The Chinese in California, 1850-1925
Collection OverviewThe Chinese in California, 1850-1925, documents Chinese immigration to California between 1850-1925. Included within this presentation are stories of immigrants arriving in the United States, information on the impact of Chinese immigration on the United States and the growth and development of the Chinatown community in San Francisco. Also included is material documenting the sentiment against Chinese immigration and the response to it within the Chinese community. The materials in this collection are drawn from The Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley; The Ethnic Studies Library, University of California Berkeley; and The California Historical Society, San Francisco.
Special FeaturesThese online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.
Historical ErasThese historical era(s) are best represented in the collection, although they may not be all-encompassing.
- Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
- Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
Related Collections and ExhibitsThese collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.
- American Life Histories, 1936-1940
- Before the Great Earthquake and Fire: San Francisco, 1897-1916
- California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives, 1849-1900
Other ResourcesRecommended additional sources of information.
Search TipsSpecific guidance for searching this collection.
To find items in this collection, search by Keyword or browse by Subject, Name, Title, Group or Theme indexes.
For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.
The Gold Rush and Antebellum Chinese ImmigrationTrading vessels carried the news of the discovery of gold in California across the Pacific in the spring and summer of 1848. From the docks of the British colony, Hong Kong, word spread quickly throughout China. By 1851, 25,000 Chinese had left their homes for California, the land of gum saan, or "gold mountain." Most of these emigrants were part of a larger exodus of people who left China's southeast Guangdong, or Canton, Province in search of better economic opportunities and political freedom.
Trade relations brought the Chinese to California as early as the sixteenth century. The fledgling United States joined the China trade with the voyage of the Empress of China in 1784, and as trade between the two countries expanded, Chinese immigrants trickled into the United States. Use the Subject Index heading, Chinese and Westward Expansion, to access materials relating to Chinese immigration, including a biographical sketch of Captain Stephen Splivalo, who worked in Chinese trade and immigration in the nineteenth century. The author, Joseph Splivalo, uses his great-uncle's records to describe what the earliest Chinese immigrants' voyage across the Pacific must have been like:
"Some Chinese emigrants had come to California in sailing ships even before the discovery of gold. American brig 'Eagle' was the first vessel to bring Chinese settlers to California. Even at its best the trip from China to California in sailing ships must have been miserable. The poor people were herded in the hold of the ship like a flock of sheep, with no sanitation; their food consisted of a rice cooked in water with some pork fat. Water was very scarce as the ship did not have huge water tanks; on long trips they depended on rain after the initial supply of water ran out. The Chinese were permitted to come on deck in small numbers when the weather was good, but during heavy wind and waves they remained in the hold of the ship with almost no light, save the little that came through the openings for air. In storms even those openings were tightly closed and the people in the hold remained in utter darkness till the storm abated. In the darkness, with ship rolling, the Chinese were thrown against the side of the ship and on top of each other. Even during a trip with fair weather, many Chinese emigrants died and were thrown into the sea. If the ship sank during the storm everyone in the hold was drowned. How many died and drowned will never be known."
Captain Stephen Splivalo: typescript, page 5
- What does the preceding description suggest about Chinese immigrants who came to the United States?
- How does the preceding account compare to the experiences of Irish and German immigrants crossing the Atlantic during the 1840s and 1850s?
- How were conditions in transoceanic voyages similar or different?
"They were mostly dressed in the national costume, peticoat trousers reaching to the knees, big jackets lined with sheep or dog-skin, and quilted, and huge basket hats made of split bamboo. The lower part of their legs encased in blue cotton stockings, made of cloth and not knit, and are attached to shoes also made of thick cotton cloth, and with soles fully an inch in depth.
These people form a peaceable and hardworking class of our population, but are of very little service or benefit to commerce or to the state, as they consume little of the food or merchandise of the country. Rice, their great staple, they generally bring over with them in vast quantities, and when a Chinaman amasses a small amount of cash, he immediately returns home to the 'flowery land.' This determination seems to be in almost all the cases premeditated, for none have brought their wives and children Some time ago it was calculated that there were no less than fifteen thousand Chinamen in California, and at the same time there were only three Chinese women. Within the last six months however, Celestials of the softer sex have been speculating in the California mania. Some three or four scores of girls have come over. Their means of livelihood is uniform, and they help to add a darker shade to the profligacy of San Francisco."
From El Campo de los Sonoraenses or: Three years residence in California
- How would you characterize Perkins's attitude towards the Chinese immigrants?
- According to Perkins, why wasn't the population of Chinese immigrants a benefit to the state of California?
- Why didn't many Chinese women immigrate to California?
"A company of Chinese have been building a log cabin near us for several days past. They are mostly young men apparently of good 'blood' and very polite towards us. I like to talk with them, and ask them hundreds of questions about their native land, for they are intelligent and one of them speaks good English. Most of them wear long cues, neatly braided, and hung in little knots at the end. I asked one of them the reason of his wearing his hair short. 'In America me wear 'em cut — in China all sem oder Chinaman.' Here is a specimen of his writing which he gave me at my request."Osborn's friendly curiosity was not necessarily the rule among American prospectors. Robert Pitkin wrote a letter to his parents from the North Fork of the American River mentioning the influx of Chinese miners and the hostility they faced in 1852:
From Timothy Coffin Osborn journal
"Dear Parents Brothers and sisters . . . I am now in the same place I was in last summer I am onely making small wages a great many are hardly making board there is a great difference between the times now and this time last year I am getting tiard of mineing and think this winter will about finish my mineing . . . The emigrants that are coming in this fall will be apt to have a hard time of it People will learn after while that evry man that comes to Cal does not make a fortune. This country is fast getting filled up with Chinamen They are coming by thousands all the time The miners in a great many plases will not let them work The miners hear drove off about 200 Chinamen about two weeks ago but they have com back about as thick as ever (I would not help drive them off as I thought they had no rite to drive them)"When Chinese miners were not driven away, they were often forced to work older claims or to assist other miners. Legislation also created obstacles to Chinese immigrants. In the 1850s, the Constitution reserved the right of naturalization for white immigrants, making it impossible for Chinese immigrants to own land or file mining claims. At the same time, California passed a law taxing all foreign miners, but through 1870 it was enforced mainly against Mexicans and Chinese.
From Robert W. Pitkin letter to his parents: Jones' Bar, California
- What can you infer from Pitkin's letter about the reasons for American hostility towards the Chinese?
- What sentiments are reflected in these illustrations of Chinese miners and gamblers? How does the artist convey these sentiments?
- Why do you think Pitkin objected to the action taken by other miners?
- How successful were most prospectors in California during the gold rush?
- How did the gold rush experience impact the Chinese immigrant experience?
Contributions of Chinese Immigrants: Community, Agriculture, Industry, LaborDespite the hostile reception that many Chinese immigrants received from Americans, they established thriving communities in urban centers throughout the country, the largest and most notable being San Francisco's Chinatown.
Dragon parade: From San Francisco Chinatown (ante-1910)
"Chinatown, San Francisco": From San Francisco Chinatown (post-1910)
"Sing Fat Co., Inc.": From San Francisco Chinatown (post-1910): SF Chinatown (post-1910): Postcards
Children and adults
— sidewalk scene
"Native Chinese School, Chinatown, San Francisco, California" (post-1910)
- How would you describe the architecture of Chinatown?
- What kinds of events and activities are captured in images of Chinatown?
- What do images of Chinatown reveal about its residents' sense of community?
- What kinds of businesses thrived in Chinatown?
- What do you think Chinatown meant to its residents? What purposes did it serve?
"Reading the Bulletin Boards, Chinatown, San Francisco, Calif.": From San Francisco Chinatown (post-1910)
"The Coming Man": scene in The Principal Chinese Theatre, San Francisco, California
"Street Scene with Man Walking on Sidewalk"
"...[H]ow unlike the east side of New York, the tenement districts of London or Paris. The traveler here can go where he listeth, and at whatever hour he pleaseth. His is not disturbed by beggars nor by drunken brawls; nor is he liable to the dangers which bestrew his path among Christians in either of the places mentioned. He is free from molestation, ridicule and banter; and, from all that we have seen, he will find on the whole a personally clean, sober, sagacious and industrious people. 'No! Let this section be as wicked and as malodorous as the reports make it to be; let the vicious be as thick and the taste for the meretricious and artificial be as apparently uppermost; the lovers of goodness are many; the supporters and seekers for what is pure and right are the substantial bulk of these people.'"Bode could well have been referring to George B. Morris's account of Chinatown when he mentioned the "wicked and . . . malodorous . . . reports." In The Chinaman as he is, Morris devotes a chapterto Chinatown, writing:
From Lights and Shadows of Chinatown
"John Chinaman is the dirtiest neighbor anyone can have they have their filthy habits from childhood up the moment you cross the borders of Chinatown you experience a peculiar strange smell a sort of combination of opium mixed with tobacco fish and vegetables but unlike anything else you cannot get used to it and a great many people get sick at the first smell of it . . . inflicting a severe headache . . . Many of the buildings in Chinatown are made of brick of American architecture whenever the Chinese get into a building they commence to remodel it and change the appearance of the front putting up queer signs and painting the balconies and front fanciful colors and hanging out curious Chinese lanterns in a few months after they have occupied it the place looks as if it were a hundred years old the walls become blackened up filthy dirty and discolored this applies to the lower class however it must be understood from the start that there are grades of society the same as among other nations . . ."
The Chinaman as he is, pages 22-24
- What attitudes towards Chinese immigrants are reflected in the collection's images of Chinatown, especially the postcards, and their captions?
- What stereotypes of Chinatown circulated through U.S. popular culture in periodicals, postcards, texts, and song sheets?
- Why do you think these stereotypes thrived?
- What aspects of Chinatown were most troubling to Bode and Morris and why?
- What praise did they have for Chinatown and its residents?
- What role do you think Chinatown played in the growth of anti-Chinese sentiment in the second half of the nineteenth century?
- Do you think that Americans' discomfort with cultural differences resulted in racial animosity or that racial animosity resulted in intolerance for cultural differences?
Olive king on the Quito Ranch
"Feeding Silkworms, Los Angeles, California"
"Work on the Last Mile of the Pacific Railroad —Mingling of European with Asiatic Laborers"
- How did Chinese laborers help to promote the California economy?
- What contributions did they make to the development of new industries in the state?
- What inferences can you draw from these images about the difficulty in constructing the Central Pacific Railroad?
- According to these images, what activities and challenges were involved?
The Six Companies and the "Coolie Trade"At the heart of the Chinese community in San Francisco was an organization called the Six Companies. Also known as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, the Six Companies arranged for a variety of services for the Chinese community, organizing a private patrol force for Chinatown, assisting with translations, securing necessary permits, organizing a Chinese Boy Scout Troop, and establishing health and hygiene programs. The Six Companies also represented the entire Chinese community throughout the U.S., dealing with local and national governments on issues such as immigration and persecution.
Refer to the section on Business and Politics in the collection's Special Presentation to learn more about the Six Companies. Search on Six Companies for letters, photographs, and reports pertaining to this powerful organization.
- Why were the Six Companies formed?
- What services did they provide?
- How was the organization governed?
Use the Subject Index heading, Anti-Chinese Movement & Chinese Exclusion to browse texts for references to the Six Companies. In its 1901 publication, Some reasons for Chinese exclusion. The American Federation of Labor claimed:
". . . the Six Companies were formed for the purpose of providing means and transportation — but few having sufficient to come on their own account — binding their victims in exchange therefore by contracts which virtually enslaved them for a term of years. They became the absolute chattels of the Tongs, or companies, and were held, and to this day are held just as ever, into strict compliance with the terms entered into, not by any moral obligation, but by fear of death."Search on slave, coolie, and contract for other evidence of the popular belief that San Francisco's Chinatown harbored an illicit slave trade run by the Six Companies.
Some reasons for Chinese exclusion, page 5
Although most Chinese immigrants came to the U.S. of their own free will, the belief in the slave trade took hold even in the U.S. government, whose Senate discussed a bill "To Prohibit Contracts for Servile Labor" in July 1870. In his speech before the Senate, Eugene Casserly, of California, quoted the following findings of a committee appointed to investigate the population of Chinese laborers in California:
"Those people are under a Government as absolute and perfect as any that ever existed, which system of government is maintained and enforced in this State, so far as the Chinese are concerned, wholly independent, outside, and in derision of the authority of the State of California, as well as that of the Government of the United States. This system of government is maintained and enforced by what are known as the 'six companies,' and is, in fact, an imperium in imperio, in derogation of the dignity of our national and State Governments, and in contempt of their lawful authority. This Chinese Government in California has its officers, its tribunals, and executioners of its decrees. It has been demonstrated by the police authorities of our principal city that individuals have been repeatedly imprisoned in Chino-California prisons, flogged, beaten, otherwise maltreated, and their property confiscated under the authority and by the command of this chino-California Government . . ."
The Chinese Evil — Contracts for Servile Labor, page 3
- What does Casserly's speech suggest about why people might have suspected the Six Companies of running a slave trade?
- What other factors might have compelled the government to create a bill prohibiting slave labor?
- What does the speech suggest about other reasons why the U.S. government might have wanted to do away with the Six Companies?
"The papers of the Pacific Coast for the last ten years have been teeming daily with reports of outrages arson, robbery and murder committed by whites against the Chinese, and I find 70 pages of closely printed matter composed of items like this — . . . May 26.56 From the Sonora Democrat — One China man was found killed on the river last night and another was driven into the rain and drowned . . . April 20 — the Butte Record says five men entered a chinese camp one mile below Oroville and secured #1000. There were 10 China men old residents, and they tied them by their cues to the tent poles and robbed them — And so on for 70 pages — So that I can hardly help believing that these 100,000 odd Chinese have received during the last decade as much abuse from the bousted white race on our western, shores, as the whole 4,000,000 of Africans in the South — "
Folder 1: Speech read before the Professional Club.: From Francis M. Thompson miscellany ; and a speech on Chinese immigrants in California, pages 8-9
- How does Thompson's description of the Six Companies differ from that of Eugene Casserly?
- How did the role of the Six Companies change over time?
- Why do you think the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association employed Carroll Cook and other Caucasian attorneys?
- What place does the Six Companies have in the history of American civil rights?
Anti-Chinese AgitationAnti-Chinese sentiment in California grew so quickly that it began appearing in political campaigns as early as 1852. By the 1867 race for California governor, the "Chinese Question" had become such a heated issue that, according to historian Theodore Hittell, the Union Party's candidate, George Gorham, was "...the only one that had the honesty and at the same time the imprudence to express himself opposed to the anti-Chinese movement, and had in consequence lost many votes and impaired his future political prospects...."
Search on Gorham and analyze a caricature of the candidate bearing an African-American, a Chinese, and a Native-American man on his back. Compare it to a cartoon monogrammed "S.R." appealing to voters to reject Gorham.
- Why did Hittell refer to the Gorham campaign as imprudent?
- How did issues relating to racial equality play a role in the 1867 campaign?
- What message does each image convey?
- What techniques does each cartoonist use in attacking Gorham?
- Why do you think "S.R." refers to Gorham as "Ah-Sing Booth Gorham?"
"...To Chinatown! Was now the cry, and off they ran up Leavenworth street, several hundred of them yelling like soldiers of Satan. On the south side of Tyler street, above Leavenworth, stood some Chinese laundries; there the rabble bombarded, smashing doors and windows with bricks and stones. Thence they were driven by the police, but only to attack the unfortunate Asiatics in other quarters. The fiend-prince Maker appeared to be in their urging to theft and demolition.As a result of the riot, Coleman reestablished the vigilance committee as the Committee of Public Safety and worked to quash anti-Chinese riots that he blamed on the demagoguery of Dennis Kearney and his Workingmen's Party. Kearney was an Irish immigrant who considered the Chinese to be pawns in the hands of capitalists bent on destroying workers' unions. Kearney championed the expulsion of Chinese, rallying workers under the banner "The Chinese Must Go."
Breaking into a corner grocery the mobites supplied themselves with bottles of liquor and canned eatables, after which they demolished a Chinese tenement on Geary street, leaving it in flames. Fifteen other like places in that vicinity soon fell before them. Otis Gibson, of the Chinese mission, was stoned. Meanwhile the police several times met and dispersed them with their clubs, until finally the rioters retired, leaving the city quiet for the night."
Transcriptions 1-2: From William Tell Coleman statements: and other material
- What does the Harper's Weekly cartoon comparing Kearney to Julius Caesar suggest about his role in the Sand Lot riots?
- What were the causes of anti-Chinese sentiment during and after the gold rush?
"At last a workingman, a drayman, DENNIS KEARNEY, of San Francisco, immortalized by these words: 'We will have a new party, the Workingman's Party. No great capitalist, no political trickster, no swindler or thief shall enter it. We will fill the offices with honest men who will make laws to protect themselves. We will send the Chinese home, distribute the land of the grabber, tax the millionaire, make a law to hang thieves of high as well as low degree, elevate the poor, and once more return to the simple virtue of honest republicanism.'
And he added, 'When the thieves hear these things they will shake in their boots. They will do all they can to divide and defeat us. They will pervert the law to persecute us. They will try to cheat us, to count us out at the ballot-box, to bribe and corrupt the men we elect. They will provoke us to riot if they can, and set the military upon us. We must arm. We must resolve to fight, if need be. We must stand by each other to the death if necessary. We must swear that we will not be defeated. It is life or death. Either we must drive out the Chinese slave, and humble the bloated aristocrat, or we shall soon be slaves ourselves. There is no other solution to the problem. It is death or victory. We conquer or we perish. Arm! arm! and let our adversaries see that we are in earnest!'"
The Labor agitators, or, The battle for bread, pages 4 and 5
- What accounts for Dennis Kearney's popularity?
- What were the basic goals of the Workingmen's Party of California?
- What role did opposition to Chinese play in the party's platform?
- What methods did the party use in its pamphlet to denigrate Chinese immigrants?
- What does the preceding passage suggest about the spirit of the Labor movement?
- What was the relationship between anti-Chinese sentiment and the Labor movement?
Use the Subject Index heading, Discrimination against Chinese, for further examples, including reports of raids and riots against Chinese. In his lecture before the Young Men's Christian Association, J.G. Kerr lamented the mob spirit and violence resulting from anti-Chinese agitation, concluding, "In this warfare against the Chinese, the rights and liberty of the white man are just as much at stake as those of the Chinaman. Both must stand or fall together."
- What groups of people promoted anti-Chinese agitation and why?
- What forms did anti-Chinese agitation take?
- What charges were made against the Chinese to arouse public animosity against the immigrants?
- What was the impact of anti-Chinese agitation?
- What arguments does Kerr make to support his assertion that the welfare of the Chinese in America is essential to the welfare of all Americans?
- How would you expect messages such as Kerr's, and those of Harper's Weekly illustrator Thomas Nash, to have been received?
Nineteenth-Century Immigration: The Burlingame Treaty and ExclusionMuch of the anti-Chinese agitation of the nineteenth century took the form of opposition to Chinese immigration. The U.S. government took its first official stance on Chinese immigration in 1868 when, pressured by railroad companies wanting cheap labor, it negotiated a policy of open immigration with China in the Burlingame Treaty:
"The United States of America and the Emperor of China cordially recognize the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance and also the mutual advantage of the free migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects, respectively from the one country to the other, for the purpose of curiosity or trade or as permanent residents...."Use the Subject Index heading, Anti-Chinese Movement & Chinese Exclusion, to access the text of the Burlingame Treaty as well as items reflecting the debate over Chinese immigration. Read the 1878 speech by California Congressman Horace Davis to the House of Representatives, proposing a revision of the Burlingame Treaty and the exclusion of Chinese immigration. The following year, Edwin Cowdin criticized the arguments used to arouse public support for exclusion legislation in his speech before the New York Chamber of Commerce.
Text of the treaty between China & the United States, pages 5 and 6
- What are the reasons Davis gives for supporting a ban on Chinese immigration?
- How persuasive is his speech?
- Compare Davis's arguments to other appeals for Chinese exclusion.
- What evidence does Cowdin offer to counter arguments presented by those demanding legislation to exclude Chinese immigration?
- Whom and what does this Wasp cartoon blame for the failure of the 1879 bill to abrogate the Burlingame Treaty?
- What arguments does Senator Jones use to support legislation excluding Chinese immigration?
- How does Jones' view of Chinese history conflict with Kwang Chang Ling's description of it in his letters published in the San Francisco Argonaut in 1878?
- Why do you think that Kwang Chang Ling wrote such extensive letters on Chinese history to the San Francisco Argonaut?
In 1888, Congress also passed the Scott Act prohibiting the return of Chinese laborers who had temporarily left the United States. Even Chinese fishermen who had ventured out of the coastal waters were expelled from the United States under the provisions of the act. Ng Poon Chew, editor of a Chinese language newspaper, wrote of an episode illustrating how officials interpreted the term "laborer" in immigration legislation and treaties.
"A Chinese by the name of Wah Sang was admitted to the country as a student in theology, and as long as he was a student he was allowed to remain in the country; but when he completed his course in theological training, and entered into active service in preaching the Gospel to this countrymen under the auspices of the Methodist Church, he was arrested in Texas as a laborer, was tried and ordered deported in February, 1905, the Court sustaining the contention of the immigration officials that a preacher is a laborer, and therefore subject to the operation of the Exclusion Law."
The Treatment of the Exempt Classes of Chinese in the United States, page 6
- On what grounds did Ng Poon Chew argue that the exclusion of Chinese was a violation of the Burlingame Treaty?
- According to Ng how was the interpretation of the Exclusion Laws used to harass Chinese professionals and students?
- How did Ng use specific case studies to support his arguments?
- What messages are expressed in these cartoons?
- How did the cartoons criticize U.S. immigration policy and the enforcement of Chinese exclusion?
Twentieth-Century Immigration RestrictionsA convention meeting in San Francisco in 1901 to discuss the re-enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act addressed the President and Congress in a pamphlet For the re-enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Law. After providing a brief history of Chinese exclusion legislation, the pamphlet argues for the re-enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act, reiterating the dangers of a supposed Chinese slave trade and labor competition. To these familiar complaints, the committee added the following arguments:
". . . during their long residence but few intermarriages have taken place, and the offspring has been invariably degenerate. It is well established that the issue of the Caucasian and the Mongolian do not possess the virtues of either, but develop the vices of both. So physical assimilation is out of the question. . . . The purpose, no doubt, for enacting the exclusion laws for periods of ten years is due to the intention of Congress of observing the progress of those people under American institutions, and now it has been clearly demonstrated that they cannot, for the deep and ineradicable reasons of race and mental organization, assimilate with our own people, and be moulded as are other races into strong and composite American stock.
Civilization in Europe has been frequently attacked and imperiled by the barbaric hordes of Asia. If the little band of Greeks at Marathon had not beaten back ten times their number of Asiatic invaders, it is impossible to estimate the loss of civilization that would have ensued. . . . But a peaceful invasion is more dangerous than a warlike attack. We can meet and defend ourselves against an open foe, but an insidious foe, under our generous laws, would be in possession of the citadel before we were aware. The free immigration of Chinese would be for all purposes an invasion by Asiatic barbarians against whom civilization in Europe, fortunately for us, has been frequently defended. It is our inheritance to keep it pure and uncontaminated, as it is our purpose and destiny to broaden and enlarge it. We are trustees for mankind. "
For the re-enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Law, pages 4-5 and 8-9
- What reasons does the committee give for re-enacting the Chinese Exclusion Act?
- What are the similarities and differences between the committee's arguments and the arguments people made for Chinese exclusion in the late-nineteenth century?
- What might the differences between these earlier and later arguments suggest?
- Why did the Senators from California and Oregon want further restrictions on Asian immigration?
- What were "picture brides"? Upon what grounds did Senator Phelan seek to restrict their immigration?
- Why were some senators opposed to the bill?
- Why do you think that the State Department asked Congress to pay close attention to the bill's use of language?
- What are the similarities between the discussion of this bill and the pamphlet, For the re-enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Law?
- What myths are exposed in the introduction of Truth versus Fiction; Justice versus Prejudice...?
- What accusations does the pamphlet make against labor unions?
- What appeal do the writers of this pamphlet make?
- What point does the cartoon at the beginning of the pamphlet make?
Search on Angel Island for photographs of the facilities, correspondence regarding Angel Island detainees, and a collection of poems, folk ballads, and songs reflecting the ordeal of being detained on Angel Island. Angel Island: The Ellis Island of the West, published in 1917 by The Woman's American Baptist Home Mission Society, takes the reader on a tour of the immigration facilities and the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Asian Indians (Hindus) being held there:
"Passing back through the dining-room, we climb the long, broad stairway that leads up to the two-story Chinese Detention Building for the men. Sometimes there are two or three hundred men and boys up here. Some are mere boys of twelve or so, the sons of San Francisco Chinese merchants, or the alleged 'sons,' whose real status it is the perplexing task of the United States Government to determine. When we were in the main room of the Administration Building, we noticed that a railed-off section held a number of Chinese. They were witnesses, come to testify in some of the Chinese cases that are decided here."
Angel Island: The Ellis Island of the West, page 16
- What is the overall message of the Woman's American Baptist Home Mission Society's publication?
- Why do you think the organization created this publication?
- What is the tone of this publication? How does it portray Angel Island?
- Why do you think that the experience of being detained at Angel Island would have given rise to expressions of despair such as those contained in the Gold Mountain Ballads?
For more information on U.S. immigration as well as interactive activities, see the Teachers page Presentation, Immigration. For information on the Japanese immigration experience, see the American Memory collection, "Suffering Under a Great Injustice": Ansel Adams's Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar and its Collection Connections.
Chronological Thinking Skills: Immigration TimelineCreating a timeline provides an opportunity to practice chronological thinking while also testing comprehension of a historical topic. Use the collection's materials to create an illustrated timeline reflecting the development of U.S. immigration policy from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the establishment of the quota system in the 1920s.
High Lights on Chinese Exclusion and Expulsion for a brief history of treaties and legislation regarding Chinese immigration. Use images from the collection, such as cartoons and illustrations from The Wasp and Harper's Weekly to reflect contemporary public opinion about the events, treaties, and laws included on your timeline.
- What events other than the establishment of treaties and laws do you think were significant in the development of U.S. Chinese immigration policy?
- What do the cartoons suggest about public sentiment towards Chinese immigrants?
- How would you characterize the cartoon images of the Chinese? What can you infer from the nature of these images?
- Do the cartoons in the collection show a change in attitudes over time or were feelings towards the Chinese consistent?
- What might account for the different perspective taken by Harper's Weekly illustrator, Thomas Nast?
Historical Comprehension: Law and Order in San Francisco's ChinatownUsers of this collection have the opportunity to see how effectively images can convey historical information. Search on Cook Scrapbooks for a series of 75 photographs documenting San Francisco's Chinatown. Many pertain to the community's law enforcement, including a photograph of a "Peace Meeting" in February 1921 between the Hip Sings, Ping Koongs, and law enforcement officers and photographs of the China Town Squads of 1898, 1904, 1921, and 1924 . Examine the photographs to learn about law enforcement in Chinatown.
- What part of the Chinese community appears to be involved in the "Peace Meeting" with law enforcement officers?
- Judging by the photographs of the China Town Squads, does it appear that the city recruited Chinese policemen?
- What inferences can you draw regarding law enforcement in San Francisco's Chinatown from the Cook Scrapbooks series?
- What were the Tongs?
- Why were they established?
- Why was there such opposition to the Tongs?
- To what extent does the article show a bias?
Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Historical CartoonsThis collection contains countless editorial cartoons from San Francisco's Wasp and Wave and New York's Harper's Weekly.
Search on cartoons for hundreds of images. Select three or four of them to analyze, using the following questions.
- What are the main symbols in each cartoon?
- Whom or what do they represent?
- What questions do you have after looking at the cartoon?
- What information would you need to answer these questions?
- What action, relationship, or comparison is depicted?
- What is the overall message of the cartoon?
- What are the benefits and limitations of communicating in words and in symbolic imagery?
- How have editorial cartoons changed since the nineteenth century?
Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making: Chinese Labor and Immigration PolicyIn many ways, the American workers' campaign for better living conditions dominates the history of the late-nineteenth-century United States, and its west coast is no exception. From the earliest sizable immigration of Chinese during the gold rush, American sentiment towards Chinese immigrants was highly influenced by concerns over labor.
Two views of Chinese labor are represented in the papers of a Dutch observer, Helena Adrianna Knitscheer Daniels, and in the letter of Jacob Stillman to his son in February 1886. Daniels' papers reflect the anti-Chinese feelings of many San Franciscans in describing Chinese immigration as the Achilles heel of the American economy:
"The reason why Americans want to stop the Chinese is because the Chinese work more cheaply but only half as well as Americans. Moreover, the Chinese are extremely thrifty and import their food, clothes, etc. from China, so that their money is not being spent here..."
"Something About America and San Francisco": From Helena Adrianna Knitscheer Daniels Papers, page 1
- According to Daniels, what are the problems with the use of Chinese labor in the United States?
"I feel some uneasiness about the war being waged against the employers of Chinese. I cannot dispense with them, they are the only reliable laborers to be had. They work like machines through rain, cold and heat and need no watching. . . . I never saw a Chinaman lean on his tools or pause in his labor until the time comes. I would prefer to employ my own countrymen but they will not work except when starved to it and as soon as they earn a little money they want to tramp . . ."
From Letter from Stillman to his son
- Why does Stillman hire Chinese laborers for his vineyard?
- According to Stillman, why won't the supposed failure of Chinese laborers to spend their wages in the United States destroy the nation's economy, as Daniels argues?
- What position would you expect Jacob Stillman to have taken on the legality of the Geary Law?
- Instead of the passage of the Geary Law, what alternative course of action might have been taken?
Historical Research Capabilities: Discriminatory Legislation, The 1906 Earthquake, Governor John Bigler, and The Rock Springs MassacrePrimary source materials often raise many questions, providing excellent catalysts for research projects driven by genuine curiosity. Items from this collection offer starting points for investigating several important topics in the history of the Chinese in the United States.
In 1880, the California legislature added sections to the state's penal code forbidding the employment of Chinese laborers by corporations operating within the state. Read selections from the Ninth Circuit Court's decision in In re Tiburcio Parrott on the rights of Chinese laborers in reference to Section 178 of the California Penal Code, included in the Court records. Research other discriminatory ordinances such as San Francisco's Cubic Air Ordinance, Laundry Ordinance, and Queue Ordinance. Explain the statutes and their intended effect and how Chinese businessmen worked through community associations to challenge the constitutionality of such restrictive legislation.
- Why do you think the attorneys for Parrott and the Chinese Consulate, which became a party to the case, argued that Section 178 violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?
- How effective was the Chinese community in fighting discrimination through the courts?
- What was the rationale for destroying Chinatown after the 1906 earthquake?
- How was the destruction of San Francisco's Chinatown evaded?
- What arguments do the Chinese merchants of San Francisco use in their response to Governor Bigler's message?
- What can you infer about Bigler's message based on this response?
- What were the results of the massacre?
- What efforts did the Chinese government take to secure redress?
- Was the attack on Chinese laborers at Rock Springs an isolated incident? Explain.
Arts & Humanities
Racial Stereotypes in Popular CultureThe United States has often been celebrated as a haven for immigrants from around the world. The inscription on the Statueof Liberty famously reads, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door." Yet, Americans demonized and stereotyped immigrant groups, from the Irish to the Chinese, as they arrived on their shores.
Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Dinner
"What is it?"
"The Coming Man: Allee sammee 'Melican Man Monopoleeee"
"Cigar Making in Chinatown, S. F."
On His High Horse
- What kinds of activities are Chinese people doing in these cartoons?
- With what are Chinese people associated in these images?
- How would you characterize the appearance of Chinese people in these cartoons?
- Which cartoons do you find most and least offensive?
- What makes a cartoon offensive?
"Which I wish to remark — And my language is plain — That for ways that are dark, And for tricks that are vain, The heathen Chinee is peculiar: Which the same I would rise to explain. . . . . . Ah Sin was his name; And I shall not deny, In regard to the same, What that name might imply; But his smile it was pensive and childlike, As I frequent remarked to Bill Nye. . . . . ."
From "The heathen Chinee musical album"
- Why do you think Harte's poem was set to music?
- What do the other items found by searching on heathen suggest about the popularity of Harte's poem?
The collection also includes a short novel called The Bradys and the Chinese Dwarf, or, The "Que Hunter" of the Barbary Coast from the Secret Service Old and Young King Brady Detectives Series. Examine the cover and read this example of popular nineteenth-century fiction.
- How are Chinese people portrayed on the cover of this detective story?
- How are they portrayed in the text?
- What are the similarities in how the Chinese are portrayed in popular images and texts of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries? What characteristics are commonly emphasized? What qualities are commonly attributed to Chinese people?
- What do The Bradys and the Chinese Dwarf and the advertisement for "Chinee-Graphs!" suggest about the popular appeal of the Chinese in the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century United States?
- What is the relationship between this appeal and stereotyping?
- How and why do you think racial stereotypes develop?
- Do you think popular media, such as cartoons, post cards, and dime novels lend themselves to stereotyping? Why or why not?
- To what extent do you see racial stereotyping in the popular media of today?
DramaThis collection includes two short plays, providing the opportunity to analyze and perform dramatic works. "The Chinese Must Go." A Farce in Four Acts by Henry Grimm tells the story of the Blaine family and their Chinese servants. The play opens with a scene in the Blaines' kitchen, in which one of these servants, Sam Gin, washes dishes while the other, Ah Coy, smokes an opium pipe:
"Ah Coy. I telly you, white man big fools; eaty too muchee, drinky too muchee, and talkee to muchee.
Sam Gin. White man catchee plenty money; Chinaman catchee little money.
Ah Coy. By and by white man catchee no money; Chinaman catchee heap money; Chinaman workee cheap, plenty work; white man workee dear, no work — sabee?
Sam Gin. Me heep sabee.
Ah Coy. Chinaman plenty work, plenty money, plenty to eat. White man no work, no money, die — sabee?
Sam Gin. Me heep sabee.
Ah Coy. White man damn fools; keep wifee and children — cost plenty money; Chinaman no wife, no children, save plenty money. By and by, no more white workingman in California; all Chinaman — sabee?"
"The Chinese Must Go." A Farce in Four Acts, page 3
- What does this play suggest about the virtues of labor?
- What morals are to be drawn from the characters of Frank and Lizzie Blaine?
- What is the symbolic significance of the discussion of parrots on pages 9 and 10 and of gardens on page 15?
- What does the treatment of the character, The Reverend Howard Sneaker, suggest about people who support the immigration of Chinese?
- How does the author portray Chinese characters in this play? Why do you think he has them speak in broken English? How does this affect the audience?
- What does this play suggest about Chinese labor in the United States?
- What common nineteenth-century notions about Chinese labor are reflected in this play? What does the play suggest about these ideas?
- Search the collection on Blaine and try to determine why the author might have selected this name for his characters.
"Mrs. Loy: Not done yet, you lazy Ling Wang! An the kitchen to sweep an' the ironing to do! Mebby this will make you to hurry! (She seizes a switch and approaches the girl, who shrinks away from her and clasps her hands in supplication.)Read the rest of this short play and answer the following questions:
Ling: Do-o-n't whip! I try be quick. Last nigt I sew on the buttons till twelve-one. Mebby I sleepy
Mrs. Loy: (in a fury) You com-plain that you sew on buttons! Why do you t'ink we buy you as slave girl, to sit an' fan yourself? No, you must do housework, tend baby, do laundry and at night you must sew on buttons, more an' more buttons on the overalls the fact'ry send to us. Till twelve — till one — every night! Do you hear that? An' if you hurry not, the hot iron!"
A New Life for Ling Wang, page 3
- Why do you think the play closes with a Christmas party?
- Why do you think the author introduces the character of Miss Howard at the end of the play? What purpose does this character serve?
- What role did Christian missionary societies play in Chinese communities in the U.S.?
- Why do you think the Woman's Home Missionary Society produced this play?
- What might the play's length, notes to the reader, and staging instructions suggest about how the Woman's Home Missionary Society hoped the play would be used?
- Why do you think the Woman's Home Missionary Society might have chosen to present the issue of Chinese slavery through the format of a play?
- How effective do you think a performance of this play would be in promoting reform?
Persuasive WritingA pamphlet entitled The Treatment of the Exempt Classes of Chinese in the United States by Ng Poon Chew provides an excellent example of persuasive writing. Subtitled "A Statement from the Chinese in America," and published in 1906, the pamphlet discusses the implementation of immigration policy that excludes Chinese merchants and scholars. It begins:
"After a quarter of a century of Chinese Exclusion, many people take it for granted that Exclusion has become a fixed policy of the Government of the United States, and that the vexed Chinese question is finally and permanently settled, as far as this country is concerned. The exclusion of Chinese laborers may have become a fixed policy with the United States, but the treatment of the exempt classes is not settled and will not be until it is settled aright with justice to all.Read the rest of Ng's argument and answer the following questions:
The Chinese Exclusion Law, as now enacted and enforced, is in violation of the letter and spirit of the treaty between this country and China, and also in opposition to the original intent of Congress on the subject. As long as this law remains on the statue books in its present shape, and is carried out by methods such as are now in vogue, the Chinese question will continue to be a vexatious one in the United States, as well as a fruitful source of irritation between American and China; and it will continue to hinder the upbuilding of commercial interests between the two great countries."
The Treatment of the Exempt Classes of Chinese in the United States, page 3
- What argument does Ng make in the first paragraph of the pamphlet?
- Why do you think he begins his discussion with this argument?
- What arguments does Ng make against the Chinese Exclusion Law in the second paragraph?
- On page 4, Ng writes:
The Exclusion Law has been carried out with such vigor that it has almost become an extermination law. The Chinese population in the United States has been reduced from 150,000 in 1880 to 65,000 at the present time.What techniques does he use here? How effective are they?
- On page 5, Ng concludes, "the Chinese Exclusion Law is in need of reframing." What techniques does he use on pages 4 and 5 to support this conclusion?
- Why does Ng relate the story of Wah Sang on page 8? What point does he make with this story?
- Why does Ng mention the Bertillon System on page 10?
- Why do you think Ng gives so much attention to individuals' stories?
- What new argument is introduced in William H. Taft's statement, quoted at the end of the pamphlet?
- Why might Ng have chosen to close his argument with this quote?
- How persuasive do you find Ng's pamphlet?
Creative WritingThe variety of fascinating primary source materials available in American Memory collections provides wonderful starting points for creative writing projects that can also foster historical comprehension.
Market scene in Chinatown, San Francisco, Cal.
Chinese family in Chinatown, California
- What information from your reading do you find most interesting? Which postcards do you like the most?
- How will you describe your day's itinerary?
- What are your opinions and reflections on Chinatown?
- What information about Chinatown will you share?
- What can old postcards tell us about people and places of the past?
- Were you born in China or in California?
- If you were born in China, why did you decide to go to California?
- Where and with whom do you live?
- What do you, or your family, do for income?
- What do you think of California and why?
- What can a portrait tell us about its subject?
Community and PhotographyAn album of postcards of San Francisco compiled by Mrs. M. E. Duggin suggests an exercise in considering the meaning of community and expressing it in a series of images. Examine the table of contents of Mrs. Duggin's album and notice what highlights of San Francisco she included in her presentation and consider the following questions:
- What might the many views related to San Francisco's waterfront suggest about the community?
- What do hotels, municipal buildings, federal buildings, parks, churches, hospitals and monuments say about a community?
- How does the appearance of a community and its surrounding scenery, such as might be captured in "Views Outside the Golden Gate," "Some Heights — Views From" and "A Rapid Glance at Our City by Night," shape the community?
- What aspects of Chinatown does the Special Presentation identify?
- Why was Chinatown created?
- What united the residents of Chinatown? What did they have in common?
- How important was Chinatown to its residents and why?
- When and how was your community created?
- Where does your community get its sense of identity? From its history? Its industries? Its institutions? Its natural resources?
- What values are reflected in the architecture, commerce, industry, residential areas, recreation, and institutions of your community?
- What unites the residents of your community? What do they have in common?
- What landmarks or activities in your community best reflect its identity?
- If you were taking visitors on a tour of your community, what would you show them? What would you tell them about the community and its sights?