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A History of Chinese Americans in California:
THE 1870s

Racial Violence

One of the most savage and brutal events involving Chinese Americans was the Los Angeles Massacre on October 24, 1871. The incident began with a quarrel between Chinese, who shot at each other. The shooting attracted a large crowd of White spectators. When one of the spectators was accidentally shot and killed, the crowd began to riot and to threaten any Chinese Americans in the vicinity. Homes and businesses were looted. It has been estimated that the loss to Chinese Americans in money was from $30,000 to $70,000. Later, the coroner's jury reported that 19 Chinese Americans had died at the hands of a mob on October 24, 1871, and that only one of them was implicated in the shooting of the White man. The leaders of the mob escaped punishment. [90]

A series of fires destroyed Chinese American communities in Yreka (1871), Chico (1873), and Weaverville (1874). [91] In 1874, a meeting was held in Fresno to prevent Chinese Americans from moving into the White section of town. [92] Anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco began at a meeting of the Workingmen's Party and lasted three days, during which Chinese American property was looted and burned and several Chinese were killed. [93]

After a White rancher was murdered, allegedly by a Chinese, Rocklin's Chinese American buildings were pulled down and set afire along with buildings at China Gardens on the outskirts of town, and the people were given just a few hours to leave town. Because of the Rocklin incident in Placer County, Chinese Americans were also expelled from Loomis, Penryn, Grass Valley, and other nearby towns; they fled to Folsom for safety. [94]

The Anti-Chinese Movement

Chinese Americans who faced discrimination in other occupations often set up laundry businesses to earn a living. Chinese laundries at first faced no competition, since washing and cooking were considered women's occupations unsuitable for self-respecting White men. However, as laundries provided a steady income, many Chinese American laundrymen prospered. Men of other nationalities began to reconsider the laundry business, and set up completing establishments. In 1876, the Anti-Chinese and Workingmen's Protective Laundry Association was incorporated in San Jose. Subsequently, many laundries, like the Hi Chung Laundry in Elmira, Solano County, went out of business. [95]

In San Francisco, a series of discriminatory local laws was passed in the early 1870s. The Cubic Air Ordinance regulated the size of living and working quarters. The Sidewalk Ordinance forbade the use of poles, such as Chinese traditionally used, to carry bundles. The Queue Ordinance required Chinese in jail to cut their queues (their long braided hair), even though they would not be able to return to China without them. A series of laundry ordinances required Chinese American laundries to pay higher taxes than other laundries, and regulated the types of buildings in which laundry businesses could be housed.

Enactment of these local laws was followed by a series of lawsuits by Chinese Americans who succeeded in overturning all except the Sidewalk Ordinance. The most celebrated lawsuit was the Yick Wo Laundry Case, whose owner Lee Yick successfully challenged the validity of a law that would have been used to drive the Chinese out of the laundry business. In addition, his lawsuit established the principle that a law is discriminatory, even if its wording is not discriminatory, if it is applied in a discriminatory manner. [96]

Some discriminatory legislation was challenged by White business men who needed Chinese American workers. When the California Legislature passed a law prohibiting corporations holding state charters from employing "any Chinese or Mongolian," the president of Sulphur Bank Mine in Lake County defied the law and had it nullified. [97]

A law requiring the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to increase the size of the police force was passed in 1878. However, special police were still needed to supplement the regular force, and could be hired to protect businesses and property throughout the city except in the Chinese Quarter. The new law prohibited the employment of special police within the Chinese Quarter, the boundaries of which were set by police commissioners. [98] One of the results of this law was to encourage the growth of tongs, providing protection otherwise lacking.

Establishment of boundaries for the so-called "Chinese Quarter" shows that Chinese Americans who at first were able to live throughout the city had, by 1878, been segregated into one section of the city. The fact that boundaries were to be established from time to time by police commissioners suggests that police may have had a role in enforcing segregation. Prohibition of special police officers for the Chinese Quarter indicates a denial of equal or sufficient law enforcement.

Continuous agitation by anti-Chinese organizations and labor unions led to a congressional hearing on the question of Chinese immigration in San Francisco in 1876. Although congressional committees recommended prohibition of Chinese immigration, this could not be done until the Burlingame Treaty between China and the United States was amended.

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