You are on page 1of 14

Nate Sloat 1

The four following sources help to demonstrate the experience of

Chinese migrants to California during the 1800s. Three of the sources deal

directly with the newspapers of California and how they chose to represent

the Chinese people, a representation that would then be used by the

readership. The last article deals with the Chinese response to these

discriminatory practices and the daily oppression that they experienced.

Taken together these articles demonstrate that the press can have a

significant impact on the beliefs and practices of people and that can have

very negative consequences.

The first article deals with how Chinese people were portrayed in four

newspapers that operated near the railroad towns of California. It is certainly

the case that from 1849-1869 Chinese immigrants were desirable due to the

labor shortage needed to build the railroads.1 But when the transcontinental

railroad was finished, large quantities of unemployed railroad workers moved

back to San Francisco or to railway towns. This was coupled with an

economic recession at roughly the same time in 1873. The increased

competition led to the belief that Chinese workers were taking away jobs that

should go to white workers first.2 It did not help that Chinese workers were

willing to work for less, which depressed wages for all workers.3

1 Herman B. Chiu and Andrew Taylor Kirk, Unlimited American Power: How Four
California Newspapers Covered Chinese Labor and the Building of the
Transcontinental Railroad, 18651869 American Journalism (2014):509.

2 Herman B. Chiu and Andrew Taylor Kirk, Unlimited American Power, 521

3 Ibid., 521.
Nate Sloat 2

What is interesting is that in the mountain areas that interacted with the

Chinese railroad workers during construction, the white newspapers were

largely indifferent. In most cases when the progress of the railroad was

stated, there was no mention of who was building it, and definitely not

individuals names.4 There was a sense of appreciation for the construction of

the railroad, but not wanting to acknowledge that an inferior race (in their

minds) was responsible for their benefit.

When the Chinese did make it into the paper, it was not for the right

reasons. Whenever there was a crime committed by a Chinese migrant the

press was sure to report it, and generally put the migrant in a negative light.

What is significant is that names were still not used but rather referred to the

criminal just as Chinamen.5 This helped to propagate negative beliefs

about Chinese immigrants, that they were dirty criminals and spreaders of

disease.6 This is very different from the railroads perspective on Chinese

laborers, whom they viewed as a more reliable and less likely to go on

strike.7 It was believed that they could learn new tasks faster, and master

more complex building techniques.8 The railroad companies would also

create separate teams of each race and would pit them against each other to

4 Ibid., 516.

5 Ibid., 519.

6 Ibid., 519.

7 Ibid., 510.

8 Ibid., 510.
Nate Sloat 3

see which could build the railroad the fastest.9 Which probably contributed to

negative feelings between the races. What is important to recognize is that

even if the stereotypes are positive, they still make attempts to lump certain

groups together and show how that group is different from the white

hegemonyfurthering the divide that exists between groups.

It is also an interesting contrast between a west coast stereotypes and

east coast ones. In How the Other Half Lives, Riis describes Chinese workers

as being incredibly clean but they are also very likely to smoke opium.10

However, nowhere in any of the sources from the West coast is opium

mentioned. Nor does it appear in any of the cartoons, though it would be

very easy to add in, if readers associated opium with Chinese workers. There

is also no mockery of Chinese accents like there is in How the Other Half

Lives.11 It seems unlikely that Chinese immigrants to the east and west coast

would have different speech patterns, and so would receive such criticism

differently. There is also no mention of Chinese gambling, which is

emphasized in Riiss text.12 There is a time difference between the articles

and Riis book of 10 years, but that should not be able to account for these

significant differences.

9 Ibid., 510.

10 Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 92.

11 Riis, How the Other Half Lives, 94.

12 Ibid., 94.
Nate Sloat 4

The article also discusses how there are phases to assimilation for any ethnic

group to become accepted American citizens. That initially the Irish were

discriminated against, or Catholics, but after a generation or two those

stigmas are eventually lost.13 The Chinese people formed enclaves in

Chinatowns quickly and so did not have as many interactions with whites,

and in some cases that interaction were actively discouraged.14 There was

also an inability to create new generations of natively born Chinese

Americans since the vast majority of migrants were men and did not bring

wives or other woman with them. Also, the issue that the rate of migration

increased so quickly that in the minds of many, it reached the point of being

a threat far faster than it had with other migrant groups and prevented


The Second source is a series of political cartoons created by Thomas Nast.

They helped to establish some of the stereotypes that are seen in other

political cartoons as well as bringing those stereotypes to the masses.

Including the constant influence of immigrants from the East coast who had

not interacted with Chinese migrants. The first cartoons titled Pacific

Chivalry has a Chinese migrant being pulled back by his braid by a white

man labeled California while swinging a cat of nine tails. In the background

there is a railroad, a constant reminder of the type of works Chinese

13 Herman B. Chiu and Andrew Taylor Kirk, Unlimited American Power, 513.

14 Scott Baxter, The Response of Californias Chinese Populations to the Anti-

Chinese Movement Historical Archaeology (2008): 31.

15 Herman B. Chiu and Andrew Taylor Kirk, Unlimited American Power, 522.
Nate Sloat 5

migrants typically do and the jobs they are taking away. Also in the

background there is a sign saying Courts of Justice Closed to Chinese and

Extra Taxes to Yellowjack.16 This demonstrates not only that there was

hostility from individual workers, but also that the legal systems were

arranged against them. Frequently, Chinese migrants would have to pay an

annual or monthly tax to live in America if they were not a naturalized

citizen.17 Of course nonwhite migrants were not allowed to naturalize, so they

had to pay the tax until it was struck down by a Chinese led lawsuit in Lin

Sung v. Washburn.18

A second comic published in 1870 called The Comet of Chinese Labor

depicts cheap Chinese labor coming to break a factory strike in

Massachusetts. This is another example of the distinct facial features that

are used to stereotype Chinese men so that they are more easily identifiable

to political comic viewers. There are several telescopes, each with separate

words printed on the side, including capitalist, the press, politicians, and

workingman, who are all watching the arrival of Chinese workers. There is

also a poster with several statements indicating the evil of the Chinese labor

and how it is going to bring down the trade unions. The rest of the image is

filled with strikers who are all trying to strike for higher wages.19 This image

16 Thomas Nast, Pacific Chivalry Harpers Weekly, August 7, 1869.

17 Scott Baxter, The Response of Californias, 32.

18 Ibid., 32.

19 Thomas Nast, The Comet of Chinese Labor Harpers Weekly, June 13, 1870.
Nate Sloat 6

depicts the very one sided prospective of east coast people on the Chinese;

they were seen primarily as strike breakers, who would accept lower wages

and worse working conditions then white workers.

The last Comic is Every dog has his day! shows an interaction between a

Native American and a Chinese migrant. The bottom of the comic states

Pale face fraid you crowd him out, as he did me. It draws upon the idea

that America is a nation of immigrants, but that there were Native Americans

here before they arrived and, as immigrants, they saw little reason not to

come. On the side, there are a series of statements demonstrating a

chronology of American racism. With the most recent racial policies at the

top showing Californian protests, and the Chinese exclusion act. Then

towards the bottom it states the older periods of racism, like the anti-

immigration protests against Irish and German migrants. In the background,

there is an African American, given some ape like features that are typical of

the cartoons from the time, with writing stating, My day is coming.20 This

comic clearly demonstrates that in the minds of the artist, America does not

have a Chinese problem in particular, but rather it has a problem with any

immigrant group or anyone who does not fit in immediately with the status

quo of what it means to be an American.

The third article deals exclusively with the Wasp an illustrated

magazine published in San Francisco. The article was consistently anti-

immigrant and varied its political stance on other issues, but initially was pro

20 Thomas Nast, Every dog Has His day Harpers Weekly, February 8, 1879.
Nate Sloat 7

democrat. The irony of this paper was that the three brothers who were first

generation Czech immigrants and were previously charged as political

dissidents published it. Also, it was illustrated by a first generation Prussian

migrant who had been a part of a coup attempt against the Prussian

government.21 It is clear that neither of these groups had much respect for

government, as that often occurs in the political cartoons that were a

consistent part of the magazine. It is important to point out that the

magazine was not exclusively anti-Chinese but also took shots at many

groups including, railroad owners, Irish workers, indigenous people,

Mormons, Mexicans, and Africans, though there were very few in California.22

Initially the magazine was pro-democratic, but after the compromise of

1877, the magazine gave up its party affiliations believing that government

corruption and inaction would not pass the immigration policies that the

magazine wanted. Thereafter, the magazine took shots at both parties and

often times politics in general.23 This enabled the magazine to place blame

upon the government for the Chinese immigration problem rather than

reflecting upon the Californian role in the issue. For instance they published a

comic titled The Three Troublesome Children, which pointed out Uncle

21 Nicholas Sean Hall, The Wasp's Troublesome Children: Culture, Satire, and the
Anti-Chinese Movement in the American West California History (2013): 45.

22 Nicholas Sean Hall, The Wasp's Troublesome Children, 44.

23 Ibid., 46.
Nate Sloat 8

Sams lack of interest in the problem of Chinese immigrants and that the

Chinese are failing to adapt to American cultural beliefs.24

The article also discussed how the magazine often times mocked the

working mans party of California (WPC). The WPC was an independent

political parties whose main two aims were anti-immigrant and anti-

monopoly. They called for the railroads to fire all Chinese Americans and

were often depicted in cartoons as taking violence into their own hands.25

The magazine often times mocked the actions that the party took, but

approved of the ends they tried to achieve. One cartoon titled The Chinese

Must Go! But Who Keeps them? mocks how the WPC led by Denis Kearney

would preach, but would not act, to end the immigration.26 That the workers

who are responsible for sustaining the Chinese immigration by buying

Chinese goods or by going to Chinese stores supported the Chinese

immigration. The irony of which, the owners of the magazine relied on

Chinese cigar workers for their cigar box company.27 What this does

demonstrate is that despite the protests, the Chinese migrants were an

important part of the economy of California and that they had become well

enough engrained into society that they would be difficult to remove.28 Often

24 Ibid., 48.

25 Ibid., 56.

26 Ibid., 60

27 Ibid., 59.

28 Ibid., 61.
Nate Sloat 9

times even when boycotts of Chinese good were attempted, the Chinese

could stay within their enclaves and be able to sustain themselves for the

most part.29

An interesting point that is illustrated by the article is the push and pull

factors of Chinese immigration to America. One thinks of the pull factors of

increased job opportunities from the railroads and the gold mines as the

main cause of immigration. However, just as important were the push factors

for Chinese immigration; in the wake of the opium wars (1839-1842 and

1856-1860), the Chinese government had to make payments to the British

Empire.30 To pay for this, the Chinese government enforced high taxes upon

workers, forcing many to leave or seek a more stable financial situation. 31

What this illustrates is that even before coming to China, the Chinese were

already the victims of white imperialism. Their situation then was not so

different from the European workers that were pushed to leave their own

homes and look for better opportunities in America.

The Election of Rutherford B. Hayes marked an end of reconstruction

in America, and for many Californians this was an indication that California

should support similar policies against the Chinese as were being instituted

against African Americans in the south. The third article helps to illustrate

some of these practices and the Chinese immigrants reaction to them, often

29 Scott Baxter, The Response of Californias, 29,31.

30 Nicholas Sean Hall, The Wasp's Troublesome Children, 52.

31 Ibid., 52.
Nate Sloat 10

times looking at the city of San Jose where the Chinese migrants could not

naturalize and could not earn the right to voteintimidation was not needed

to take away the ballot. Chinese Americans were not allowed to own property

in San Jose, as another an effort to discourage the construction of China

Towns.32 So, the Chinese just rented the land from sympathetic whites and

carried on, or became sharecroppers.33 When that did not work San Jose also

tried requiring all homes to be incorporated into the sewer system,

something that was deemed too expensive for Chinese immigrants.

However, they connected to the sewer anyway and it was of a higher quality

then the sewer system in the white neighborhoods.34

The Chinese migrants were subjected to repeat acts of violence in San

Jose, especially arson. The first three China Towns in San Jose were all burned

down which forced the local Chinese population to take preventative action.35

In response, they built two more Chinatowns and in these later towns, they

built their own fire hydrant system with their own fire department.36 They

also built a fence with barbed wire around the China town to deter white

youths from entering, as well as posting signs against white trespassers.37

32 Scott Baxter, The Response of Californias, 31.

33 Ibid., 33.

34 Ibid., 31.

35 Ibid., 31.

36 Ibid., 31.

37 Ibid., 31.
Nate Sloat 11

There is new evidence that suggest Chinese immigrants tried to arm

themselves, especially with .38 caliber bullets, used in handguns for self-


All of this demonstrates a tremendous amount of resistance to

repeated efforts to push them out and that the Chinese migrants were here

to stay. When the laws became particularly harsh they engaged in a number

of court cases to protect their freedoms.39 Being organized into local districts

they were able to come together as a community to fund the legal process.40

Often times, they found much more success at the State Level then they did

at the federal level; there were still a number of laws that passed despite

protests, including an 1855 law charging a 50$ for non-whites to migrate to

the state41 as well as prohibiting marriages between whites and non-whites in

1880.42 This disdain for interracial marriages was reiterated in Wasp, which

made a cartoon illustrating the children from mixed race couples would be

deformed and ape like.43 This only further deterred any possibility of the

Chinese migrants integrating into American society, even though they were

38 Ibid., 33-34.

39 Ibid., 32.

40 Ibid., 30.

41 Ibid., 30.

42 Ibid., 30.

43 Nicholas Sean Hall, The Wasp's Troublesome Children, 52.

Nate Sloat 12

not able to have many Chinese children in America, since there were very

few if any female Chinese migrants to America.44

A key point of contrast between the different sources is the perspective that

is generated by the east coast comics created by Thomas Nast and the other

west coast sources. The west coast sees the Chinese as a much more hostile

force that is invading the country and is disrupting the American way of life.

This is primarily because the west coast experienced a much larger influx of

Asian workers than the East coast did; the east coast comics certainly

indicated that the problem was largely imagined. As one pastor stated, the

Chinese scare, is the greatest humbug that has ever been enacted.45 The

number of immigrants is not large enough to make a substantial differences

and that the Chinese people are victims of American hostility rather than the

aggressors in the situation. They implied that the Californians have to share

in the blame for any violence that results from white aggression. The east

coast comics are also much more reflective upon past immigration issues,

reflecting on Americas long history of immigration. Especially since the east

coast has experienced a majority of the immigration over the course of the

nations history and probably did not see it as a serious problem. There is

also a difference in the industries that the Chinese immigrants are involved

in, such as the Chinese Americans on the east coast that were primarily used

as strike breakers when factories workers and miners went on strike.

44 Ibid., 52.

45 Ibid., 54.
Nate Sloat 13

There is also the idea that, as people move west, they are no longer

considered to be French or German or Czechthey are Americans; the West

Americanizes people to fit the cultural norms. So, rather than having the

cultural enclaves present in New York, as was demonstrated by How the

Other Half Lives, people tended to assimilate instead. It is this distinction

that makes the Chinese immigration situation more significant and explains

why it was difficult to assimilate. In California people increasingly saw

themselves as white and everyone else as others whereas on the east coast,

especially in the big cities, people held onto their unique European culture.

Therefore on the east coast it was easier to keep that idea of America as a

nation of immigrants if one was from the west coast, and that the Chinese

are just the next wave of immigrants.

The articles all deal with the idea of what does it mean to be an

American citizen. From the beginning America is a melting pot of cultures

and ideas that shape what characterizes an American. This era in American

history witnesses the introduction of another group of citizens, who bring

with them a distinct culture and practices that change the American identity.

It is interesting that like all immigrant groups there is a period before they

are fully accepted into American society, when they can be considered on an

equal footing with the other ethnic groups. What does make this transition

more difficult for Asian immigrants is that they are more physically

identifiable as immigrants. It also fits into the classroom trend that the white
Nate Sloat 14

Anglo Saxon Protestant groups continue to be the dominant group in society,

and that this new immigrant group is subordinate to it.

What is also clear in these articles is that due to the increasing

geographic separation of Americans, covering such a large land mass, there

is an end of homogeneity. That there are more Latino Americans in the

southwest, or there becomes a distinctive southern culture in the cotton belt,

or in New England. But what is important is to recognize that even though

there are growing cultural differences between these groups, there are still

overarching themes, of what it means to be American. The text Uncle Sam

wants you by Christopher Capozzola, clearly demonstrates that at the turn of

the twentieth century, Americans were all tied together not by cultural

homogeneity but through ideology. Through the new ideas of patriotism, duty

and responsibility to the state, regardless of geographic location, race or

gender. That through the state there could be a new idea of what it meant to

be an American, and this idea included Chinese immigrants.

These sources help to demonstrate the struggles and the perseverance

of the Chinese immigrant to America during the 1860s to 1880s. They faced

racist actions in many forms, and they had to read about it in the

newspapers of California. But the articles also help to demonstrate that there

were cultural differences between the east and west coast in their perception

of Chinese Americans. And through that we can understand that the

stereotypes were the products of perception rather than of reality.