Hong Yen Chang Admitted To The California State Bar 125 Years After Being Denied By California Supreme Court Due To Anti-Chinese Sentiment

March 19, 2015 | By Garrett Montgomery More

Hong Yen Chang, a Chinese national, who died in 1926, has been granted posthumous admission as an attorney and counselor by the Supreme Court of California this week. Mr Hong Yen Chang, a brilliant student, who earned his diploma from Columbia Law School and was later admitted to the New York State Bar, was denied admission to the California State Bar in 1890 because of anti-Chinese laws.

Hong Yen Chang

Hong Yen Chang, a prominent lawyer, who was denied the right to practice law due to anti-Chinese sentiment, has been granted admission to the California State Bar decades after his death.

Hong Yen Chang’s fascinating life story began in 1859 or 1860 in Xiangshan, Guandgong Province, China. At the age of 10, young Hong Yen Chang lost his father and two years later, thanks to his talents and intellect, he was chosen to take part in the Chinese Educational Mission and moved to America.

The brilliant teenager lived with an American family and studied at Hartford Public High School in Connecticut from 1876 to 1878. He later went to the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts where he delivered a memorable commencement speech in 1879.

Chang enrolled at Yale College, (now Yale University), but in 1881, the Chinese government announced that the Chinese Educational Mission students had to return to China.

Two years later, he came back to America and was accepted to Columbia Law School and in 1883 he became the first Chinese lawyer in America. To become a lawyer, Mr Chang had to jump through endless immigration hoops because of the controversial and flat out racist Chinese Exclusion Act that was signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882.

According to reports:

“At the time of Hong Yen Chang’s graduation, the New York State Bar required applicants to be Americans.But the Chinese Exclusion Act barred Hong Yen Chang from citizenship. The New York Supreme Court, General Term, initially opposed Hong Yen Chang’s admission to the New York State Bar. (Prior to their decision, Hong Yen Chang was already naturalized by Judge Van Hossen on November 11, 1887, in New York. However, the New York State Legislature passed an act that allowed Hong Yen Chang to apply again to the bar.”

After working in New York, Hong Yen Chang moved to California where anti-Chinese sentiment was strong. How strong? In 1879, California modified its laws to make it illegal for Chinese, idiots, insane person, or person convicted to vote. California’s constitution also :

“prohibited corporations and government employers from “employ[ing] directly or indirectly, in any capacity, any Chinese or Mongolian.” Another provision instructed the state legislature to discourage Chinese immigration “by all the means within its power.”

Those harsh laws were put in place because Californian politicians and businesses were tired of the many Chinese immigrants, who came to the state during the Gold Rush and eventually began to compete with natives for jobs.

The California Supreme Court deemed that Judge Van Hossen violated the Chinese Exclusion Act by making Chang an American and therefore barred him from practicing law in the Golden State.

In 2011, members of the U.C. Davis Asian Pacific American Law Students Association and Professor Gabriel Chin, petitioned the Supreme Court of California to grant Hong Yen Chang posthumous admission to the State Bar of California. On March 16, 2015, the Court did just that. The court wrote:

“Even if we cannot undo history, we can acknowledge it and, in so doing, accord a full measure of recognition to Chang’s pathbreaking efforts to become the first lawyer of Chinese descent in the United States. The people and the courts of California were denied Chang’s services as a lawyer. But we need not be denied his example as a pioneer for a more inclusive legal profession. In granting Hong Yen Chang posthumous admission to the California Bar, we affirm his rightful place among the ranks of persons deemed qualified to serve as an attorney and counselor at law in the courts of California.”

Not being a lawyer did not stop him from having a brilliant career. Hong Yen Chang worked for the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco and the Yokohama Specie Bank of Japan.

He later returned to China where he was named the Accountant-General to the Treasury’s Shanghai branch and taught international law at the Nanjing Government University.

He held positions in companies in British Columbia and at Berkeley, California until his retirement in 1920. Hong Yen Chang passed away in 1926 in Berkeley, California.

What are your thoughts on Hong Yen Chang’s story?

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Comments (6)

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  1. Greg says:

    Admitting Hon Yeng Chan to the bar posthumously is a nice gesture, but that is all. Victims of discrimination, and there are plenty being discriminated against today, pay the price of not being allowed to rise to their full levels of achievement because of the petty racist and sexist minds that pull the strings behind the scenes. Unfortunately, whenever any group including those who were former minorities rise to power and become the majority at any level (local, state, or national), it falls prey to the same practices of discrimination as the predecessor it replaces discriminating against individuals and groups different from itself. The human condition does not change and never will; thus the state of the world. Someone always needs to believe they are better than someone else and that others need to be held down. Ability, unfortunately, is no guarantee of fair treatment and access to climb the ladder of society. Anyone who believes otherwise has no touch with reality.

  2. Dr Jobson says:

    Well I cannot say that I agree with what we as Americans did to the Chinese back then, but it was the law, no matter how awful it was. I do like how this man heeded the law and did not ride the ‘Race boat’ and ask for pity!! He rose up and did the best he could where he was at!! He did what he had to do when he had to do it!!! There aren’t many people like him today that’s foe sure!!!

    • Jorge Sanchez says:

      Today, Jurisprudence is applied as a protocol out of interest, but not with morals and virtues which is the sole basis of justice. The word freedom tend to be misinterpreted and used to defend very low character behavior and excuses. This story must be remember as a scar and cannot happen again by any means at any state. It is an example to all to show how wrong is to “go with the flow”. RIP Mr. Yeng Chang.

    • hhj says:

      U need to be pitied for your ancestors’ atrocities such as this, he should have screamed injustice because that’s clearly what this was, all these years later, how can you right this wrong? SMDH @whitey!

  3. Stephen says:

    What does that matter? he is dead and nothing can change that.

    All it is now is a circle jerk to make some people feel better, about something they are not involved with.

    What an insult to injury.

    Are dead people going to start winning the lottery too?

    Why don’t we grant long dead slaves their freedom? Oh wait they are dead.

    Why don’t people just leave dead people alone?

    Reverence for the dead is much more respectful to me than all of this type of feel good bs.

  4. Dr Jobson says:

    We as humans need to learn from this guy!! Not just Americans!


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