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[TIMELINE] Chinese American History in the 1850's

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  • madchinaman
    A History of Chinese Americans in California: THE 1850s http://www.ohp.parks.ca.gov/5Views/5views3b.htm Lifesytles Of Early Immigrants Most Chinese immigrants
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 9, 2003
      A History of Chinese Americans in California:
      THE 1850s

      Lifesytles Of Early Immigrants

      Most Chinese immigrants entered California through the port of San
      Francisco. They developed a Chinese American community there, and
      made an effort to participate in the political and cultural life of
      the city. In 1850, they attended a religious meeting and received
      copies of Christian religious writings, marched in a funeral
      procession for President Zachary Taylor, and participated in
      festivities celebrating California's admission into the Union. In
      1852, several prominent Chinese Americans took part in the Fourth of
      July Parade in San Francisco. [8]

      Chinese Americans in San Francisco also sought to preserve some of
      their own cultural traditions. In 1851, they celebrated the lunar
      new year in the traditional way. [9] In 1852, the first performance
      of Cantonese opera was held in the American Theatre on Sansome
      Street, and several months later, the first Chinese theatre building
      was completed. [10] Two Chinese-language newspapers began publishing
      in 1854 and 1855. [11]

      The Kong Chow Association is generally believed to have been the
      first organization established among Chinese in the United States.
      Early Cantonese who arrived in San Francisco in 1849 were apparently
      from the Sun Wui and Hawk Shan districts (which make up the Kong
      Chow Association). [12] The exact date when the Kong Chow Temple was
      first built is unknown, but documentary evidence suggests that it
      was in existence as early as 1853. [13]

      Rivaling the Kong Chow Association as the first organization
      established among Chinese in the United States was the Chew Yick
      Association. On December 10, 1849, 300 members of the latter
      organization elected Norman As-sing, a prominent San Francisco
      merchant, as their leader. As-sing claimed to be an American
      citizen, naturalized in Charleston, South Carolina and converted to
      Christianity. He had a greater knowledge of American customs and
      language than most other early Chinese Americans. At his Macao and
      Woosung Restaurant on the corner of Kearny and Commercial streets,
      about a block from Portsmouth Plaza, he gave banquets at which he
      entertained local politicians and policemen. He often represented
      the Chinese American community on formal occasions, and served as an
      interpreter. [14]

      Tong K. Achick was among a group of Chinese immigrants arriving in
      San Francisco in 1851 who had learned English and some American
      customs at mission schools in China. He was instrumental in founding
      the Yeong Wo Association for immigrants from his native district of
      Heung Shan. Later, he and Norman As-sing became rivals for
      leadership of the Chinese American community in San Francisco. [15]

      Not all of the early Chinese pioneers landed in San Francisco. One
      location along the coast of California where early Chinese landed
      and where their descendants have remained is the city of Mendocino,
      which was a port for the California lumber industry. The only
      historic building remaining from this early Chinese American
      community is the Mo Dai Miu, or Temple of Kuan Kung. [16]


      Taoism was the religion of most of the early Chinese immigrants, and
      Kuan Kung was the most popular deity. Kuan Yu (later called Kuan
      Kung) was an actual person who had lived in China during the Three
      Kingdoms Period (third century, A.D.). He has sometimes been
      referred to as the god of war, but this designation is misleading.
      He was a military leader renowned for his courage, loyalty, and
      adherence to lofty ideals. He was even known to have sacrificed his
      personal success when it would have required him to compromise his
      principles. These qualities are the reasons he was venerated after
      his death, and became so popular among the early Cantonese who came
      to this country. [17]

      The Taoist temple was a source of strength for early Chinese
      American pioneers. Worship was usually done individually, rather
      than in congregations. Respect for deities and departed relatives
      was shown by offerings of incense, accompanied by food and drink on
      special occasions. Paper offerings (in the form of money, clothing,
      etc.) were burned, since burning was viewed as a means of
      transmitting objects from the visible to the invisible world.

      Prayers were offered silently in the heart before the altar.
      Questions were asked of various deities, usually by writing the
      question on a piece of paper and then burning it on the altar. An
      answer was obtained by consulting the prayer sticks (sometimes
      called fortune sticks), which had to be interpreted by the priest or
      deacon of the temple. Evidence suggests that most frontier Taoist
      temples were supervised by deacons rather than ordained priests. [18]

      The Taoist temple was also a social center and a focal point for
      early Chinese American communities. The first and fifteenth days of
      the lunar month were days of worship, when people often met at the
      temple. Each spring, a "bomb day" festival was held in most temples.
      [19] The highlight of the festival was the shooting off of a rocket
      (or "bomb") containing lucky rings. The temple also provided some
      social services, such as lodging for travelers.

      Legal Status Of Early Immigrants

      The United States Constitution in the 1850s reserved the right of
      naturalization for White immigrants to this country. [20] It
      recognized only two skin colors, White and Black. Since early
      Chinese immigrants were neither Black nor White, some were allowed
      to become naturalized citizens, but most were not. Without
      citizenship, they could not vote or hold government office, and had
      no voice in determining their future in this country. They were
      designated as "aliens ineligible for citizenship," and as such were
      unable to own land or file mining claims. [21]

      Chinese American miners reworked old claims at times and in places
      where they were prevented by law or racial violence from filing
      their own claims. Especially after it was ruled that Chinese could
      not testify in court against Whites, [22] the only reasonable course
      of action was to try to avoid open confrontation. or direct
      competition with Whites.

      In later years public-spirited Chinese Americans who accumulated
      money in excess of their needs often sent money back to China to
      build schools and hospitals. [23] They retained their Chinese
      citizenship, since they were not allowed to become citizens of the
      United States. They could not vote, hold public office, or be
      employed by the State. Their future here was uncertain, even though
      they paid taxes and contributed to the economy of the country.


      Exactly when the Chinese began to fish off the coast of California
      is unknown, but oral tradition states that fishing began before gold
      was discovered. There were early communities in Monterey, San Diego,
      and San Luis Obispo counties, whose inhabitants fished for squid,
      abalone, and various kinds of fish. As early as 1854, there was a
      fishing village on Rincon Point in San Francisco. [24]

      Chinese began fishing for shrimp in California probably around the
      mid-1860s. Numerous villages or "shrimp camps" were established on
      the shores of both San Francisco and San Pablo bays. China Camp in
      Marin County was one of the largest and longest-lived of these
      camps. Shrimp fishing was a long-established industry in China. Many
      immigrant Chinese arrived with knowledge of fishing and preservation
      techniques necessary to develop a shrimping enterprise in
      California. [25]

      In the early days, when there was little demand for fresh shrimp in
      the United States, most of the shrimp catch was dried and sent back
      to China. Later, as the demand for fresh shrimp grew in California,
      Chinese American shrimp fishermen came under increasing pressure
      from other fishing groups. Discriminatory legislation was passed
      that required the purchase of special licenses, forbade traditional
      Chinese fishing techniques, limited the fishing season, prohibited
      export of dried shrimp, and restricted the size of the catch. [26]
      As the population of China Camp dwindled, only the Quan family
      persisted and adapted to new regulations and changing technology.
      Today, Frank Quan is the last Chinese American shrimp fisherman

      Chinese Americans also worked in fish canneries which processed the
      fish that other fishermen caught. For example, most of the employees
      at the salmon cannery in Del Norte County, established by the
      Occident and Orient Commercial Company in 1857, were Chinese
      immigrants. [27]


      As soon as news of the discovery of gold in California reached
      China, there was a dramatic increase in the numbers of Chinese
      immigrants to the west coast of the United States. Most of the
      immigrants came from Kuangtung Province in Southern China. That
      section of China had previously had contact with the West through
      the port of Canton. The reasons many Chinese emigrated were the
      series of wars, rebellions, civil disorders, floods, famines, and
      droughts that wracked China, and made earning a livelihood difficult
      in their native land. [28] A particular humiliation was the defeat
      of China by the British in the Opium War of 1840, after the Chinese
      sought to cut off the British importation of opium into China. [29]

      To be better prepared for whatever difficulties might lie ahead, the
      Chinese often emigrated in self-help groups from the same village,
      often with the same surname. Because few of them knew the language
      and customs of California, they formed larger self-help groups
      consisting of people with the same surname or from the same region.
      Most had to borrow money for their passage to California, and were
      required to repay this debt from their earnings here. Those who
      could not borrow from their families borrowed from agencies under
      the credit-ticket system. [30] Attempts to bring Chinese workers to
      the United States as contract laborers were stymied by the absence
      of any means to enforce the contracts. [31]

      The term "coolie" refers to contract laborers whose contract
      specified conditions approximating servitude, slavery, or peonage.
      Use of this term with regard to early Chinese immigrants to this
      country is incorrect. Widespread use of the term "coolie" to
      persuade American voters that all Chinese immigrants were slaves,
      and that their immigration to the United States ought to be
      prohibited, has given the term racist connotations.

      Technology Brought From China

      The presence of the ailanthus tree (the so-called "Tree of Heaven")
      throughout California has long been a puzzle. The tree is native to
      China, but not to the United States; yet it grows profusely in those
      regions where early Chinese immigrants lived. All sorts of fanciful
      explanations are given -- that the Chinese accidently brought the
      seeds to this country in the cuffs of their trousers (their trousers
      did not have cuffs), or that the Chinese brought the seeds to this
      country because they were homesick. The real reason Chinese
      immigrants brought ailanthus seeds to this country is that the trees
      are thought to contain an herbal remedy beneficial for arthritis.
      [32] The Chinese "wedding plant" was also brought to this country as
      an herbal remedy, but is less easily recognized.

      Herbal medicine fulfilled an important health need in the nineteenth
      century for both Chinese and non-Chinese alike. Western medicine had
      not yet developed wonder drugs, anaesthetics, vaccinations, or
      sophisticated surgical techniques. Patent medicines were widely
      used, and their contents were not regulated by any agency of the
      government. Drastic measures, such as bleeding, were sometimes
      resorted to. On the other hand, Chinese herbal remedies had one to
      two thousand years of use be hind them. In fact, some so-
      called "wonder drugs" are actually synthesized forms of various
      herbs. Even today, some medically trained Chinese Americans prefer
      some herbs to their synthesized forms because the natural herbs have
      no side effects. [33]

      One of the ancient building techniques brought from China was
      construction using rammed earth. While adobe and rammed earth are of
      ten associated with Spanish and Mexican cultures, rammed earth was a
      construction technique in use in China as early as 1500 B.C. This
      technique involves packing mud between wooden forms and hammering it
      until it becomes as hard as stone. It is an inexpensive building
      technique, but it is vulnerable to rains and dampness. When it is
      used in South China, where the weather is often damp, buildings are
      faced with stone for added protection. [34]


      After gold was discovered in California, Chinese immigrants joined
      the ranks of gold seekers from all over the world. But when they
      arrived in the gold fields, they were greeted by racial

      In 1850, the California Legislature passed a law taxing all foreign
      miners 20 dollars a month. Although stated in general terms, it was
      enforced chiefly against Mexicans and Chinese. [35]

      In May 1852, at Foster and Atchinson's Bar in Yuba County, a meeting
      was held and a resolution was passed denying Chinese the right to
      hold claims and requiring all Chinese to leave. [36] This was
      followed by a mass meeting in the Columbia Mining District in the
      southern mines, where a resolution was passed to exclude "Asiatics
      and South Sea Islanders" from mining activities. [37] In 1855, an
      anti-Chinese convention was held in Shasta County to expel the
      Chinese from mining claims. [38] Shortly afterward, the California
      Legislature passed an act to discourage immigration to the state by
      persons who could not become citizens and who were, for the most
      part, Chinese. [39]

      One of the earliest acts of racial violence against Chinese
      immigrants took place in 1856, when white miners from outlying camps
      marched down to Yreka's Chinese American community, destroyed
      property, and beat up Chinese Americans. [40]

      Despite hostility and discrimination, Chinese continued to immigrate
      to California to avail themselves of whatever opportunities awaited
      them here. When they were prevented from mining gold in the mining
      districts, they became merchants, laborers, or laundrymen, or sought
      employment elsewhere.


      Chinese immigrants built many of the flumes and roads in the mining
      districts. In Mariposa County in the 1850s, the Big Gap Flume was
      constructed by Chinese workers of the Golden Rock Water Company to
      cross Conrad Gulch and carry water in a gravity flow system to gold
      mining areas. This wooden flume, suspended by trestle works, was
      part of a 36-mile ditch supplying water for miners in Garrotte, Big
      Oak Flat, Moccasin Creek, and other nearby areas. [41]

      Throughout California, there are stone walls that are said to have
      been built by Chinese American workers in the nineteenth century.
      They are usually made from uncut field stones, without the use of
      mortar. The stones were obtained by clearing the surrounding land
      for pasture or farming. The best-documented stone walls built by
      Chinese American workers are on the Quick Ranch in Mariposa County.
      They are built over rolling hills, rather than on level land. The
      fact that they are still standing today is evidence of the skill of
      the workers. [42]

      In 1852, at the same time anti-Chinese meetings were being held in
      the gold mining districts, Governor John McDougal, in his annual
      message to the California Legislature, gave the first official
      endorsement to employment of Chinese immigrants in projects to
      reclaim swamps and flooded lands. [43] Only a few Chinese immigrants
      worked on reclamation projects in the 1850s, but most of the workers
      who drained swamps and built levees in the 1860s and 1870s were
      Chinese Americans.

      Many early roads in California were built by Chinese immigrants. Del
      Norte County, Chinese Americans built trails and roads eastward
      through dense forests and rugged mountains to the communities of Low
      Divide, Altaville, and Gasquet, and to the state of Oregon. [44] In
      Lake County, Chinese Americans built the Bartlett Toll Road through
      the hills east of Clear Lake. [45]


      Chinese immigrants also provided essential labor for development of
      the wine industry in California. They built and worked for small
      wineries like the John Swett Winery in Contra Costa County. [46]
      They were employed by Colonel Agostin Haraszthy in his Buena Vista
      Vineyards in Sonoma County, the first modern commercial vineyard in
      California, and later worked at the Beringer Brothers Winery in Napa
      County in 1876. [47] Chinese Americans also worked in vineyards in
      Southern California, and even constructed the buildings of the
      Brookside Winery in San Bernardino County from bricks they
      themselves made. [48]


      Since most of the early Chinese immigrants were from farming areas
      in Kuangtung Province in China, it was natural for them to become
      involved in agriculture in this country. Few of them were able to
      become in dependent farmers because most were not citizens and were
      prevented from owning land by local laws and restrictive covenants.
      Many had truck gardens in which they raised vegetables and fruit
      they sold door to door. Others were sharecroppers or tenant farmers,
      who leased land and paid the landlord part of their crop. Most were
      migrant farm laborers.

      Chinese American farm labor was essential to the development of
      various crops which required special skill and care. Early Chinese
      immigrants were the only ones who could grow celery, and were the
      main labor force for the Earl Fruit Company in Orange County. [49]
      Development of the citrus industry in Riverside County was dependent
      on Chinese American workers. [50] Chinese American farmers grew
      strawberries, peanuts, rice, and other fruits and vegetables. [51]
      Chinese American migrant farm workers harvested wheat, other grains,
      hops, apples, grapes, and pears and processed them for shipping.

      One of the occupations in which Chinese Americans faced little
      competition was seaweed farming. This appears to involve the simple
      but laborious task of gathering edible seaweed from the rocks where
      it grows, drying it in the sun, and packing it for shipment.
      Actually, if more than one crop is desired, rocks must be prepared
      for the succeeding crop by burning off inedible seaweed. Otherwise,
      inedible seaweed will take over, and will prevent edible seaweed
      from growing back. Many of these seaweed farms were located along
      the coast of San Luis Obispo County. [52]

      Vegetable gardens were often located on land no one else wanted. One
      Chinese American farmer raised vegetables on an isolated island
      called Way-Aft-Whyle in Clear Lake, Lake County, in the 1880s. [53]
      All supplies had to be obtained from stores in a distant town, then
      transported by boat to the island. The vegetables raised had to be
      taken to shore, then carried all the way to town to be sold. Since
      the island is barely above water level, it could easily be inundated
      in storms.
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