like to visit China when it truly was exotic.

The Asian artifacts in Penobscot Marine Museum’s collection were donated by ship captains who brought back souvenirs and items to furnish their own homes.  Betty Schopmeyer, Education Coordinator, has furnished the following information to provide a small sense of what this museum offers.

For hundreds of years, Maine has built fine ships and produced extraordinary mariners. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Maine vessels and captains participated in the trade with China, peaking after the Civil War. Maine was involved in the China Trade predominantly through shipbuilding and supply of master mariners. Mainers sometimes bought shares in ships owned predominantly by Boston and other outside merchants. Only a few Mainers, such as Portland ship builders Preble and Jewett, and Theodore Lyman of York owned their own ships in the China Trade:. Few, if any, Maine products were exported to the Far East. One exception was ice from the Kennebec River, which was carried to Calcutta, Bombay, and Batavia. More

The Empire Dine and Dance

By Craig Dietrich

CAFAM members will recall that, among the materials collected by Gary Libby about Chinese in Maine, is the story of the Empire Dine and Dance restaurant on the corner of Congress and Forest. An effort has been underway to install markers on certain Portland buildings such as this one, to commemorate these Chinese connections.

On October 18, 2008, (thanks to the cooperation of the present owner, Bill Umbel) the first such plaque was dedicated at the location of the Empire Dine and Dance.

An enthusiastic crowd gathered in the brilliant autumn sunshine to witness the proceedings. Professor Ahkau Ng, past president of CAFAM opened the ceremonies. Gary sketched the Empire’s history. Also present was Kuo-Tung Yang, Director General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, accompanied by his wife Ying-Chuan Chung. Refreshments were served. More

In China, you are “old”

By Craig Dietrich

In modern times as Chinese came into increasing contact with the outside world, they used several terms to refer to foreigners. These words reflect core cultural ideas, political climate, and degrees of familiarity.

One cardinal Chinese cultural distinction is nei-wai (inner-outer) or zhong-wai (central-peripheral). Nei-wai, for example, is used to talk about within-outside the family or within-outside a profession. Zhong-wai also means Chinese-foreign. China is Zhong-guo (Central Country), wai-guo is “foreign country.” A waiguoren (outside person) is a foreigner. More

Mah Jongg in Maine

Dear CAFAM members,
Andrea Muraskin, an independent radio and multimedia producer, has asked whether there are Chinese-style mahjongg players she could talk to.  For details, see below.  If you can help her, please contact her directly at the email address or telephone number given.
Best regards,
Craig More

A Chinese-American Tragedy (1979-91)

By Gary Libby from the May 2008 CAFAM Newsletter

Portland area old timers will recall that, in 1979, a new kind of Chinese restaurant opened on Congress Street. It was called Hu Shang, and it offered a different menu from the familiar Cantonese-American fare, including Sichuan dishes that would set your mouth on fire. It quickly became one of Portland’s hottest restaurants, with customers lining up at the door.

The owners of that restaurant were two brothers, Ken and Henry Ng. While Henry worked the kitchen, handsome and personable Ken became the public face of “K & H Corp,” as their business was named. And a successful enterprise it was. By 1981, needing more space, they bought a building on Brown Street, with $75,000 cash down. They closed their Congress Street place and named the completely remodeled Brown Street restaurant “Hu Shang II.” The business continued to thrive. Two years later, in 1983, they opened Hu Shang III on Exchange Street, with a full bar and disco. The money poured in. More

Illegal Immigration

By Gary Libby from the September 2007 CAFAM Newsletter

The following comes from the Portland Eastern Argus of April 24, 1895, and demonstrates to what lengths human traffickers would go to circumvent anti-Chinese immigration laws.

The Latest Scheme for Smuggling Chinamen into this Country

Montreal, Que., April 23 – A gang of Chinese smugglers has been unearthed here and some arrests are expected shortly. There are said to be 80 or more in different parts of the country acting in collusion. The modus operandi is: Chinamen come here from Vancouver and are shipped in batches of six to Quebec, where they are dressed as women and forwarded to St. John, N. B. There they are kept in hiding a day or two. Ventilated coffins are provided and in these “corpses” are shipped to Vanceboro, Maine, where they are claimed by another of the gang who arranges for their distribution through the States.

History of Portland’s Chinese Restaurants

By Gary Libby from the March 2006 CAFAM Newsletter

Gary Libby has published an article “Historical Notes on Chinese Restaurants in Portland, Maine” in Chinese America (2006). This is from the journal of the Chinese Historical Society of America.

Through meticulous research, Gary has recreated the story of these eating places starting with the first Chinese restaurant in Maine, established in 1880 at One Custom House Wharf. He brings the story up to the present 22 restaurants presently operating in Greater Portland. More

Early Chinese Students in Maine – Bowdoin College

By Gary Libby

In a previous article, Gary Libby described the first Chinese students to appear in Maine colleges. Although the first one (Tsu Sheng Linn, 1909) ended up in the Thomaston prison, those who followed had rather better success. In this second part, we meet the first students at Bowdoin.

The first Chinese student to attend Bowdoin College was Huan Shang Tang, of Canton, who matriculated in the fall of 1916. He was one of fifty students sent to study in the United States that year. He immediately joined the Bowdoin Club, and by 1918 had been so assimilated that he was required to register for the military draft. His yearbook inscription suggested that he had imbibed more than one American pastime: “[Huan] has been greatly captivated by our American young ladies, and in spite of his modest, bashful appearance has managed to get away with a whole lot during his brief sojourn with us.” More

On Learning Chinese

By Barry Hilton

Some western missionaries felt that Chinese was invented by Satan “to keep the gospel out of China.” Is it the most difficult language in the world?

If you ask professional linguists that question, most will probably say that every language is complex in some ways and simple in others, and that they average out to around the same level of complexity. But that’s probably not the kind of answer you’re looking for. If we ask, though, which language is hardest for native English speakers to learn, a pretty good case can be made for the group of closely related languages we call “Chinese”. Letís look at some of the reasons. More

The Pekin Restaurant, Bangor

By Gary Libby

Raymond Jones

Raymond Jones

CAFAM recently acquired four photographs of the former Pekin Restaurant in Bangor. These 1920s vintage photos, showing the exterior and interior, complement an oral interview of Raymond Li Min Huang, the son of the Pekin’s founder. CAFAM also obtained a photo of Raymond, then known as Raymond Jones, as a 6-year-old child in 1929 taken outside the Pekin, as well as a 1930s menu. All these items now reside in the Maine Chinese Archive at the Maine Historical Society.

The Pekin was established by a man named Wong Jack June (“Jack June” being a rather loose spelling of his personal name). He was born in the Toishan District of Guangdong Province in 1893. (Toishan – or Taishan — is a place from which large numbers emigrated in the 19th and 20th centuries.) At 16 or 17 he immigrated to Seattle to join some cousins there. When he arrived, the authorities declared him to be Wong Jack Jones, and “Jones” he remained thereafter. He worked for about a year in the Washington salmon canneries before joining other relatives in New York City and becoming a waiter in a Manhattan Chinese restaurant. More

Who We Are

The Chinese & American Friendship Association of Maine provides forums and outreach to promote awareness of and appreciation for Chinese culture. We promote friendship between non-Chinese Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Chinese people, whether from the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, or elsewhere.


Some rights reserved. Please share content responsibly. Banner image: Peonies, Yun Shouping (1633–1690), Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons. Produced by The Compass LLC.

Subscribe by email