Collection Scope and Content Summary
Title: Chinese in California collection
Date (bulk): 1970-1985
Date (inclusive): circa 1850-1989, undated
Collection Number: 095
5.5 linear feet
(11 document boxes)
Rivera Library. Special Collections Department.
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 this experience.
Languages: The collection is in English and Chinese.
This collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to the University of California, Riverside Libraries, Special Collections & Archives. All
requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections
& Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Regents of the University of California as the owner of the
physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by
[identification of item]. Chinese in California collection, Collection 095. University of California, Riverside Libraries,
Special Collections & 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 United States population. Ninety-nine percent of these Chinese
lived in the West, nearly three-quarters of them in California.
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, Utah.
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 associations.
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 Content Summary
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 California.
This collection is arranged into three series:
- 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 United States 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).