Chinese in Southern California

In Southern California:

  • Los Angeles Lore in the past stated that two of the settlers in 1781 from Sinaloa were Chinese
  • In the 1850 Census of Los Angeles there are 2 Chinese listed but first noted Chinese was in 1854, a servant brought by a man named Joseph Newmark–most arrived from Northern California, San Francisco and Sierra Nevada
  • Population gradually increased after 1870 and by 1880 there were 20,000 Chinese throughout So Ca
  • Chinatowns emerged throughout So Ca always near Mexican towns or Sonoratowns (themselves former gold miners) such as Chinatown next to Placita Olvera in north part of downtown Los Angeles
  • Chinese originally were employed as cooks, servants, and houses on ranches in the towns, later in hotels; Chinatowns emerged in places were they worked & known for being hardworking and frugal
  • Cooks also branched out as vegetable peddlers, retail distribution of produce which they also grew, additional growth included restaurants, hand laundries and for the Southern Pacific including digging tunnels where many suffered accidents and deaths
  • Chinatowns used adobe buildings established by California Mexicans including Old Town in San Diego–they were also identified by their Cantonese hats as they bicycled between agriculture fields
  • Chinatowns were also a shelter from the racial hatred being spewed at them by Anglos:

“By common consensus, youngsters were given free license to stone the Chinese, upset their vegetable carts and laundry wagons, pull their queues for good measure. American boys, frequently scorn and ridicule these younger sons of China with “Run, run Chinamun”. McWilliams, Carey. Pg 86. Cathay in the South.

  • Chinese would remain within and engage in gambling, prostitutes and opium dens but still had good commercial reputations
  • Whites did not really eat Chinese food they did not like abalone, squirrels or how chicken was prepared


-villages sprung up from Monterey south to San Diego along the coast where the fish were captured, dried and shipped back to China.

-Fishing had been done by the California Mexicans prior but when Whites took over they ignored but Chinese fished abalone for consumption as well as using shell for artifacts-developed into $3 million industry by 1880

-Whites began to counter by imposing a tax on shrimp nets forcing them to conduct business clandestinely—Italians, Portuguese and then Japanese in San Pedro moved in-(Monument near Federal Prison exists)

-Celery was another industry they moved into in Orange County which was swamplands but faced white harassment as the value of land increased—armed guards were used to protect Chinese

-Citrus- used to work in packing houses in Riverside and Redlands but attacked by Whites in 1893 because they felt they were favored for hirer because they brought wages down

-Carey McWilliams in the book Southern California argued that the availability of Chinese and their low wages increased the value of the Citrus Industry with 1.2 million trees had been planted and 12,667 acres were devoted to this industry in So Ca alone—hence Orange County

-Because most Chinese laborers were men there was no extensive investment needed for family members and were used on call because no Capital Outlay was need—viewed even cheaper than Black labor in the South after 1871

  • Anti Chinese attitudes existed in Los Angeles too–1871 fight broke out amongst Chinese that then turned into riot and 19 were hanged.Many items were stolen from them especially money
  • 150 were arrested, 6 were tried and all released—rioters consisted of Whites and even Mexican Americans

*End result of violence through legislation and physical attacks from the early 1850’s to 1882- 1890 was the Geary Act was forced registration and easier deportation as well as not permitted to be Citizens.

  • Irish Worker’s Party pushed for a law banning Chinese from the US which they got in 1882
  • White males, many Irish immigrants themselves saw Chinese as people taking their “jobs”, at a time that other Asian immigrants from Russia and Italy arrived.
  • Congress passed The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 which was a law that banned Chinese from immigrating to US for 10 years, it included skill and unskilled thus even Chinese diplomats had trouble entering–
  • At the root of this discrimination is the idea of a “Yellow Peril,” which, in the words of John Dower is “the core imagery of apes, lesser men, primitives, children, madmen, and beings who possessed special powers” amidst a fear of invasion from the sleeping giant of Asia.
  • Could not become citizens and if left they would not be allowed to enter; even Chinese people from Mexico were not allowed to enter US–“illegal immigrants notion” was first applied to Chinese who did not have permission from the US.
  • A common strategy was that of the so-called “paper sonLinks to an external site.
    Links to an external site.
    ” system, in which young Chinese males attempted to enter the United States with purchased identity papers for fictional sons of U.S. citizens (people of Chinese descent who had falsely established the identities of those “sons”).
  • First time any outside group was prohibited from entering the US, other Asians from Russia, and Greece entered the US along with Italians but by 1920s US was limiting their entrance under quotas of 3% from outside countries.
  • 1885 in Rock Springs, Wyoming 23 Chinese were murdered by whites
  • Endless attacks existed on the Chinese
  • Even Santa Ana- near 5th and Main in 1906 under the excuse of a health threat burned down the Chinatown and was lost to memory
  • Chinese were first outsiders not permitted to enter the US though this happened when US Calvary still had Apaches, Lakotas and New Perce as prisoners of wars
  • Japanese though are allowed to enter under an Agreementand for labor purposes who would later encounter what the Chinese and Native Americans endured
  • As construction boom began, US also recruited people from Mexico as a low wage labor force—California Mexicans were not enough and Chinese had been removed
  • In 1937, 850 tombs were disinterred in the Chinese cemetery of Los Angeles and sent to China— seen as a sign of annihilation of a culture that contributed to many industries from fishing to agriculture
  • Irish, English, German even Russian immigrants were allowed in simply because of their physical appearance

Chinese Exclusion Act 1882Links to an external site.

Chinese Massacre in Los AngelesLinks to an external site.

Santa Ana’s Chinatown Burned in 1906Links to an external site.

Using health scare to rid of Chinatown in Santa AnaLinks to an external site.

Yellow Peril & Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
Yellow Peril
Yellow Peril Links to an external site.
The term Yellow Peril was created by German Emperor in 1895 well after US expelled and prohibited Chinese from remaining and entering US
Yellow Peril meant in the words of John Dower is “the core imagery of apes, lesser men, primitives, children, madmen, and beings who possessed special powers” amidst a fear of invasion from the sleeping giant of Asia.
US White racism had been in practice since their entrance in early 1850s
Author Dr. Gary Okihiro, wrote that the yellow peril “arose from the fact of the rise of nonwhite peoples and their defiance of white supremacy. And while serving to contain the Other, the idea of the yellow peril also helped to define the white identity, within both a nationalist and an internationalist frame.”
Chinese segregation (Chinatowns) created moral claim that cultural practices (Opium and prostitution) lowered standards in US society led to Racial Exclusion Argument
According to the famed orator of the time, Horace Greeley, “The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order.”
White California from 1850-to 1870s had been placing restrictions on Chinese via local ordinances, permit requirements
Whites & European immigrants called Chinese “Filthy Yellow Hordes”
Denver Race Riots of 1880 is example of Ethnic Cleansing of Chinese Denver Race Riot 1880Links to an external site.
Popular imagery of the Chinese in the political sphere as well as pop culture depicted them as evil, thieving troublemakers who were disrupting the Western way of life.
The most well known character that captures this period’s anti-Chinese sentiment was Dr. Fu Manchu, an evil Chinese villain in a series of crime novels.
Signed by President Arthur, was a 10 year ban first on Chinese laborers which included skilled too
Made permanent in 1902, Chinese foreign born could not gain residency and deported if without certificate
First group required to have a certificate much like a “resident alien” permit
SEC. 12. That no Chinese person shall be permitted to enter the United States by land without producing to the proper officer of customs the certificate in this act required of Chinese persons seeking to land from a vessel. And any Chinese person found unlawfully within the United States shall be caused to be removed therefrom to the country from whence he came, by direction of the President of the United States, and at the cost of the United States, after being brought before some justice, judge, or commissioner of a court of the United States and found to be one not lawfully entitled to be or remain in the United States.
SEC.15. That the words “Chinese laborers”, wherever used in this act shall be construed to mean both skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining.
-Led to Chinese Exclusion Act:
Chinese Exclusion Act 1882
Jack London Fighting Yellow PerilLinks to an external site.
Yellow is a No No For IdentityLinks to an external site.
Chinaphobia through Dr Fu ManchuLinks to an external site.


Explain what was The Yellow Peril which led to Chinese being attacked violently.
Response Purpose:
For this assignment, you will write a half page response to terms identified for this course. The topics to be analyzed are listed in the Student Learning Outcomes for Ethnic Studies 101, number 1, listed below. Analyze and then write in your own words your comprehension which will be used throughout the semester.
Student Learning Outcome:
Analyze and articulate core concepts of Ethnic Studies, including but not limited to race and ethnicity, racialization, equity, ethnocentrism, Eurocentrism, and white supremacy.