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History of San Francisco’s Chinatown

History of San Francisco’s Chinatown

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The Chinese diaspora, which began in the 1800s, was so vast that virtually every major city in the world—from New York to London, Montreal and Lima—boasts a neighborhood called “Chinatown.” Chinese immigration to the United States dates back to the middle of the 19th century, but life wasn’t always easy for new immigrants from China—even in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the largest such district outside of Asia and the oldest Chinese community in North America.

Chinese Immigration to the United States

Most of the early Chinese immigration to the United States can be traced to the mid-1800s. These early immigrants—some 25,000 in the 1850s alone—came seeking economic opportunity in America.

The Chinese arriving in San Francisco, who came primarily from the Taishan and Zhongshan regions as well as Guangdong province of mainland China, did so at the height of the CaliforniaGold Rush, and many worked in the mines scattered throughout the northern part of the state.

Others took jobs as farmhands or in the burgeoning garment industry in the “City by the Bay.” Still more became laborers with the Central Pacific and Transcontinental railroads, and were instrumental in building the transportation infrastructure that helped fuel the westward expansion of the United States before, during and after the Civil War.

Poverty and Prejudice: The Chinese Struggle for Acceptance

As is the case with most immigrants, life in their new home was challenging for the hundreds of thousands of new Americans arriving from Asia, even as San Francisco became a hub of Chinese culture in the United States.

Most of the immigrants coming from China were desperate to work—not only to survive but to send money to their families back home. Some also had to repay loans from Chinese-American merchants who had sponsored their passage to America.

These financial pressures meant that many Chinese immigrants had to accept work at reduced wages, and work longer hours with fewer days off. Many women, particularly young, unmarried women, were forced into prostitution on the streets of San Francisco, either as a result of economic hardship or under threat of violence from Chinese-American criminal gangs called “tongs.”

Their suffering didn’t end there: Because they were willing to work more for less, Chinese immigrants to the United States soon drew the ire of first- and second-generation Americans from other ethnic groups, who believed they were being squeezed out of certain jobs by the new arrivals.

The state of California initially tried to create legal blockades to Chinese immigration—and integration into American society—by requiring special licenses for businesses run by Chinese-Americans.

However, many of these discriminatory laws were overturned by the federal government, as they violated the Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868, which eased immigration restrictions and limited American influence in the political affairs of mainland China.

The Chinese Exclusion Act

Unfortunately, anti-immigration fervor won out—at least for a time. In 1879, Congress passed its first piece of legislation aimed at limiting the flow Chinese immigration. However, the president at the time, Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican, vetoed the bill, as it still violated the Burlingame-Seward Treaty.

With Democrats in the western states vehemently opposed to unfettered immigration, and Republicans in Washington fighting for open borders and trade, a compromise was struck: In 1880, President Hayes appointed diplomat James B. Angell to negotiate a new treaty with China and, as a result, the so-called Angell Treaty was signed between the two countries. The pact enabled the United States to limit—but not eliminate—immigration from China.

With diplomatic restrictions no longer in place, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which suspended the immigration of Chinese laborers for a period of 10 years and required Chinese people traveling in or out of the United States to carry a certificate identifying his or her status as a laborer, scholar, diplomat or merchant. This legislation was the first in American history to place significant limits on immigration and on the rights of new immigrants.

However, the situation for Chinese immigrants to the American west didn’t reach its nadir until three years later in the Wyoming territory, with the Rock Springs massacre of 1885.

White miners hoping to unionize blamed their Chinese counterparts, who had been brought to the mines as strikebreakers, for their struggles. On September 2nd of that year, 150 of the white miners attacked a group of Chinese laborers, killing at least 28, wounding 15 or more, and driving countless others out of town.

For the rest of the 19th century, the federal government left immigration policy up to the individual states. However, with the opening of the federal immigration station at Ellis Island in 1890, a new influx of immigrants—primarily from Europe but also from Asia—arrived on American shores, settling in cities in the eastern half of the United States.

In the case of new immigrants from China, this wave helped establish the Chinese-American communities in cities such as New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. that are still thriving today—although the Chinese Exclusion Act was still strictly enforced in the western part of the country.

The San Francisco Earthquake and Chinatown

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, and the fires that broke out across the city in its aftermath, did more harm to the Chinese community than any legislative action could, destroying thousands of homes and businesses in Chinatown. Many Chinese-Americans were also among the dead.

However, the city’s birth and immigration records were also lost during the disaster, and many of San Francisco’s Chinese immigrants took advantage of the loophole to claim American citizenship. This enabled them to send for their families to come join them in the United States.

As the Chinese Exclusion Act was still on the books, though, Chinese immigrants arriving to San Francisco in the years after the earthquake had to be processed at the immigration center at Angel Island. Many immigrants arriving to the center—now a state park in San Francisco Bay—were detained in harsh conditions for weeks, months or even years before being approved for or denied entry, usually based on their answers to questions about their identities and their reasons for coming to the United States.

The center was closed in 1940 after it was destroyed by fire, and the Chinese Exclusion Act was finally overturned in 1943, paving the way for a new generation of arrivals from Asia.

San Francisco’s Chinatown Today

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 further loosened restrictions on immigration and fostered yet another wave of immigration that followed the closure of Ellis Island in 1954. For many Chinese and other Asians, this presented a new opportunity to escape political oppression at home, and further bolstered the population of Chinatowns across the United States.

In San Francisco, where Chinatown residents had rebuilt after the earthquake and fires of 1906, the neighborhood experienced new growth, and an influx of people from different regions of China.

From its famous gate at the intersection of Grant and Bush streets, the district occupies some 30 city blocks, and is packed with restaurants, bars, nightclubs and specialty stores selling gifts, fabrics, ceramics and Chinese herbs, among other wares, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco.

Chinese massacre of 1871

The Chinese massacre of 1871 was a racial massacre that occurred on October 24, 1871, in Los Angeles, California, when a mob of around 500 White and Hispanic persons entered Old Chinatown and attacked, bullied, robbed, and murdered Chinese residents. [1] [2] The massacre took place on Calle de los Negros, also referred to as "Negro Alley". The mob gathered after hearing that a policeman and a rancher had been killed as a result of a conflict between rival tongs, the Nin Yung, and Hong Chow. As news of their death spread across the city, fueling rumors that the Chinese community "were killing whites wholesale", more men gathered around the boundaries of Negro Alley. A few 21st-century sources have described this as the largest mass lynching in American history. [2] [3]

19 Chinese immigrants were killed, 15 of whom were later hanged by the mob in the course of the riot, but most of whom had already been shot to death before being hanged. [4] At least one was mutilated, when a member of the mob cut off a finger to obtain the victim's diamond ring. [4] Those killed represented over 10% of the small Chinese population of Los Angeles at the time, which numbered 172 prior to the massacre. Ten men of the mob were prosecuted and eight were convicted of manslaughter in these deaths. The convictions were overturned on appeal due to technicalities.

San Francisco Chinatown: A Guide to Its History and Architecture : An Excerpt

The arrival of the Chinese in the United States toward the end of the 1840s was part of an intricate political and economic relationship between Asia and America.

From its birth as a nation, the United States sought to establish itself as a new power among old nations. Many Americans believed in the concept of "Manifest Destiny," which held that the United States had the right to expand westward across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. The West Coast would be the gateway through which America would acquire and hold the positions of power in Asia.

On the West Coast, in California, San Francisco became not only a major commercial port but also the main port of entry for Chinese immigrants, who were recruited as a source of mass labor for the economic development of the western frontier. Initially, white Americans welcomed Chinese participation in San Francisco's civic events, such as the celebration, at Portsmouth Square, of California's admission into the Union in 1850. At the time, the Square was the heart of San Francisco. However, while the City expanded, the Chinese stayed in the area. For over a century and a half, Chinatown has remained in this same location.

The interaction between Chinatown and the community at large has not always been one of mutual understanding. Caught in the struggle between the white laboring class fighting for better working conditions and the industrial capitalists seeking to 14maintain the status quo, the Chinese became scapegoats for the growing pains of the American labor movement in the West. Sinophobia in the 19th century echoed into the 20th century with the cry "The Chinese must go!" The question of Chinese labor competition occupied a central place in the Nation's politics for over 30 years, until the passage of the Exclusion Act of May 1882, which in effect closed the door to Chinese immigration.

From time to time, San Francisco attempted to destroy Chinatown and remove the Chinese through both legal and extralegal means. The Chinese responded strategically. When the Board of Supervisors attempted to remove Chinatown after the Earthquake of 1906, for example, the Chinese strove to earn the goodwill of the City by creating a new positive image, retaining architects to transform the neighborhood slums into an "Oriental City." This new trend of a Sino-architectural vernacular, created specifically as a response to the threat of relocation after the quake, shaped the present skyline of Chinatown.

But Chinatown has always been a tourist attraction. What was sensationalized in the 19th century as a haven for racial peculiarities and cultural oddities is perceived today as an ethnic enclave where cultural habits and traditions are preserved. In either case, the stereotypical image of Chinatown as an unassimilated foreign community remains unchanged. But the significance of Chinatown lies not in cultural exotics. Beneath the Oriental façade is a history rooted in the political past of the City, the State, and the Nation.

That history began following our War for Independence in 1776. The evidence is before our eyes and under our noses if we know what to look for as we tour Chinatown. Tea, ginseng, and the churches take us back to when two peoples of diverse cultures first met, traded, and interacted. In 1784, when Samuel Shaw sailed the first American ship, the Empress of China, into Bocca Tigrus, he traded twenty-eight tons of ginseng and 20,000 Spanish dollars for tea, silk, porcelain, and other treasures. In his journal, Shaw wrote: "The inhabitants of America must have tea . . . that useless produce [ginseng] of her mountains and forest will supply her with this elegant luxury . . . such are the advantages which America derives from her ginseng" (Quincy 1847, 231). That historic voyage began our interest in the Far East and subsequently led to frontiersmen's hunting and trapping off the California coast for the pelts of sea otters for the Canton market. When gold was discovered, the transpacific commerce between California and Canton (now called "Guangzhou") continued, not only with the importation of Chinese goods for the Gold Rush population but also with the arrival of Chinese laborers from the Pearl River Delta, centered on the City of Canton in Guangdong Province.

From the time of their first encounter in the 16th century, Western nations were determined to open China's ports to trade. Equally stubborn, China called herself the "Middle Kingdom" (i.e., the center of the world) and attempted to close her doors to the "uncivilized, meddling, barbarians." By the time of Shaw's arrival, China had been con-16quered by the Manchu from Manchuria, who ruled under the title "Ching" (brilliance) from 1644 to 1911. The Manchu adopted Chinese ways and appointed collaborators in government posts to maintain control over the population. After two and a half centuries, the Manchu had been absorbed into Chinese culture, except for the Manchu style of dress and the shaven head with the queue (pigtail), which were forced upon the Chinese as symbols of subjugation.

In 1757, the Manchu Emperor Chien Lung (1736-1796) restricted all foreign trade to one port, the City of Canton. Trading between the Chinese and Europeans was controlled and regulated by Chinese merchants known as Hong, authorized by the Imperial government. Unfair practices, import and export taxes, and the demand for silver in payment for goods created trade deficits among foreign nations doing business in China. To offset the deficits, these nations smuggled opium into China in large quantities. The British, whose merchants had control of the supply from India, dominated the trade. American merchants obtained their supply from Smyrna, Turkey. China's attempts to stop the smuggling resulted in war with Great Britain (1839-1842). The British easily defeated China and forced its government to open the ports of Canton, Shanghai, Ningpo, Amoy, and Foochow. In addition, the territory of Hong Kong was ceded to England for 100 years.

In the last quarter of the 18th century, glowing accounts published on the exploration and adventures in the South Seas, India, and Africa, not only 17fired the imagination and curiosity of the public but also aroused the evangelical impulse of Protestant leaders, who founded missionary boards and societies to recruit and send missionaries into the heathen world. While British and American merchants opened the doors to the treasures of "Cathay" (China), European and American missionaries envisioned opening the door to the Kingdom of God for China's three hundred million "heathens." This missionary enterprise was a part of the Christian revivalist movement known as the "Second Great Awakening."

At the beginning of the 19th century, this Protestant religious movement led to the founding of Dr. Morrison translating the Bible with Chinese converts, 1820.18the London Missionary Society (LMS), followed by the founding of the American Board of Commissions of Foreign Missions (ABCFM). In 1807, the LMS sent The Reverend Robert Morrison to China and, in 1830, the ABCFM sent The Reverend David Abeel and The Reverend Elijah Bridgman. Canton became the staging area for Protestant missionary activities. These religious activities, together with the long period of commerce with China, promoted knowledge of the West in China, and linked Canton to California. To the Westerner, the Chinese from Canton were known as "Cantonese." These were the Chinese who would set foot in California when gold was discovered.

Leaders of the evangelical movement quickly realized the strategic importance of California lay not only in the fact that it fronted the Pacific, but also in the unique missionary opportunity the presence of thousands of Chinese afforded if converted, these Cantonese people could return home to spread the gospel to the teeming millions in China who had never heard the revelation of God. Thus, the many churches in Chinatown today are the result of the efforts of the early Christian pioneers begun in Canton, Macau, and Hong Kong. In San Francisco, the first official evangelical effort took place in a public ceremony on August 28, 1850, when Mayor John Geary and The Reverend Albert Williams invited the Chinese residents to Portsmouth Square to receive religious tracts that were printed in Chinese and published in Canton.

But the fascination with which the West viewed China in the 18th century deteriorated to disre-19spect and disdain by the 19th century. Following its defeat in the Opium War with England, China under the Manchu rulers was on the verge of collapse. Unable to deal with the belligerent demands of Western powers, the government adopted a foreign policy of appeasement, granting concession after concession. Foreign exploitation, internal rebellion, and overpopulation accelerated the decline of China's economy and the deterioration of social conditions.

History of San Francisco Chinatown

In 1848, the first Chinese immigrants, two men and one woman, arrived in San Francisco on the American sailing vessel, Eagle. The long history of San Francisco’s Chinatown has been clouded with racism, hatred, and repression. From the Gold Rush through the 1870s, a large migration of mostly single male laborers came to San Francisco and the American West, as well as to Canada and Peru. With the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the nation's first racially restrictive immigration measure, the Chinese American population fell from 26,000 in 1881 to 11,000 in 1920. Between 1852 and 1882, many prodominantly male Chinese laborers and a few merchants and labor brokers came to San Francisco. Floods in China propelled a virtual diaspora of Cantonese-dialect-speaking people all around the Pacific Basin. It has been estimated that 2.5 million people emigrated from China between 1840 and 1900. Of 153 pieces of property in Chinatown in 1873, only 10 were Chinese owned. All the rest were leased from Anglo-Americans, Franco-Americans, Italian Americans, and German Americans. In 1882, Chinatown's habitually suspicious key associations formed an umbrella association, uniting the most important of the district associations in what became known as the Chinese Six Companies, officially called the Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Association. The association, incorporated in the State of California in 1901, became the cockpit of personal and group political, economic, and social contention. In 1904, of 316 parcels, Chinese-Americans owned only 25. As Chinese immigration dwindled, and as individual assimilation took place, parochial clan and regional attachments weakened. While the Chinese were, practically speaking, segregated within Chinatown until the late 1940s, some assimilation nonetheless took place. In 1943, during World War II when the United States allied with China against Japan, the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by Congress, but a small quota of 105 Chinese a year kept migration minimal. The post-World War II era saw the economic and social advance of Chinese Americans. The nullification of California's antimiscegnation law in 1948, and the striking down of racially restrictive covenants in the sale of California real estate in the same year, emancipated Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans. When the Nationalist government retreated to Taiwan in 1949, an influx of Mandarin-speaking professionals and wealthy merchants fled Red China to San Francisco. In 1965, the Civil Rights Act was passed and the United States began to break through the psychological and legal barriers of its historic racial antipathies and to put a positive spin on the reality of its multiracial society. In the same year, immigration quotas were reconfigured to reflect a multiracial reality and to permit more Asian immigration. From 105 a year, quotas for Chinese grew to 20,000 per year by 1970. By that time, 56 percent of Chinese Americans were in white-collar occupations. Since the late 1970s, more and more Chinese from Vietnam, along with other Southeast Asian peoples, have arrived in San Francisco. By 1970, 52 percent of all San Franciscans of Chinese ancestry were foreign born. The new immigration laws favor migrants with skills and/or large amounts of money. Ramshackle old Chinatown was completely wiped out by the fire of 1906. When the district was rebuilt by non-Chinese absentee landowners, between 1906 and about 1929, a newer, cleaner if still extraordinarily dense, early-20th-century city of remarkable consistency emerged. Those new buildings conformed to better municipal building laws that required brick or concrete construction in the "congested district." The resulting Edwardian buildings are the stuff of today's Chinatown. In the early 1970s new Chinese-style Chinese-American architects contributed designs. Today, Chinatown is one of the densest neighborhoods in the nation with some 160 people per acre: second only to New York City's Chinatown. Seventy-five percent of its residents are foreign-born the comparable citywide proportion is 28 percent. The median household income there is about $10,000, one-third the median income of the city as a whole.

The Bard of the Bay and The Grant Confucius

In an illuminating January 30, 1942 column devoted entirely to Chinatown, Caen sketched his observations on the current pulse of the district from a culinary and social lens:

“Pork is such a staple that, just for instance, Kwon Wo barbecues two big pigs daily in a subterranean pit behind his little shop — and never has any left over, either …. A particular favorite is Chinese gruel (known as “jook”) as whipped up by Sam Wo in his spot on a Chinatown side street Sam’s is the only jook joint in town, and he sells almost a thousand bowls of the stuff nightly in his tall, narrow three-story layout … At 12 Beckett place (home of the infamous cribs during the Barbarous Coast days) you’ll find an ingenious American-made machine which makes Chinese fortune cookies. That is, it turns out the cookies, and a patient Chinese inserts the slip of paper containing the fortune before the dough hardens. …The American-born Chinese are still bewildered by the traditions of their elders, the Chinese from the old country are shocked by the antics of the young generation…”

This was a Chinatown being refashioned by the tension between the elder, risk-averse immigrants and the assured, venturesome American-born. Caen wrote of how Kan had to deal with “Chinatown elders [who] muttered about [him] catering to the white man, forgetting the traditions.” Contrasting sharply with the previous generation of wary, hardscrabble Chinese laborers, Kan was a multi-faceted cultural carom — articulate, polished, tall, charismatic, fluent in both English and Chinese, and community-oriented. He could deftly charm the American celebrities that would grace his establishments whilst nurturing bonds with Chinatown comrades from the Old Country. Kan epitomized the edgier, risk-taking generation of American-born upstarts.

Caen met Johnny Kan for the very first time circa 1938 at The Blue Willow Tea Room, where Kan was working as a host. Caen vividly described his first impression of Kan thusly:

A handsome young man, he cut a striking figure in long, silken robes topped by a ceremonial headdress. In educated and urbane English, he would welcome Caucasians with a deep bow, pouring out Confucianisms. And as they passed, starry-eyed, into the pretty tea room, he would chuckle to a friend “White devils velly surplised hear young Chinese boy speak so good English, eh what?”

Later in 1963, when sociologists Victor and Brett de Bary Nee interviewed an older Kan, he was described as unconventionally raffish and debonair compared to his working-class Chinatown peers:

“We are surprised at how tall he is when he walks into the room. In a dark formal suit, Johnny seats us and orders drinks for everyone. Although we know he is fifty-seven years old, in dress, manner, and speech he is completely different from the old men with who we have spent the last few weeks learning about the history of Chinatown.”

Caen and Kan would remain close friends up until Kan’s death in 1972. Over the decades, Caen acted as a real-time biographer of Kan’s. His comings-and-goings, food preferences, (Kan reportedly had a great love for Spanish food) professional achievements, personal networks and political affiliations can be glimpsed through the pages of Caen’s lively column. “Kantonese Kooker”, “the Ruby Foo of Chinatown”, “king of the Grant Ave rice fryers”, the “chow mein chopper” and “Chinatown’s goodwill ambassador” were but some of Caen’s many tongue-in-cheek monikers for the restaurateur. Despite Kan’s autodidactic mastery of Cantonese cookery and savvy promotion of his recipes’ provenance claims, Caen reported that Kan’s maiden voyage to Asia remarkably did not happen until 1958. By then age 52, Kan already had two successful restaurants under his belt.

History of San Francisco’s Chinatown - HISTORY

--courtesy Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights, from an immigrant history walking tour conducted Sept. 20, 1997.

Silent footage of Chinatown, including a few seconds of telephone operators working the old exchange, c. 1920s.

The Bank of Canton at 743 Washington Street was once the original Telephone Exchange in Chinatown in 1887. It was originally the site of the first newspaper in the city, Samual Brannan's California Star.

743 Washington Street

Exterior of the Chinatown Telephone Exchange, c. 1940s.

Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

Chinatown began its own telephone service in 1887. The new Chinese Telephone Exchange opened in the fall of 1901. At the time the manager Mr. Loo Kum Shu employed only male operators. Women became the chief operators in 1906. An article in the San Francisco Examiner claims that women were preferred over men because of their good tempers The owners wanted to switch to female operators in 1901 but found that they came too high as they would have to be guarded by a platoon of armed men and official chaperon to look after the proprieties. Both male and female operators had to remember nearly 1500 names along with the owners place of residence. They had to know all of the languages spoken in Chinatown as well as all of the different dialects. These operators knew all of the 4-5,000 residents of Chinatown. They knew all of the extensions for the businesses and residences in the area. They handled more than thirteen thousand calls a day. The phone system was also a method for contracting labor. Employers called with job offers and the operators would know to whom to put them through.

In 1943, the thirty workers at the Exchange joined the Telephone Traffic Employees Organization (TTEO) Local 120. They fought their seven day a week work schedule, including filing complaints with the War Labor Board, winning back pay of $5,000 as well as overtime pay.

The phone company remained functional until the advent of dial phones in 1940's.

In the 1840s this site was the location of Sam Brannan's California Star, the first newspaper in San Francisco. In January 1847, the newspaper published the official change of name from Yerba Buena to San Francisco.

Race Riot in the City by the Bay

Starting in 1873, the United States suffered the “Long Depression,” which was originally called ‘The Great Depression’ until the 1930s when another economic depression usurped the title. Unemployment levels were staggering across the nation and this was long before the U.S. had established any government protections for the unemployed. The Long Depression carried on throughout the 1870s, the period in which Warrioris set. In Episode 17 “If You Wait by the River Long Enough…” the Panic of ’73 is mentioned. That panic was the historic catalyst for the Long Depression.

San Francisco was hit hard. Unemployment was up to 20% and the Bank of California had failed. On July 23, 1877, a labor strike led by the Workingmen’s Party rallied in a vacant lot – nicknamed a ‘sand-lot’ – near the newly established City Hall of San Francisco. The Workingmen’s Party was founded in 1877 and is often confused with the Workingmen’s Party of the United States (WPUS) which was founded around the same time. The WUPS changed its name soon after to the Socialist Labor Party and it is the oldest socialist political party in the United States.

The Socialist Labor Party still active and is currently headquartered in Mountain View, California, about 30 miles south of San Francisco. The San Francisco Workingmen’s Party, more formally known as the Workingmen’s Party of California eventually rose to enough power to rewrite the state’s constitution. The sand-lot meeting was just the beginning.

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Some 8000 people showed up to that fateful sand-lot gathering strike. Initially, blaming the Chinese was not part of the platform. But then an anti-coolie procession pushed their way in, demanding to be heard. The crowd on the outskirts of the gathering turned on a Chinese passing by, attacking him, and shouting the rallying cry “On to Chinatown!” That launched the San Francisco Riot of 1877.

The mob destroyed property, mostly Chinese laundries. That old stereotype of Chinese laundries was based in fact. Laundry work was difficult prior to industrial washing machines and considered unmanly, but the Chinese were willing to do it. In 1880, San Francisco had some 200 Chinese laundries. The laundries were obvious targets, along with any challengers or bystanders that crossed the mob’s path.

The next morning, the rioting grew. One of the mob organizers placed an ad in the local newspaper that said “RALLY! RALLY! Great anti-coolie Mass Meeting at the New City Hall, Market street, at 8 o’clock p.m.” On July 24, the Beale Street Wharf was set aflame. From 1872 to 1907, the Beale Street Wharf was the city’s largest coal dock, and arsonists stoked the fire with 100 barrels of whale oil. However, it was a diversion to draw the city’s emergency resources away from downtown and Chinatown, where the riots would continue. That fire caused some $500,000 worth of damage and lost goods.

When the mob marched on Chinatown, the Chinese houses in their path had been listed and were complete sacked. Wooden sidewalks were torn up to be used as battering rams. Homes were robbed. Laundries were burned. People were shot. The rampage lasted for two days until it was finally quelled by the combined forces of the SFPD, the California militia, and a thousand members of the Pick-Axe Brigade, a citizen vigilance committee that armed themselves with hickory pick-axe handles. Special 24-hour badges were issue by the SFPD to civilians willing to help. And the police were eager to break out their newly issued police batons, which according to the San Francisco Bulletin were “more effective than any other instrument in the business of skull-cracking.”

History of San Francisco’s Chinatown - HISTORY

By Commissioner Jesse B. Cook
Former Chief of Police

Chinese at that time were coming in from the Orient at about 1,400 on every steamer. True it is, they had been coming in since 1848, but relatively few at a time. Therefore, there was quite a number of the pioneer Chinese here in the days of the old “gold fever.” These Chinese had come on the old Pacific Mail steamers. The customs house officers would search each Chinaman as well as his baggage, and then chalk-mark him with a cross. After a sufficient number had been marked to fill up a good-sized express wagon, it was the custom to throw all the baggage onto the wagon and place each Chinaman on top of his belongings. It was a common sight to see these express wagons going west on Brannan (the old Pacific Mail docks were located on First and Brannan Streets) to Third Street, along Third Street to Market Street, crossing Market Street to Kearny, and along Kearny to Sacramento Street where they would be discharged to go to the different “companies” to which they belonged. Although all of these Chinese were from the province of Canton, they spoke different languages and dialects.

In way of explanation, there were for instance Hock Kah men they were all barbers. Then again, there were See Yup men they were all laboring men. The Sam Yups were all business men and they invariably controlled the business of Canton as well as the business in San Francisco’s Chinatown. A See Yup man was not allowed to enter into competition with a Sam Yup. It was impossible for the See Yup men to get any goods at all from Canton as the merchants in Canton, China, would sell only to their own people, the Sam Yups.

There were, of course, other provinces represented by the Chinese Six Companies. The Six Companies looked after the Chinese coming from their respective provinces in China. When sick, the Chinese were cared for by and through the Six Companies. This care lasted up to the time of death, when the Chinese Six Companies saw to it that proper burial was given. In due course, the bones of the Chinese were taken up and shipped back to their homes in China. This is a custom that has endured over the past centuries. The Chinese have a peculiar superstition that if they are not buried in China, it will be very unfortunate for the members of their families and for their descendants.

We now come to the starting of the so-called “tongs,” commonly known as the “hi-binders.” The first tong was the Chee Kung Tong. Every man coming from China became a member of this tong. It was never known to have been in any trouble, for the Six Companies looked after the Chinese and saw that they were properly cared for.

In the early days, a Chinaman known as “Little Pete,” whose Chinese name was Fong Jing Tong, was interested in quite a number of slave dens, gambling places and lottery houses. The hoodlum element of Chinatown would make raids on these places and demand tribute money, or blackmail. It became so bad that Little Pete conceived the idea of forming tongs to protect his interests. The first tongs he started were the Bo Sin Sere and the Guy Sin Sere, and they guaranteed him absolute protection.

About this time there was another Chinaman, Chin Ten Sing, known as “Big Jim,” who also had large interests in a great many gambling, lottery and slave houses. He saw the protection that Little Pete was getting, and as he had to turn to his own houses for protection, decided to start some tongs also Among them were the Suey Singsa, the Hop Sings and a number of others.

This proved very successful until the tongs started fighting among themselves over slave girls and gambling games. These wars sometimes lasted for several months.

At one time, I stood at the corner of Grant Avenue (then called Dupont Street) and Clay street with Patrolman Matheson (now Captain Matheson, City Treasurer), and Ed Gibson, then a detective sergeant, talking about two tongs that were holding a meeting to settle their troubles. These tongs began fighting among themselves, and inside of a half-hour there were seven Chinamen lying on the streets wounded one on Waverly Place, one on Clay Street, Two in Spofford Alley, two in Ross Alley, and one on Jackson Street. The one in Waverly Place was shot, the bullet cutting the artery in his arm. Captain Matheson and myself took this Chinaman out of the shop where he fell, and stopped the flow of blood by means of a tourniquet. The physician later told us that if this had not been done the Chinaman would have died.

In regard to the gambling games in Chinatown—my first trip to Chinatown was in 1889 as a patrolman in a squad. At that time there were about 62 lottery agents, 50 fan tan games and eight lottery drawings in Chinatown. In the 50 fan tan gambling houses the tables numbered from one to 24, according to the size of the room.

The game was played around a table about 10 feet long, 4 feet high and 4 feet wide. On this table was a mat covering the whole top. In the center of the mat was a diagram of a 12-inch square, each corner being numbered in Chinese characters, 1, 2, 3 and 4.

At the head of the table sat a lookout or gamekeeper. At the side was the dealer. This man had a Chinese bowl and a long bamboo stick with a curve at the end, like a hook. In front of him, fastened to the table, was a bag containing black and white buttons. He would scoop down into the sack with his bowl and raise it, turning it upside down on the table. The betting would then start.

After the bets were made, the dealer would raise the bowl and start to draw down the buttons, drawing four buttons at a time. The Chinese would make their bets at the drawing down of the buttons. The dealer would draw down until one, two, three or even four buttons would be left. Sometimes the Chinese would bet that the last four buttons would be all white, all black or that there would be a mixture of black and white buttons.

The construction of the gambling rooms was very interesting. There was a large door 2 inches thick, of heavy oak, seasoned and studded with bolts. The door jamb and the outer front were the same, but on the back of the door was a large bar on a swivel with two cleats on each side. When the door was slammed, the Chinese could turn the swivel and lock the door in order to keep the police from entering. Of course, because of the bolts studded on the door, it could not very well be chopped down.

Alongside the door was a little room with a window, where the lookout sat. He held the strings controlling the door, and was there to watch everyone that entered. On entering, you would pass through a hallway about 10 feet long, then through another door, either right or left, into a hall of about the same length, which would lead into the game. Three doors generally had to be passed through before reaching the game. The halls were always arranged so that if the police got through the first door, they had to pass through a second door, which, of course, would be locked. By the time they finally got to the game room, all evidence would be removed.

The lottery drawings: The Chinese have a very large room, with the doors constructed the same as in the case of a fan tan game room. The far end of the room is partitioned off with wire screens to the full width and about 8 feet deep. In back of the screen are two shelves, one of which acts as a counter for four Chinamen. Each Chinaman has a separate window in the screen. On the other shelf are placed Chinese ink pots and brushes, for the purpose of marking Chinese lottery tickets. Every Chinese lottery ticket has 80 characters on it 40 above the line and 40 below. Each company stamps their own name at the head of the ticket. These tickets are really a Chinese poem, written by a Chinaman while in prison, and later adopted as a Chinese lottery ticket. There is not a thing on these tickets to designate their real use, although they are never used for any other purpose.

The agents around town had their offices in back of stores where they sell the tickets. Just before the drawing takes place, they present a triplicate copy of each ticket sold to the Chinaman at the window. The duplicate ticket is given to the purchaser, while the original is retained by the agent.

The clerk back of the window then figures up the amount that the agent should turn in to cover the tickets sold. If they agree, the clerk accepts the tickets. No receipts are given. The actual taking and accepting of the tickets by the clerk is considered an acknowledgment, as his name appears on all the tickets.

As soon as all the money and tickets are in, the tickets are closed and the lottery is held. In a little package, about 2 inches square, are 80 slips of paper. On each of these slips is a character corresponding to one of the characters on the lottery ticket. The Chinaman sets in front of him a large pan, like the old-time milk pans we used to set for milk to raise cream, and four bowls, each bearing a Chinese number—either 1, 2, 3 or 4. The small slips of paper are folded into little pellets, thrown into the pan and shaken up. The drawing then begins. The first pellet drawn is put into bowl No. 1, the next into bowl No. 2, and so on, until there are twenty pellets in each bowl.

The Chinaman then takes another small package, containing four little square pieces of paper. On each of these pieces is a figure in Chinese corresponding with the figures on the bowls. The same procedure is then followed as with the pellets. The slip picked from the pan is handed to the clerk, who in turn hands it to a man standing on the shelf in back of him. It is opened, in the presence of everybody gathered there. Of course, the bowl bearing the same number is considered the winning bowl, the other three are placed under the counter.

The pellets are then taken from the winning bowl and are pasted on a board in full view. These are winning characters. The Chinese mark the tickets by daubing the characters that agree with the ones on the board, with a brush. After this has been done, they present their tickets, and come back at the proper time to get their reward that is, whatever they won.

In 1895, the lotteries and games were controlled by Chin Buck Guy, Chin Kim You, Wong You, Wong Fook, Jim Wong, Mah Lin Get, Chin Chung, Qwong Bin, who were sometimes called the “Big Eight.”

The lottery companies at that time were the Tie Loy, Foo Quoy, Foo Quoy Chung, Fay Kay, Shang High, Fook Tie, Quong Tie, New York and Wing Lay Yuene.

Some years later, around 1905, the Chinese population of Chinatown had increased to 40,000, the district covering from Sacramento to Pacific Avenue, and from Kearny to Stockton Streets.

The Chinese at that time were a peculiar class of people. They did not believe in allowing their daughters to attend school. They thought it was unnecessary for a girl to have an education, as she was meant for a wife to bear children for her husband, and was, therefore, worth a certain price to any Chinaman who wanted to marry her. The Chinese girl had to obey her parents and marry the man picked for her, whether she liked him or not.

The boys were sent to school that is, to the Chinese school they were not allowed to go to the European school. At that time there was one public school of about four rooms, on Clay Street, between Stockton and Powell Streets, those in attendance being mostly Japanese and other races. The Chinese boys went to their own school, from 8 o’clock in the morning until 10:30 at night, with time off for lunch and dinner. In Chinese, each character represents a word, and the only way they had of studying was to memorize these characters, which were placed on a blackboard or hung upon the wall. These were repeated over and over continually all day long until thoroughly imbedded in the minds of the boys. The teachers generally carried a long rattan and were very strict. If a boy made a mistake in reading from a chart, the teacher would hit him over the head with the rattan.

In other words, the characters were beaten into the boy’s head if he could not learn them in any other way.

People, generally, have the idea that Chinese are natural gamblers. This is not true. The old-time Chinese visited gambling houses so much because there were so few places of entertainment. In the first place, very few of them were married men. They could not speak English and, therefore, could not enjoy American dramas, dances or games. The only things left for them to do were either to visit houses of prostitution, gambling houses, lottery houses or the Chinese Theatre. Today, of course, this is all changed. In 1911, when China became a republic, orders were issued by the Chinese government that the Chinese were to adopt the customs of the country in which they were living, attend the schools and cut off their queues, or “bings,” as the Chinese knew them.

The Chinese young men immediately took advantage of this order, and started cutting off their queues. If they found anyone who refused to do so, they would gather together, throw the man or boy down, cut off his queue and tie it around his neck.

Immediately, there was a run on the schools, with the result that a large Oriental school had to be built in that neighborhood. Today, the Chinese boys are graduating from American high schools and universities. They have taken up law, medicine, dentistry and, being wonderful students, have become proficient in many lines. Gambling in Chinatown is now a thing of the past, for these boys and girls go to American shows, dances, baseball games or any other games played by the Americans. This shows that the Chinese are not naturally born gamblers. In old Chinatown there were scarcely 400 Chinamen who could speak good English, and very few women who could talk it at all. Today, it would be almost impossible to find a boy or girl in Chinatown who could not speak as good English as a white boy or girl.

The opium den was another thing that the Chinese resorted to because they had no other place to go. At that time nearly every store in Chinatown had an opium layout in the rear for their customers. All the Chinaman had to do was bring his opium. In those days the Chinese were allowed to smoke opium, provided they did not do so in the presence of a white man. If a white man was present it meant the arrest of all who were in the room at the time.

In the old days, at the corner of Washington Street and Spofford Alley, in a room right off the street, anyone could see Chinamen mixing old opium with new. That is, after opium is smoked the ashes drop down into the pipe in the bowl. This is scraped out with certain instruments and saved. It is then known as “Yen Shee,” and is later mixed with new opium. I have seen as many as 100 Chinamen smoking opium in a den in Chinatown. The opium smoke was sometimes so thick in those dens that the gas jets looked like small matches burning.

Opium has peculiar, sweet smell, not at all distasteful, and many times when coming home from Chinatown after going through dens, people in the cars sitting near me, would be sniffing, smelling the opium in my clothes and wondering what it was. When I got home it would be necessary to undress in an outer room and air my clothes to get the opium fumes out of them.

The Chinese had their own names for the alleys in Chinatown. The main streets, outside of Sacramento Street, were always known to the Chinese by their English names, the other streets, however, were all known by Chinese names. If you asked a Chinaman where an alley was and gave the American name, he would be unable to tell you, for he would not know. But if you gave him the Chinese name, he would know immediately. For instance, Sacramento Street was known as China Street—in Chinese as Tong Yen Guy. Ross Alley was originally settled by the Spanish, but when the Chinese came they crowded the Spaniards out. This alley was, therefore, given the name of Gow Louie Sun Hong, or old Spanish Alley. Spofford Alley was another alley from which the Spaniards were crowded out this was called Sun Louie Sun Hong, or new Spanish Alley. Alongside the old First Baptist Church, on Washington below Stockton, was an alley, at the end of which was a stable for horses. The Chinese named this Mah Fong Hong, “stable alley.” A small alley off of Ross Alley was known as On New Hong, in other words, “urinating alley,” as the Chinese made it a regular urinating place.

Duncan [Duncombe] Alley is off Jackson Street, below Stockton, and is known as Fay Chie Hong, or “Fat Boy Alley.” This was named after a young boy living on the street who, at fifteen years, weighed about 240 pounds. A little way below, on the opposite side of the street, was St. Louis Alley. In the early days of Chinatown there was a large fire in the alley which burned up quite a number of houses. The Chinese, therefore, called it “fire alley,” or “Fo Sue Hong.”

Opposite Fire Alley was Sullivan Alley, running halfway through from Jackson to Pacific Street. As there was a restaurant in this alley, the Chinese called it “Cum Cook Yen,” the same name as the restaurant. Another alley was named “Min Pow Hong,” or bread alley, because there was a bakery on it. Brenham Place, running from Washington Street to Clay Street, back of the square, was called “Fah Yeun Guy,” or flower street, because of the park. Bartlett Alley, running from Jackson to Pacific Street, just below Grant Avenue, or Dupont Street, was called “Buck Wa John Guy,” or the grocery man who speaks Chinese. Opposite this was Washington Alley, known to the whites as “Fish Alley.” The Chinese, however, called it “Tuck Wo Guy,” after a store on it.

Waverly Place, originally known as Pike Street, ran from Washington Street to Sacramento Street, above Dupont, and was called “Ten How Mue Guy,” after a Chinese Temple in that street.

The State of California was at one time called “Gow Kum Shain,” or Old Gold Mill. Sacramento was known as the “second city,” or Yee Fow, and San Francisco had the Chinese name of Tie Fow, or “the big city.” America, that is the United States of America, was known as May Yee Kwock, or Ah May Yee Kah, also Fah Kay Kwock, meaning the flower flag country. Americans were known as Fah Kay Yen, or flower flag men.

Mongolians, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Siamese and men from Pekin, China, all used the same characters. The Japanese, however, adopted a lot of characters of their own that were not known to the other races. If a Chinese wanted to talk to a Japanese, Korean or Mongolian, all he had to do was write him using the characters, as they have the same meaning although pronounced differently.

Perhaps it will surprise you to know that there is no such thing as the underground in Chinatown. True, you could go from one cellar to another, but that is all. In order to deceive the people, the Chinese guides would take them in on Grant Avenue, between California and Sacramento Streets, going down into a cellar. From this they would go downstairs into the next cellar, and so on, sometimes going into six or seven. These basements, however, were all connected with the stores on Sacramento Street. Should you go from any one of these basements toward Sacramento Street, you would, of course, come to the cellar of some Sacramento Street store, and all you had to do was to go up one flight of stairs to Sacramento Street. The guides naturally would not allow anyone to do this. They would bring the people back the same way that they came and tell them that they had been down six or seven stories. The people of course believed them, but at no time were they ever over one story below the street.

The Chinese Theatre was also a good place to take tourists. The guides would take them in the entrance on Washington Street and from there down into the basement. This basement led down into another cellar where the guides would tell the people that they were now two stories under the ground. At this time they would show them the Chinese actors’ dressing rooms and sleeping quarters. Had the door at the end of the room been opened, the stage of the theatre would have been seen. The people had been told they were two stories under ground, however, and they believed it.

The nearest thing to an underground passage that I ever saw was in 1905 when with Captain Matheson, then a patrolman, I went through a passageway leading from Spofford alley into the basement of Old Tie Loy Lottery Company on Waverly place. There were fourteen doors in this passageway, each door leading into a room so constructed that it appeared as though you were going down into the bowels of the earth. In reality you were only going down into the basement on Waverly place.

During my first term in Chinatown in 1889, the Chinese did not use revolvers in their tong wars, believing they made too much noise. A lather’s hatchet sharpened to a razor edge was their chief weapon. With this they could chop a man all to pieces and generally, when they did leave him, would drive the hatchet into his skull and leave it there. The men using these weapons were known as Poo Tow Choy, or little hatchet men.

One night at the corner of Jackson and Washington Streets, two Chinamen with hatchets chopped another all to pieces. This happened about six feet behind a Chinaman who was selling peanuts on the corner. Although this man was questioned, he insisted that he did not Know anything had happened nor that anyone had been killed, in spite of the fact that the back of his clothes was all spattered with blood. The murderers were later captured, sent to the penitentiary for life but about ten years after were deported to China.

In ending—there is nothing in the world that will make a Chinaman “madder” than for anyone to say to him “Sock Nika Tow,” which translated means “Chop your head off.” San Francisco Police and Peace Officers’ Journal
June 1931

See the San Francisco History Index for more about the Chinese in San Francisco.

Chinatown’s Grant Avenue: A look back at one of San Francisco’s oldest streets

Much ink has been spilled on the history of Chinatown and Grant Avenue, billed as San Francisco’s oldest street, which runs north to south starting at Market Street and ending at Francisco Street in North Beach. While surveying the entirety of Grant is an epic undertaking, a closer look at a few notable spots along Chinatown’s busiest thoroughfare offers a glimpse into this popular yet overlooked neighborhood.

"San Francisco's oldest street" is a major claim. Back in the early 19th century, the city was established as Yerba Buena by William Richardson, the town's first land grantee. He established a trading post settlement in 1835 with today’s Portsmouth Square as the plaza and the first street drawn as Calle de la Fundación (“street of the founding”).

Richardson built his family a hodgepodge tent-shack on the hillside along Grant Avenue between Clay and Washington streets, establishing the first residence in what would later become San Francisco.

William Richardson’s 1835 map of Yerba Buena with Calle de la Fundacion as the only street Image via UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

In 1839 a survey of Yerba Buena was drawn by Jean Vioget, a surveyor and sea captain, including the current layout of Grant Avenue. While credited as the first surveyor of Yerba Buena, he didn’t name any of the streets.

Jasper O’Farrell’s 1847 survey map with added street names. Image via UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

When Commander John Montgomery of the USS Portsmouth took possession of Yerba Buena in 1846, his administration hired Jasper O’Farrell, first surveyor for San Francisco and mind behind Market Street, to enlarge the Vioget survey that serves as the early iteration of the downtown area.

O’Farrell, he of the eponymous street in the Tenderloin, named all the streets in his survey, and Calle de la Fundación was renamed Dupont Street in honor of the USS Portsmouth’s admiral.

1839 Jean Voiget plan of Yerba Buena. Image via UC Berkeley, Bancroft

By the late 1800s, the street had become home to Chinese immigrants who were escaping persecution or following the Gold Rush. “Du Pon Gai,” as many Chinese called it, already had a reputation for opium dens, sing-song girls (an English term for the courtesans in 19th-century China), the Tong wars, and criminal organizations.

The street was also flamed by a prejudice that plagued the residents from the earliest days of the city. In an attempt to upgrade the area, downtown merchants renamed a portion the street after President Ulysses S. Grant.

Dupont north from corner of Clay, circa 1880. Photo via San Francisco History Center/SF Public Library

"Dead Wall Bulletin Board" for Tong grievances on Dupont Street at Washington, circa 1889. Photo via San Francisco History Center/SF Public Library

While the area proved to be one of the most thriving in the city, everything changed after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Chinatown was leveled, and reconstruction efforts facilitated a new facade for the historically Chinese neighborhood.

Grant Avenue before the 1906 earthquake and fire. Photo via San Francisco History Center/SF Public Library

California Street between Stockton and Dupont, 1906, post-quake. Photo via California Historical Society

While the previous buildings looked contiguous with the rest of the city, despite their Chinese tenants, the newly constructed Chinatown featured designs reminiscent of China.

One of the first buildings to incorporate this new aesthetic was the Sing Fat Company building at the southwest corner of California and Grant. Built by (non-Chinese) architects Ross and Burgren, the pagoda-roofed building was billed as an “Oriental Bazaar” with additional branches in Los Angeles and New York.

Postcard of Sing Fat Company building, circa 1910. Photo via Palos Verdes Library District, Local History Collection

The building is still standing today with retail shops, but has lost much of its original ornamentation.

Across the street from Sing Fat Company, at the northwest corner, the Sing Chong building (also designed by Ross and Burgren) opened at the same time as another bazaar. It was later converted to the Cathay House Restaurant in 1942.

The Sing Chong building illuminated during the Portola Festival, 1909. Photo via San Francisco History Center/SF Public Library

The Sing Chong building illuminated during the Portola Festival, 1909. Photo via San Francisco History Center/SF Public Library

The Sing Chong building, 1910. Photo via California Historical Society.

Inspired by its standout look, many other buildings on the street started featuring similar architectural treatments. For instance, the Bank of America building at 701 Grant, originally the Nanking Fook Wo Inc., featured traditional dragon motifs.

Chinatown branch of Bank of America at 701 Grant, 1964. Photo via San Francisco History Center/SF Public Library

The ubiquitous red lantern street lamps that line Grant Avenue, a popular attraction today for tourists and local photographers, were installed for the 1939 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

Street lamps installed for World’s Fair, 1938.

Photo via San Francisco History Center/SF Public Library

Local lore has it that chop suey, the popular American-Chinese dish, originated in Gold Rush-era San Francisco when hungry miners barged into an area Chinese restaurant, which was just about to close, demanding food.

The chef scraped leftovers off other plates, slapped some sauce on it, and served it to them as chop suey (a mixed-up version of Cantonese for “odds and ends”). Regardless of its origins, chop suey was a mainstay in mid-20th-century Chinatown.

Grant between Pacific and Broadway, 1944. Photo via San Francisco History Center/SF Public Library

The Shanghai Low sign at 532 Grant once shone bright on the building built in 1908. Though the sign technically still exists, the “Chop Suey” signage has been replaced with “Lotus Garden,” the original marquee was replaced by generic vinyl awnings along the street, and all the cornice ornamentation has been removed.

Chinatown in the 1940s. Photo via the California State Library

Photo via California State Library

The 1913 Western States Importing Company at 400 Grant looks very much the same today as it did in 1951, though its setting has changed with the addition of the Chinatown entrance gates at Grant and Bush.

Shanghai Low building at 532 Grant, 1976. Photo by San Francisco Planning Department

Corner of Grant Avenue and Bush Street, 1951. Photo via San Francisco History Center/SF Public Library

One of the most iconic (and photographed) spots on Grant Avenue is the Dragon Gate entrance at Bush Street. Dedicated in 1970, the gate features Chinese gateway standards using stone throughout.

With a design by Chinese-American architect Clayton Lee, who based it on Chinese ceremonial gates, it features motifs of fish and dragons with two lion statues on each side. Lee’s design won a contest in the late 1960s and includes a wooden plaque with a quote from Dr. Sun Yat-sen, which hangs from the main archway bearing gilded words that read, “All under heaven is for the good for the people.”


The Chinese arriving in San Francisco, primarily from the Taishan and Zhongshan regions as well as Guangdong province of mainland China, did so at the height of the California Gold Rush, and many worked in the mines scattered throughout the northern part of the state. [3] Chinatown was the one geographical region deeded by the city government and private property owners which allowed Chinese people to inherit and inhabit dwellings. The majority of these Chinese shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and hired workers in San Francisco Chinatown were predominantly Hoisanese and male [ citation needed ] . Many Chinese found jobs working for large companies, most famously as part of the Central Pacific [4] on the Transcontinental Railroad. Other early immigrants worked as mine workers or independent prospectors hoping to strike it rich during the California Gold Rush.

Although many of the earlier waves of Chinese immigration were predominantly men searching for jobs, Chinese women also began making the journey towards the United States. The first known Chinese woman to immigrate was Marie Seise who arrived in 1848 and worked in the household of Charles V. Gillespie. [5] Within a matter of months of Seise's arrival to the West Coast, the rush for gold in California commenced which brought a flooding of prospective miners from around the globe. Among this group were Chinese, primarily from the Guangdong Province, most of whom were seafarers who had already established Western contacts. “Few women accompanied these early sojourners, many of whom expected to return from after they made their fortune.” [6]

Although the oceanic voyage to the United States offered new and exciting opportunities, dangers also loomed for women while traveling and many were discouraged from making the trip due to the harsh living conditions. Oceanic voyages with Chinese immigrants boarded the Pacific Mail Steamship Company and Canadian Pacific Steamship Company. Chinese immigrants would have to ride in the steerage where food was stored. Many were given rice bowls to eat during the voyage. In 1892, a federal law passed to ensure immigrants who were on board, needed a certificate. Due to tight arrangements, unhygienic situations and scarcity in food, this led to health degradation. [7] Many immigrants were unable to board these voyages due to the Geary Act of 1892 which blocked the reunion of immigrants in America with their families not with them. [8] Many diseases found through these voyages were Hookworm Yersinia pestis which contributed greatly to the Bubonic Plague. [9]

“During the Gold Rush era, when Chinese men were a common sight in California, Chinese women were an oddity” and in urban spaces were rarely seen in public. Unlike the rural areas, Chinatown afforded few opportunities for women to come into contact with the larger society.” [6] Simultaneously, Chinese women also participated in urban sex work, which resulted in local laws like one passed in April 1854 that sought to shut down "houses of ill-fame," not racialized in name but practically deployed to "[single] out Mexican and Chinese houses of ill fame, starting with Charles Walden's Golden Rule House on Pacific Street and moving on to establishments run by Ah-Choo, C. Lossen, and Ah Yow." [10]

With national unemployment in the wake of the Panic of 1873, racial tensions in the city boiled over into full blown race riots. Like much of San Francisco during these times, a period of criminality ensued in some Chinese gangs known as tongs, which were onto smuggling, gambling and prostitution. In response to the violence, the Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Association or the Chinese Six Companies, which evolved out of the labor recruiting organizations for different areas of Guangdong province, was created as a means of providing a unified voice for the community. The heads of these companies were the leaders of the Chinese merchants, who represented the Chinese community in front of the business community as a whole and the city government. Numerous white citizens defended the Chinese community, among them Pastor Franklin Rhoda whose numerous letters appeared in the local press. By the early 1880s, the population had adopted the term Tong war to describe periods of violence in Chinatown, the San Francisco Police Department had established its so-called Chinatown Squad. The anti-immigrant sentiment became law as the United States Government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 – the first immigration restriction law aimed at a single ethnic group. This law, along with other immigration restriction laws such as the Geary Act, greatly reduced the number of Chinese people allowed into the country and the city, and in theory limited Chinese immigration to single men only. Exceptions were granted to the families of wealthy merchants, but the law was still effective enough to reduce the population of the neighborhood to an all-time low in the 1920s. The neighborhood was completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake that leveled most of the city. One of the more successful sergeants of Chinatown Squad, Jack Manion, was appointed in 1921 and served for two decades. From 1910 to 1940, Chinese immigrants were detained at the Angel Island immigration station in the San Francisco Bay. To be permitted entry to the United States, thousands of mostly Chinese immigrants crossing the Pacific to San Francisco had to enter through the gauntlet of Angel Island, and were detained for months in a purgatory of isolation. Some spent years on the island waiting for entry to the U.S. [11] [12] The exclusion act was repealed during World War II under the Magnuson Act, in recognition of the important role of China as an ally in the war, although tight quotas still applied. The Chinatown Squadwas finally disbanded in August 1955 by police chief George Healey, upon the request of the influential Chinese World newspaper, which had editorialized that the squad was an "affront to Americans of Chinese descent". [13]

Many working-class Hong Kong Chinese immigrants began arriving in Chinatown in large numbers in the 1960s, and despite their status and professions in Hong Kong, had to find low-paying employment in restaurants and garment factories in Chinatown because of limited English fluency. An increase in Cantonese-speaking immigrants from Hong Kong and Guangdong has gradually led to the replacement of the Taishanese (Hoisanese) dialect with the standard Cantonese dialect.

In the Sunset District in western San Francisco, a demographic shift began in the late 1960s and accelerated from the 1980s as Asian immigration to San Francisco increased dramatically. Much of the original, largely Irish American population of the Sunset moved to other neighborhoods and outlying suburban areas, although there is still a significant Irish American and Irish minority in the neighborhood. Informal Chinatowns have emerged on Irving Street between 19th Avenue and 26th Avenue as well as on the commercial sections of Taraval Street and Noriega Street west of 19th Avenue. About half of the Sunset District's residents are Asian American, mostly of Chinese birth and descent. The immigrants in the Sunset District were both Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking.

With the rise of the technology industry in Silicon Valley, many immigrants from Mainland China and Taiwan moved to the San Francisco Area. Many of them (particularly the Mandarin-speaking group) reside in the South Area cities of Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, San Jose, and Fremont. [2]

Watch the video: CHINATOWN IN SAN FRANCISCO. History california (May 2022).