San Francisco Chinatown is rich with history as it offered a place of sanctuary for Chinese sojourners who arrived to the shores of America.
1842-1852: China is defeated by Britain in the first Opium War subsequently creating economic hardships on Chinese citizens creating a push factor for Chinese to seek sanctuary elsewhere
1848: James Marshall discovers gold at John Sutter’s sawmill on the American River at Coloma and begins the Gold Rush period triggering the first wave of Chinese to arrive to CA
1850-1970: California imposes Foreign Miner’s Tax which forces the Chinese to pay more and often multiple times
1854: People vs. Hall—Court case freed Hall, a white man, who was convicted and sentenced for the murder of Ling Sing, a Chinese miner in Nevada County. Three Chinese witnesses testified to the murder, however, Chief Justice Hugh Murray ruled that Chinese Americans and Chinese immigrants had no right to give testimony in court. The ruling came out of the preexisting exclusion from the California Criminal Procedure: “No black or mulatto person, or Indian, shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a white man.” It was taken that “Indian” included anyone of the Mongoloid race or that “Black” applied to anyone not white. This ruling essentially allowed white violence against the Chinese, making violence against them not prosecutable.
1857: San Francisco opens a school for Chinese children
1858: California bars the entry of Chinese and “Mongolians”
1859: Chinese is excluded from San Francisco Public Schools
1862: Six Chinese district associations in San Francisco form a loose federation
1862: California imposes a “police tax” with its proper title “An act to protect free white labor against competition with Chinese coolie labor, and to discourage the immigration of the Chinese into the state of California”. A tax of $2.50 a month was imposed on every Chinese person over 18 years of age in the form of a monthly work permit. The act exempted those working in the production of sugar, rice, sugar and tea.
1865: Crocker hires first 50 Chinese men in response to white workers’ threat of strike. Central Pacific Railroad Company recruits Chinese for the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Within two years, 90 percent of railroad workforce was Chinese
1867: On June 25th, 1967, 2,000 Chinese railroad workers strike for a week. As a result, Chinese laborers, without support from other workers, won concession over wages.
1867: Workingmen’s Party of California founded in San Francisco and led by Dennis Kearny as president. The party positioned themselves against Chinese immigrant labor and the Central Pacific Railroad who employed them. The party was driven by its slogan “The Chinese must go!” and held many popular and well attended rallies in the plaza in front of San Francisco’s city hall which eventually helped lead to the creation of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
1867: 400 men in association with the Workingmen’s Party attacked Chinese in San Francisco
1868: U.S. and China sign Burlingame-Seward Treaty recognizing the right of Chinese citizens to emigrate
1868: Governor John Bigley delivers anti-Chinese speech prompting Lai Chun Chen, a merchant in San Francisco to issue pamphlets in response
1869: Completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad
1870: By this time, 3,537 Chinese women have entered the United States, 61 percent (2,157) of which were listed as prostitutes
1870: By this time, Foreign Miner’s Tax constituted 25-50 percent of all state revenue. Chinese represented the largest racial group of miners (9,087 of 36,339)
1870: Increase of crop diversity due to the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Chinese aided in cultivation techniques as well as the harvesting of these crops
1870: Chinese involved in Commercial fishing along the West Coast (predominantly along the San Francisco Bay and in the Monterey and San Diego areas)
1870: California law prohibiting the importation of Chinese, Japanese and those of the Mongolian race for prostitution
1872: California’s Civil Procedure Code rescinds the law excluding Chinese from testifying in court
1875: Introduction of Page Law bars the entry of Chinese, Japanese and those of the Mongolian race who are prostitutes, felons and contract labors. The Page Law, introduced and named after Republican Congressman in the United States House of Representatives, was the first restrictive federal immigration law and sought to end what was considered the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women.
The first Chinese immigrants to the United States were overwhelmingly males who intended to make money and return to their country. However, anti-Chinese sentiments hindered those prosperous dreams and possibilities and therefore prolonged their stay. Without enough money to send for their wives, an industry of prostitution of Chinese women developed. A fear became widespread concerning the fate of white men and the white family. It became a belief that Chinese men hurt white men’s ability to earn money, and Chinese women caused disease and immorality among white men. In addition, white society did not understand nor accept the Chinese culture of multiple wives, concubines and prostitutes holding different social ranks of the Chinese family. A concern arose that the children of Chinese couples would become U.S. citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment and their cultural practices would become a part of the American practice as well therefore threatening the values, lives and futures of White America.
1876: Chinese labored in the construction for Southern Pacific Railroad running through Los Angeles
1878: Workingmen’s Party wins a third of seats to California’s Constitutional Convention
1878: Workingmen’s Party Resolution connects cheap Chinese labor with corporations
1878: In re Ah Yup rules Chinese ineligible for naturalized citizenship. Ah Yup who is a native of China and categorized under the Mongolian race petitioned the U.S. for citizenship during the time when citizenship and naturalization were exclusively for white people and those of African descent. However, the courts ruled that neither under common knowledge, popular language, literature nor science include those of the Mongolian race to be “white”.
1879: California’s second constitution prevents municipalities and corporations from employing Chinese
1879: California’s state legislature passes law forcing all incorporated towns and cities to expel all Chinese from their territory. U.S. circuit court deems this law unconstitutional
1880: U.S. and China sign treaty authorizing the U.S. the right to limit but “not absolutely prohibit” Chinese immigration
1882: Chinese Exclusion Act, signed by President Chester A. Arthur, suspends the immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years. The Act made it unlawful for Chinese to enter the United States during this time. Congress imposed a fine, the possibility of imprisonment and deportation to all, including Chinese and the master of any vessel who knowingly brings Chinese into the U.S., who did not abide by this law. The Act excluded only those Chinese who were “unskilled and skilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining”. Those few non laboring Chinese who wished to enter the United States were required by the Act to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they were in fact qualified to immigrate. However, it was extremely difficult to prove that they were not laborers. The act essentially almost certainly excluded all Chinese from entering the United States. In addition, the act also placed a requirement for those Chinese already residing in the United States before the implementation of the act. It required that those interested in leaving the country had to obtain certifications to re-enter which made it virtually due to the denial of citizenship to Chinese.
1882: Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (also known as Chinese Six Companies) is established in San Francisco
1884: San Francisco School Board is sued by Joseph and Mary Tape for denying enrollment of their Chinese daughter, Mamie, in a public school
1884: Chinese Six Companies establishes Chinese language school in San Francisco
1884: The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act is amended to include the requirement of a certificate as the only permissible evidence for reentry
1885: San Francisco builds a segregated “Oriental School” as a result of the Mamie Tap case
1886: A law with unequal impact on different groups is declared discriminatory after the victory of Chinese laundrymen in the Yick Wo vs. Hopkins case. In 1880, the city of San Francisco passed an ordinance that prohibited the business of laundry operated within a wooden building without a permit from the Board of Supervisors. In those days, about 95% of the city’s laundries were operated within wooden buildings and two thirds of the laundries were owned by Chinese persons. Despite the overwhelming number of Chinese laundry owners, no permits were granted to the Chinese, while only one out of approximately eighty non Chinese owners were denied a permit. Yick Wo who had operated a laundry business in a wooden building for many years held a valid license given to him by the Board of Fire-Wardens permitting him to operate his business. He continued to run his business and was later convicted and fined $10.00 for violating the ordinance. Yick Wo was imprisoned for refusing to pay his fine and later sued for a writ of habeas corpus. The state argued that the ordinance was implemented out of concern for and protection of the laundry businesses because laundry fires were not uncommon due to their need for very hot stoves to boil water for laundry. However, it was pointed out that prior to the ordinance, the safety inspection and approval to operate a laundry was the responsibility of the fire wardens. Yick Wo had never failed to pass an inspection. Moreover, the law targeted the overwhelmingly Chinese laundry industry because it ignored other potentially dangerous wooden buildings where fires were common. Yick Wo vs. Hopkins was the first case where the United States ruled that a law that is presented as race neutral but is prejudice in its administration, is an infringement of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
1888: Scott renders 20,000 Chinese reentry certificates null and void
1889: The court case Chae Chan Ping v. U.S. upholds the constitutionality of the Chinese Exclusion Laws. Chae Chan Ping is a national of China residing in San Francisco, California and is a laborer by occupation. He left back to China sometime from 1875 while holding in his possession a certificate entitling him the return to the United States. However, as he attempted to step off the boat returning him to the shores of America in 1888, the collector of the port of San Francisco refused his certificate which entitled his return, stating that it had been annulled and his right to land abrogated and thereby forbidden to re-enter the United States.
1892: Chinese Exclusion Law is renewed for another 10 years by the Geary Act. The Geary Act, written by Congressman Thomas J. Geary, added new requirements to the Chinese Exclusion Act. It required all Chinese residents of the United States to carry resident permit at all times stating the name, age, local residence, occupation, and photograph of the applicant. The certificates were to be proof that the individual had entered the U.S. legally and had the right to remain in the country. In addition to the resident permits as proof, two white witnesses were required to testify to a Chinese person’s immigration status. Those who were caught without a the permit were deemed and adjudged to be unlawfully in the United States and could be arrested and forced to do hard labor, and be deported after a year. Although the permits acted as proof of the individual’s right in the United States, the documents did not function to protect the legal immigrants and residents from governmental harassment. Those Chinese originally exempted from the Chinese Exclusion Act were subjected to the same scrutiny and inquiry that governed the Chinese who the Act was directed to. The reasoning for this was due to the prejudice view that it was, as Senator Geary stated himself, impossible to identity one Chinaman from another. The implementation of this Act gathered much negative reaction from the heads of the Chinese community including the Six Companies, the San Francisco branch of The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. They urged their community not to register but instead contribute to hire a lawyer to fight the law on the grounds of unconstitutionality. Among the issues that were brought into light during the appeals from the Chinese that had refused to register, were whether the Act violated the 1880 Burlingame Treaty with China, whether hard labr and deportation constituted as cruel and unusual punishment and thus violated the Eighth Amendment, whether the Act violated the Fifth and Sixth Amendments by permitting imprisonment with hard labor without prior indictment or jury trial, whether the act violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition against the taking of property or liberty without due process. However, Justice Horace Gray ruled that if the U.S. had the right to exclude any person or any race it wished, it therefore must have the right to deport any person or race it wished. Though the Chinese lost the case, they refused to pay their way back to China if deported, leaving the United States financially responsible and rendering the Act moot until it was amended by the McCreary amendment. However, the government only allotted several hundred thousand dollars to enforce the law.
1892: The constitutionality of the Geary Law is upheld by the court case Fong Yue Ting vs. U.S.
1898: Court case Wong Kim Ark vs. U.S. declares that Chinese born in the U.S. cannot be stripped of their citizenship.
Wong Kim Ark was born in San Francisco, California sometime between 1868 and 1973. Under the Fourteenth Amendment concerning citizenship, which states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside” and thereby protecting Wong Kim Ark as a citizenship of the United States. However, during a temporary visit to China in 1894, Wong Kim Ark was detained at the Port of San Francisco by the Collector of Customs and denied permission to enter the country. Wong Kim Ark, although born in the city and county of San Francisco, was accused under the laws of the state of California and of the United States, to be a Chinese person and a subject of the Emperor of China. It was reasoned that because his parents were Chinese persons, having immigrated to the United States from China as continued subjects of the Chinese Emperor, it therefore also made Wong Kim Ark a subject to the Emperor of China. The court case brought up the issue of whether an American-born person of Chinese ancestry could constitutionally be denied U.S. citizenship and excluded from the country. The citizenship of Wong Kim Ark was eventually upheld by interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment as thus: Only two classes of people were to be excluded from citizenship at birth in the United States, (1) children born to foreign diplomats and (2) children born to enemy forces engaged in hostile occupation of the country’s territory. Since neither of these conditions applied to Wong Kim Ark’s situation, Wong was a United States citizen. Since this court trial, U.S. citizenship law has acknowledged both jus soli, citizenship though place of birth, and jus sanguinis, citizenship inherited from parents.
1900: Chinese agricultural workers begins to be replaced by Japanese labor
1900: Queue Ordinance (also known as the Pigtail Ordinance) enacted. The Ordinance was first enacted as a solution to the overcrowding of jails in San Francisco. On July 29th, 1870, a Sanitary Ordinance was enacted to prevent unsafe tenement living conditions. Those that violated this law incurred a fine of $10-500, 5-90 days in jail, or both. Many Chinese took advantage of this Ordinance after realizing the benefits of the punishment. Realizing violating the Ordinance would provide free room and board, which was something difficult to obtain, many Chinese intentionally violated the Ordinance. It was also reported that many violators were ordered by Chinatown leaders to accept jail time regardless of whether or not they could pay the fine so as a statement of making enforcement of the law more trouble than it was worth. As a result, jails had reached their capacity and became overcrowded. The rationale for the Queue Ordinance was to outbreaks of lice and fleas and required for all prisoners’ heads be shaved. Although the law did not discriminate between races, it profoundly affected the Chinese in particular. Wearing of a queue was symbolic to the national identity for the Chinese since the beginning of the Qing dynasty in 1644 when Han men were required to wear a queue as a symbol of submission to the rule of the Manchus. Refusal to submit was death. It was hoped that the Chinese would fear losing this vital symbol and deter the Chinese from violating the Sanitary Ordinance. The Ordinance was immediately vetoed by Mayor William Alvord stating that the law was a special and degrading punishment inflicted upon the Chinese solely based upon alienage and race. However, on April 3, 1876, the state of California implemented its own Sanitary Ordinance therefore making San Francisco’s veto ineffective. A lawsuit was filed by a Chinese immigrant named Ah Kow who was arrested for violating the Sanitary Ordinance and his queue was cut off. He sued for irreparable harm. Ah Kow won the suit on the basis that it was not within the powers of the Board of Supervisors to set such a discriminatory law and that the law was unconstitutional.
1900: Bubonic Plague scare in San Francisco leads to the quarantine of Chinatown—Chinese labeled as carriers of disease