Collection Scope and Contents
Title: Chinese in California collection
Date (inclusive): circa 1850-1989, undated
Date (bulk): 1970-1985
Collection Number: MS 095
4.59 Linear Feet
Rivera Library. Special Collections Department.
Abstract: The Chinese in California collection is
comprised of photographs, correspondence, press clippings, typescripts, and other material
pertaining to the history of Chinese life and culture in California and other areas in the
western United States. Material relates to the academic study of the Chinese experience in
the United States and the effort to preserve the historic sites and artifacts pertaining to
Languages: This collection consists of
material in English. and Chinese.
This collection is open for research.
Copyright Unknown: Some materials in these collections may be
protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). In addition, the reproduction,
and/or commercial use, of some materials may be restricted by gift or purchase agreements,
donor restrictions, privacy and publicity rights, licensing agreement(s), and/or trademark
rights. Distribution or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed
by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. To the extent other
restrictions apply, permission for distribution or reproduction from the applicable rights
holder is also required. Responsibility for obtaining permissions, and for any use rests
exclusively with the user.
[identification of item], [date if possible]. Chinese in California collection (MS 095).
Special Collections & University Archives, University of California, Riverside.
Processed by Juliana Schouest and Sara Seltzer, 2008.
The Chinese began to arrive in California in large numbers after the discovery of gold at
Sutter's Mill in 1848. Their arrival was part of a complex economic relationship between
China and the United States in which the Chinese became a major source of labor for the
economic development of the American West.
Most of the Chinese that came to the western United States were from southeastern China and
of Cantonese decent. The victims of war, natural disasters, and political and economic
oppression, they were attracted to California by the promise of gold and opportunity. Many
were laborers and farmers, but merchants, craftsmen, artisans and students also came in
search of opportunities. Their exodus from China was aided by the ongoing development of
Hong Kong as an international port. By 1870, the Chinese made up nearly 25 percent of
California's unskilled labor force, but only 10 percent of the state's total population. Ten
years later, the Chinese comprised two-tenths of one percent of the U.S. population.
Ninety-nine percent of these Chinese lived in the West, nearly three-quarters of them in
In cities and towns, many Chinese became domestic servants, cooks, laundrymen, and held
other service jobs. The Chinese also made up the majority of workers in such light
industries as garment, shoe, and cigar making factories. When the railroad opened up jobs to
the Chinese, thousands signed up to work. As early as 1858 the Chinese were building
intrastate railroads, and in the 1860s they were instrumental in building the western
portion of the transcontinental railroad from Sacramento, California to Promontory Point,
In the beginning most of the Chinese came to California to work temporarily, but many
eventually made California their home. Their presence led to the creation of Chinese
communities commonly referred to as "Chinatowns." These enclaves were segregated and
considered an exotic curiosity by mainstream America. They had their own form of
self-government organized under the leadership of merchants' guilds and district
When the economy declined, unemployed white workers accused Chinese workers of causing the
nation's demise. Anti-Chinese hysteria permeated California politics. The state's labor
unions claimed Chinese immigration would destroy the nation's democratic structure. This
Sino phobia was realized in murders, exclusion, and the total destruction of the Chinese
communities by the passage of anti-Chinese legislation. California's 1879 Constitution even
contained a specific section on how to eradicate the Chinese from the state.
On May 6, 1882, the federal government, influenced by powerful anti-Chinese lobbyists from
California, passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred entry of all Chinese laborers
into the United States for ten years. This marked the first time immigration to the United
States was banned on the basis of race and class. Still dissatisfied with the presence of
"too many" Chinese in the United States, the government continued the Exclusion Act until
1904, when it was extended indefinitely. Similar restrictive immigration policies were
eventually applied to other Asian ethnicities.
Collection Scope and Contents
This collection is comprised of photographs, correspondence, press clippings, typescripts,
and other material pertaining to the history of Chinese life and culture in California and
other areas in the western United States. Topics covered include the study and preservation
of regional Chinatowns (including the Riverside,California Chinatown), scholarly research on
various aspects of Chinese history and culture, and the lives of Chinese residents in
different communities. Photographic and print materials document the construction of
railroads, agricultural labor, the Gold Rush, and life in multiple Chinatown locations. This
collection also includes material pertaining to the Chinese Historical Society of Southern
This collection is arranged into three series as follows:
- Series 1. Academic Writings on Chinese History and Culture, 1875-1989, undated
- Series 2. California Chinatowns, circa 1870-1988, undated
- Series 3. Chinese in Western U.S. History, circa 1850-1989, undated
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Genres and Forms of Materials
Clippings (information artifacts).