Gathering: Bone Repatriation Book

Relationship: Im/migrant
Bone repatriation book of the Chong Hou Tong, 1894. Courtesy of China Alley Preservation Society.
Bone repatriation book of the Chong Hou Tong, 1894. Courtesy of China Alley Preservation Society.

The Chinese men, who in the nineteenth and early twentieth century left their homeland to seek their fortunes in Hanford, California, hoped to eventually return home, and bring wealth back to their family. It was important to these men to die in their motherland and rest with their ancestors in a decent grave after a ritual funeral. If they died in California, often their bones were sent back to their ancestral villages in China for burial, with passage usually paid for by family members or by regional associations.

Dated 1894, this book of the Chong Hou Tong is a written record of bone repatriation to China. It is the only copy found in the history of American Chinese. This “bone book” has significant value not only to Hanford history, but it is important to overseas Chinese around the world. It has very detailed descriptions of the deceased: what Chinese village they called home, how they came to Hanford and at what age, what they did for a living, and so on. Also included are any ceremonial funereal rites that may have occurred, and what entity paid for the bone repatriation. Thus, the lives and the spirits of many of Hanford’s Chinese pioneers will become part of this digital exhibit.

The Tung Wah Hospital of Hong Kong, with a history dating back to 1870, was one of the charitable organizations that provided bone repatriation services. In July 2015, members of this organization visited China Alley and borrowed four of our artifacts. They conserved these items, and our “bone book” was among those special pieces.

This object was featured in the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)'s exhibit, "Gathering: Collecting and Documenting Chinese American History," October 17, 2019 - March 22, 2020.



Place(s): Hanford, CA
Year: 1894

– China Alley Preservation Society

Relationship:  Im/migrant Im/migrant