Who was Afong Moy?

As you learned in the exhibit, Afong Moy was the first recognized Chinese woman to arrive in America in 1834. Brought from her hometown of Guangzhou to New York City by traders Nathaniel and Frederick Carne, Afong Moy was exhibited to audiences as “The Chinese Lady.” Playing on American curiosities about “the East,” the exhibition drew thousands of visitors who were curious about her clothing, her language, and her “little feet,” which were the result of foot binding.


You may be wondering: why did these traders decide to bring a Chinese woman to the U.S.? The Carne brothers thought that by exhibiting an exotic Chinese woman among Chinese furnishings, they’d be able to market their Chinese goods and get more Americans to buy their furniture, porcelain and more. Regardless, Afong Moy caused a national sensation, as visitors paid to watch her use chopsticks, explain Chinese social practices, sing traditional Chinese songs, and display her bound feet. The act traveled to major U.S. cities across the country, including New Haven, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, Norfolk, Charleston, New Orleans, and Boston. 


Though records of Moy disappeared in 1850, her impact was immense, as she was the first Chinese woman that many Americans ever interacted with. 


Want to learn more? Check out these resources: 


— Literary Hub – The Life of Afong Moy, the First Chinese Woman in America 

— The Library Company of Philadelphia – Remembering Afong Moy 

— New-York Historical Society – Life Story of Afong Moy, the first-recorded Chinese Woman in America 

— Chicago Reader – ‘Afong Moy was a real person’ 

— The New Yorker – History Lessons in “The Chinese Lady”