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Written on 10/30/2021

Information about the first Chinese immigrants to the United States is generally difficult to acquire, due to the scarcity and unpredictability of finding reliable records. Most sources agree, though, that the earliest woman of Chinese descent to have ever set foot in the United States was Afong Moy.

She arrived in New York City in 1834, over a decade before the first wave of Chinese immigrants arrived during the California Gold Rush, and had a career as a human exhibit. Moy’s short and enigmatic experience in America bore similarities to the human zoos that existed across the world and formed part of the Western fascination with Asia during the late 19th century.

Moy toured the United States from 1834 until 1847, after which virtually no mention of her can be found. One source states that in September 1847, she departed for Europe to tour. Just as Moy’s career was winding down, Chinese immigrants, drawn by the prospect of finding gold in California, were sailing to the United States en masse. She never knew it, but Moy paved the way for other Chinese people to live and work in the United States.

In 1834, she was brought to New York City from her home of Guangzhou by Nathaniel and Frederick Carne, who exhibited her as "the Chinese Lady".

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