The Chinese in California, 1850-1925

Collection Overview

The 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 Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These 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

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The Gold Rush and Antebellum Chinese Immigration

Trading 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
In his El Campo de los Sonoraenses or: Three years residence in California, William Perkins describes the later voyage of Chinese immigrants during the gold rush. Aboard the steamer, New World, Perkins observed "two hundred arrivals from the Celestial Empire, on their way to the Northern gold diggings":
"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?
Some of the first Chinese prospectors to arrive in California staked claims along the American River north of Sacramento. Search on miner for materials, including a number of sketches, lithographs, and photographs portraying Chinese prospectors at work. Read letters and journals by Americans such as Timothy Coffin Osborn, who encountered a group of Chinese miners in the vicinity of his party's claim. An entry in his journal for December 26, 1850, includes a sample of Chinese characters that Osborn requested from one of his new neighbors:
"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."
From Timothy Coffin Osborn journal
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:
"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)"
From Robert W. Pitkin letter to his parents: Jones' Bar, California
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.
  • 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?
For more on these topics, see the Teachers page Presentation, Immigration.

Contributions of Chinese Immigrants: Community, Agriculture, Industry, Labor

Despite 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.
The collection's Special Presentation includes five sections on this famous community. Search on Chinatown for over 1500 items reflecting the community's architectural, commercial, political, and social landscape.
  • 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?
The restaurants, theaters, and novelty of San Francisco's Chinatown eventually attracted tourism that boosted the city's economy. Search on Chinatown text for accounts of the community written by non-Chinese visitors. Writers for Harper's Weekly report on "The Chinaman's New Year," "Sketches in 'China-town,'" and "John Chinaman in San Francisco." G.B. Densmore offers his views of the community in his 122 page The Chinese in California, while William Bode provides a sketchbook as well as text in Lights and Shadows of Chinatown. Bode begins with a negative account of how San Francisco has been reshaped by "pagan Mongolians" but concludes with a different perspective on the industrious Chinese who have added vibrancy to city life:
"...[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.'"
From Lights and Shadows of Chinatown
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:
"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?
Aside from Chinatown, the depth of anti-Chinese sentiment pervading California overshadowed other contributions of Chinese immigrants. Public opinion was so hostile that few were willing to recognize the successes of Chinese businessmen, the contributions of laborers in fishing and agriculture, or the development of a silk industry in California.
Search on agriculture for photographs of Chinese workers in the fields and groves of California and for images of small scale fishing enterprises. Search on silkworms for photographs of Chinese workers gathering mulberry leaves and feeding silkworms in the early operations of California's growing silk industry. Search on business for more than 300 items reflecting a variety of other commercial ventures, from restaurants, theaters, and clothing merchants to a chemical company and dental surgeon.
  • How did Chinese laborers help to promote the California economy?
  • What contributions did they make to the development of new industries in the state?
Perhaps the most famous contribution of Chinese immigrants was the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Chinese immigrants comprised 90% of the 10,000 laborers who laid tracks eastward from Sacramento across the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains to connect with the Union Pacific crews laying tracks across the Great Plains. Railroad entrepreneurs even began a campaign to recruit workers in China. Search on railroad for sketches, photographs, and narratives about these laborers and their historic contribution to the United States.
  • 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?
In the early 1800s, Britain began importing laborers from China and India to its colonies in places such as Cuba, the Hawaiian Islands, and Peru. Once there, these laborers, called "coolies" after a term used in India, experienced a situation tantamount to slavery, working long hours, and suffering physical abuse and bondage. With the influx of Chinese immigrants to the western United States, many Americans feared that the slave trade was taking root on their own soil. People who wished to exclude Chinese immigrants from the United States pointed to the immorality of slavery as a reason, often accusing the Six Companies of running a "coolie" slave trade.
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."
Some reasons for Chinese exclusion, page 5
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.
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 Committee of the Chinese Merchants of San Francisco responded to assertions of a "coolie" slave trade with the assurance that "The Chinese in this Country are not slaves or surfs of any description but are working for themselves." Francis M. Thompson quoted the committee in his speech on Chinese immigration before the Professional Club, in which he explains the origin and activities of the Six Companies and closes with a summary of newspaper reports of abuses perpetrated against Chinese:
"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?
The prevalence of such hate crimes and the passage of discriminatory legislation led the Six Companies to defend the Chinese community through the courts. Carroll Cook, counsel for the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in San Francisco, was involved in a number of cases involving the treatment of Chinese residents in California, Texas, and the Arizona Territory in the early 1900s. Search on Carroll Cook for correspondence on behalf of the Chinese Benevolent Association. The collection also includes an excerpt from a newspaper including an inquiry by Carroll Cook regarding the robbery and murder of Sing Lee in Terrell, Texas.
  • 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 Agitation

Anti-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?"
Two years later, anti-Chinese sentiment only increased when the completion of the transcontinental railroad freed up 9,000 Chinese laborers, fueling the hostility of American workers who, like the miners before them, resented Chinese immigrants for the economic competition they presented. Tensions came to a head on July 23, 1877, when a labor rally held in a sand lot in San Francisco to support railroad strikers in the Eastern U.S. turned to violence. A group of young vagrants, aged 15 to 20, attacked a Chinese man in the vicinity of the rally, igniting three days of riots. Search on sand lot for a few items including a description of the incident by William Tell Coleman, a business leader who had established San Francisco's first Committee of Vigilance in 1851:
"...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.
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
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."
  • 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?
Search on anti-Chinese for numerous items including a pamphlet published in 1879 by the Workingmen's Party of California . It includes a history of the Workingmen's Party and its leaders as well as a critique called "Incidents of Chinese Lives," which denigrates the customs of Chinese in San Francisco's Chinatown. The first section describes Kearney's advent as a labor leader:
"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?
Other items that reflect anti-Chinese agitation include a letter regarding Irish opposition to Chinese, and a call to boycott a restaurant accused of hiring Chinese employees. Numerous illustrations from San Francisco's weekly magazine of social and political satire, The Wasp, are also available.
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 Exclusion

Much 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...."
Text of the treaty between China & the United States, pages 5 and 6
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.
  • 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?
After the 1877 Sand Lot Riots in San Francisco, calls for Chinese exclusion increased, spurred on by Dennis Kearney and his Workingmen's Party. In 1879, Congress passed a bill abrogating the section of the Burlingame Treaty that permitted unrestricted Chinese immigration, but President Hayes vetoed it. In 1882, with President Chester Arthur in office, Congress finally passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years. Read the remarks of Senator John Jones of Nevada, who argued vehemently for exclusion during the Congressional debate over the legislation.
Debate over the Exclusion Act did not end with its passage in 1882. The following years saw the right of the United States to exclude Chinese immigrants challenged in the courts. In 1889, however, the United States Supreme Court upheld the exclusionary law in Chae Chan Ping vs. The United States on the basis that Congress's right to restrict immigration to the United States was a fundamental aspect of national sovereignty.
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?
Despite the passage of the Exclusion Act and the Scott Act, the press continued to excite public opinion by criticizing the effectiveness of the legislation and its implementation. Search on Wasp for cartoons editorializing these issues, such as "How They Will Evade the Chinese Treaty," "And Now They Come as Spaniards," "The Back Door, The Wily Chinese Sneaking Over the Northern Frontier," and "The Chinese Question Again."
  • 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 Restrictions

A 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?
The racism pervading the committee's pamphlet was the keynote for early-twentieth-century immigration policy, which sought to exclude not only the Chinese, but Japanese, Korean, and Asian Indians as well. Browse items listed under the Subject Index heading, Anti-Chinese Movement & Chinese Exclusion for texts published in the twentieth century, such as Oriental immigration on the Pacific Coast and the Senate's 1916 debate on a bill to regulate Asian immigration and residency. During the debate, James Phelan, Junior Senator from California, argues that it is necessary to protect the U.S. from Asian immigration including restrictions on Japanese immigrants.
  • 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?
Some items express opposition to the exclusive immigration laws of the twentieth century. The 1902 pamphlet, Truth versus Fiction; Justice versus Prejudice... opposes the re-enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Law, while the attorney for the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Oliver Stidger, discusses the injustices of the 1924 Immigration Law in "Highlights on Exclusion and Expulsion."
  • 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?
Many of the immigrants who were allowed into the United States in the twentieth century came through immigration facilities on San Francisco Bay's Angel Island. The facilities were built in 1910 when China boycotted U.S. imports to protest the wretched conditions that immigrants found at the original facilities located in an old warehouse in San Francisco. Although the new facilities were an improvement, the Chinese who claimed a right to enter the United States as wives or children of residents were interrogated and detained there from several days to up to two years.
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?
Use the Subject Index heading, Immigrants — United States — Portraits, to access photographs of Chinese who came to the United States in the twentieth century.
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.

Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking Skills: Immigration Timeline

Creating 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.
Refer to page seven of 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 Chinatown

Users 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?
Formulate other search terms to find more items pertaining to law enforcement in Chinatown. Search on crime, for example, for an article published in The Wave called "Highbinders and Tong Wars" about the Tongs, or associations, in San Francisco's Chinatown.
  • 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 Cartoons

This collection contains countless editorial cartoons from San Francisco's Wasp and Wave and New York's Harper's Weekly.
They provide interesting opportunities to analyze and interpret imagery, drawing upon your understanding of the history of Chinese immigration to the United States. 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?
When you have formulated an interpretation of the meaning of each cartoon, put it into your own words in as few sentences as possible.
  • 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 Policy

In 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?
Contrast Daniels's account with Jacob Stillman's remarks to his son about the Chinese working in his vineyard:
"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?
In another selection of the Daniels papers, dated May 26, 1893, the writer discusses the Geary Law, enacted in 1892 to extend the Chinese Exclusion Act for an additional ten years. The law required all Chinese to register their names and places of residence by May 5, 1893, and to carry residency certificates with a photograph on penalty of deportation.
  • 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 Massacre

Primary 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?
On April 18, 1906, an earthquake shook the western United States from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada. The epicenter was near San Francisco where the quake also started a fire, destroying much of the city including Chinatown. Search on earthquake for a series of photographs documenting the damage. Research the impact of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 on the city's Chinese community and attempts to use the earthquake as an excuse to destroy Chinatown. For more resources on the earthquake, refer to the American Memory collection, Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco, 1897-1916 .
  • What was the rationale for destroying Chinatown after the 1906 earthquake?
  • How was the destruction of San Francisco's Chinatown evaded?
In 1855, the Chinese Merchants of San Francisco published a pamphlet responding to a message by California Governor, John Bigler . Read the merchants' response and research the governor's call for Chinese exclusion as early as 1855.
  • 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?
On September 2, 1885, a mob of coal miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, attacked their Chinese co-workers, killing 28 and wounding 15 more. The mob also set fire to 79 homes owned by Chinese people into which they threw many of the dead and wounded bodies. Examine the illustration in Harper's Weekly, "Massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs, Wyoming" and the Thomas Nast cartoon, "Here's A Pretty Mess! (In Wyoming)." Investigate the causes of the Rock Springs Massacre of 1885.
  • 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 Culture

The 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.
This collection provides countless examples of how the Chinese were racially stereotyped in the popular media of the nineteenth century. Search on cartoons for hundreds of illustrations published in San Francisco's Wasp and Wave and New York's Harper's Weekly. Browse these images to determine how the Chinese were stereotyped in popular graphics of the day.
  • 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?
Search on heathen for two copies of sheet music for a song called "The Heathen Chinee." The lyrics are a poem written by Bret Harte, the popular American local colorist, who won fame for his short stories and poems published in magazines such as the Overland Monthly, of which he was editor, and the Atlantic Monthly. "The Heathen Chinee" is a humorous account of a poker game involving Truthful James, one of Harte's popular characters, a narrator, Bill Nye, a California miner, and Ah Sin, a "heathen Chinee." The first stanza reads:
"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?
In addition to "The Heathen Chinee," "Popular Songs Illustrated" from the Wasp excerpts another song about a heathen Chinaman, named Ah Yung Bull.
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?
Finally, an advertisement for "Chinee-Graphs!" presents photographic studies "from life," assuring, "as most of them are unposed they possess a human interest that is at all times appealing. The signs on the walls in some of these pictures mean GOOD LUCK AND BEST WISHES." Search on postcard for more examples of popular depictions of Chinese people.
  • 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?


This 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.
A New Life for Ling Wang by Bertha Stephenson depicts Chinese slavery in the United States. Published by the Woman's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the play tells the story of a young Chinese girl who has been sold into slavery. Ling Wang works for an assimilated Chinese woman, Mrs. Loy, providing childcare and household labor. In scene one, Mrs. Loy walks in on the 12 year old Ling Wang as she dusts the living room:
"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.)
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
Read the rest of this short play and answer the following questions:
  • 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?
Perform one or both of these plays with a small group and consider the differences between reading the play and seeing it performed. How would writing a play differ from writing a story?

Persuasive Writing

A 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.
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
Read the rest of Ng's argument and answer the following questions:
  • 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 Writing

The 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.
This collection includes an album of postcards compiled by Mrs. M. E. Duggin. Duggin collected postcards of San Francisco, including a series depicting Chinatown. Select three or four of these and write postcards in the persona of someone who visited Chinatown between 1860 and 1900. Before you select and write your postcards, read about Chinatown in the collection's Special Presentation and in texts mentioned in the section on Chinatown in these Collection Connections.
  • 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?
This collection also contains numerous portraits. Search on portrait for images of men, women, boys, and girls. Assume the persona of one of these people and write a letter to friends or family in China. Describe your life in California and, if appropriate, your voyage to the United States and your experience at the immigration station. For help with the content of your letter, refer to the history section of these Collection Connections. For help with letter writing, Search on letter for examples. To get started, make some hypotheses about the person in the portrait based on caption information, such as the date, as well as the person's clothing and other personal objects.
  • 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 Photography

An 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?
Consider the meaning of community while reading about San Francisco's Chinatown in the collection's Special Presentation.
  • 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?
Consider your own community and create an album of collected postcards or original photographs that reflect the community's identity.
  • 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?