Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)



Department name when degree awarded

American Studies


Barre Toelken


The history of Chinese restaurants in the American West shows that Chinese food became a part of the social and cultural realities for Chinese people, especially in the earliest years, partly because regional food helped maintain regional language and dialect. Beyond that, it also demonstrates how restaurants--even more than other service industries such as laundries--provide a living context in which Chinese met non-Chinese, and where the non-Chinese could become acquainted with Chinese art, eating customs, regional cookery, embroidery, and even family life. In other words, the Chinese restaurant became in time a bridge between the two cultures, and has therefore had an important function in intercultural relations. Moreover, certain developments in Chinese restaurant customs are found only in the United States (soup served first instead of last; everyone receiving a fortune cookie rather than one person getting a sign of good fortune); this fact testifies to a cultural dynamism among the otherwise conservative Chinese workers who established themselves in a strange land far from home. An interpretation and "decoding" of these elements from the viewpoint of a contemporary "mainland" Chinese forms the central discussion of this thesis.