Achuen “Grace” Amoy Eaton (1846-1922): Mui Tsai, Acrobat, Missionary, Writer, by Mary Chapman

Fig. 1 Achuen Amoy in her teens (Salter 170).

Achuen “Grace” Amoy Eaton was born in China, probably Shanghai, soon after the Treaty of Nanking (around 1846) gave European and North American merchants and missionaries access to key Chinese ports. Her parents, possibly because of extreme poverty caused by drought or war, sold her at a young age to Nanjing-based Tuck Quy and his wife Wang Noo, who led a group of Chinese jugglers and acrobats that toured the world billed under various names including the “Chinese Magicians”. The name “Achuen Amoy” was probably given to her by her owners because “Amoy,” a corruption of “mui tsai” meaning “little sister”, was a common euphemism for “slave girl”; “Achuen” could mean “Spring,” to indicate that she was born or purchased in the Spring.

Figure 2: Achuen Amoy as an adult (From the Collection of Elizabeth Rooney).

By October 1852, Achuen Amoy was tightrope dancing her way across the US starting in San Francisco. Beginning in 1853, when a smaller group of Chinese acrobats toured Britain, she served as the human target of Tuck Quy’s knife-throwing stunt. In early Summer 1855, she left her London boardinghouse and the man whom media and trial records described as an abusive owner. She then went on to serve as a Chinese interpreter in London’s Old Bailey Law Courts, was baptized in the Church of England as “Grace”, and trained to be a missionary.

Figure 3: Poster of the Chinese Magicians in Worcester, MA (1853). (Stanford University Broadsides 1-8461)

In the early 1860s, she travelled to China where she served as a medical missionary until she met and married British merchant Edward Eaton. After her first child was born in 1864, the young family returned to England where her second child Edith (who became well known author “Sui Sin Far”) was born. In the winter of 1872/3, the family emigrated to Montreal, where “Mrs. Grace Eaton” was probably the first Chinese female inhabitant. While living in Montreal, Grace took care of her twelve children, but also found time to visit Chinese immigrant women on behalf of her church and to write a serialized story about her life as a medical missionary.


Advertisement for “Chinese Family”,  Leamington Spa Courier, 25 Mar 1854: 2.

Advertisement for “Chinese Magicians”, Daily Alta California, Volume 3, Number 278, 8 October 1852.

Death record, New York State, May 6 1922.

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 6.0, 06 July 2011), August 1855.

“Police Intelligence”,  Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 8 July 1855.

Rodecape, Lois. “Celestial Drama in the Golden Hills: The Chinese Theatre in California, 1849-1869” California Historical Society Quarterly 23 (June 1945): 96-101.

Salter, Joseph. The Asiatic in England: Sketches of 16 Years Among the Asiatics (1872).

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