Anti-Asian Agitation in San Francisco

Anti-AsianAgitation in San Francisco

Anti-AsianAgitation in San Francisco

In1850’s there was news of gold discovery in the state of Californiathat elicited a general excitement all over the world. The gold rushmajorly attracted the Chinese people whose nation was nearer to theshores of California than any other portion of the Eastern part ofUnited States. At the beginning of 1849, there were merely aroundfifty China men in the city of California but the gold rush periodtriggered a steady immigration trend amongst the Chinese until theyear 1876 during when their number had reached around 150000 inAmerica. Out of these 116000 of them were in the state of California.Another factor that might have partly contributed to this trend wasthe decline of Qing Dynasty in China. This fall forced many Chineseto migrate overseas in anticipation of greener pastures.Coincidentally, this is the same period that the wind ofindustrialization was sweeping across America. The Chinese are knownfor their passion to work, at any cost and condition.


TheChinese workers were considered reliable by the employers who workedexcessively and would rarely complain even under tough workingconditions. But in the 1860’s, California’s economy encounteredits low that brought with it unfavorable repercussions to the generallaborers within the state. Dwindling job opportunities during thisperiod provided a perfect fodder for hatred of the Chinese immigrantsby the natives more so those white natives who were in the lowerlayers of the economy. The Chinese were subjected to considerableprejudice and hostilities by these native laborers who used them as ascapegoat for the depressed wage levels. The situation was not madeany better by the politicians either. Cases of physical assaults andmurder of Chinamen were slowly taking effect (Appleby, 2013).

Inthe 1870s, there was a severe economic crisis that swept the UnitedStates of America. It was known as the “Long Depression.” Manymore natives were seeking to establish themselves in the golden stateof California. Many of them settled in the States what was, by then,considered the only metropolis, San Francisco. In the late 1870s, thedepression that had started in the eastern States made its grandentry in the western states lashing hard the economic status ofCalifornia. The employment rate within the state was getting haywirethat further fuelled the existing angst amongst the San Franciscopopulation. The discontent was also coming as a result of the laxityof authorities. There was neither state central labor authority norgovernment provision for unemployed workers.

Thesedevelopments culminated in a meeting being requested for on theevening of July 23rd, 1877 by the irate Workingmen’s Party of theUnited States to agitate on behalf of the labor movements and thepeople in general. The city authorities permitted the meeting thatwas to be held in the parking lots near the city hall. In thebackdrop of the planned meeting, the days preceding it were made moretensed by the rumors that a section of the city residents wereplanning to attack and destroy the properties of the Chineseimmigrants. Suspiciously, amongst those companies, which were rumoredto be in the attackers list was the Pacific Mail Steamship Company,which was the chief transportation company that was transportingimmigrant workers from Chinese to the United States. Also, theChinese quarters were in their rudder.

Despitethese rumors, the city authorities and the political leaders did notattempt to investigate and forestall such plans.


Onthe day of the meeting, about eight thousand people turned up at thevenue in front of the city hall that a lot of optimism that themeeting will address unemployment in the state and the issue of theChinese immigrants. Several representatives of the Workingmen’sparty addressed the mass on labor misfortunes treading carefully toavoid mentioning or even blaming the city’s Chinese population. Themeeting was regarded as an anti-climax and a section of themdiscontent people chanting the ant-coolie slogans pushed their waydeeper into the crowd with an intention of accosting the speakers toaddress the Chinese immigrants.

Leadersof the Workingmen’s party turned down their request consequentlypushing the meeting to a precipice. The refusal prompted the peoplewho were in the peripheries to attack a passing china man usheringin, a two day a session of retribution against the Chinese.

Themayhem resulted in the death of four lives, destruction of $100000worth of properties owned by the Chinese. Amongst them were twentyChinese-owned Laundries and a Chinese Methodist Mission. It took anintervention of the city police, state militia and over one thousandmembers of the citizen’s vigilante committee to quell the violence.


Thepogrom did not only result in the casualties as mentioned above, butit marked the beginning of anti-Chinese activities in the city andthe larger America. It also provided a stepping stone for the wannabepoliticians like Denis Kearney. The Irish wagon driver had takenparticipated in halting the violence as a citizen vigilantecommittee, an activity that drew into the political platform.Kearney`s fist applied for a membership of Workingmen’s partyunsuccessfully. He was deprived of membership because of his openpublic opinions regarding what he perceived as sluggishness as wellas the inability of the working class to shft. He was more famous forhis impassioned, vitriolic speeches that attracted large crowds andeven the media.

Hehad earlier on been deregistered from the existing opposition party.With a burning political flame within, he was prompted to chart hispolitical path. He started a new organization known as theWorkingmen’s trade and labor union of San Francisco which had afamous mobilizing slogan that read, “The Chinese Must Go.”Kearney would always start his speeches and end them with thatslogan. This further attracted admirations and publicity due to theincreasingly discontent population about the Chinese immigrants. Theorganization later changed its name in 1877 to the Workingmen’sParty of California which he was made the president.

Thenew party retained it anti-Chinese antics and developed more or lessas a movement. And with it grew the Anti-Chinese unrest. The unrestextended all over the US ensuing into an effectual end of the Chineseworkers importation into the U.S. This termination was realizedthrough a passage of an Act called the Chinese Exclusion Act in theyear 1882. The Act categorized under the U.S. Federal Law, wasaccented by President Chester, authored on May 6th, 1882 becoming oneof the major significant restriction laws against immigration in thehistory of the United States. It effectively barred all manner ofimmigration activities of the Chinese laborers in the US includingthe skilled, unskilled and even the ones who were employed in themining fields. The act was projected to be in an active applicationfor 10 years, and its violation attracted a penalty of eitherincarceration or deportation.


Fromthe activities that unfolded before the period upon which theAnti-Chinese agitation in SanFrancisco became bolder, it could beestablished that the discontent was majorly brought about by thegeneral economic repression wave that swept through the world in the1860’s and 70s. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the Chineseresorted to immigration in search of stable lives overseas. SanFrancisco’s proximity to the Eastern nations and its resources bythat time made it a major attraction point.

Theygained preference amongst the employers in the US due to theirindustriousness and their resistance to tough working conditions.They also had a low bargaining power and could work at relatively lowwages which made them more attractive to employers who were seekingto brave the economic meltdown by lowering their operation costs.

Theirnative counterparts who had higher demands were angered by this trendand decided to make a mess out of it. They blamed the Chinese fortheir economic misgivings, an outcry that was well supported by thepolitical leaders and the labor movements and party representatives. In particular, the political activities that occurred before thefamous meeting of the Workingmen’s party in 1887 and on the meetingday contributed magnanimously to the riots that resulted in a massivedestruction of Chinese properties and four lives. The riotsnecessitated the formulation of Chinese Exclusion Act.


Appleby,J. (2013). UnitedStates: History &amp geography.Bothell, WA: McGraw-Hill Education.

Anti-Asian Agitation in San Francisco


Racism is one of the unifying themes in the Asia-American history.The 19th and early 20th century saw Asian immigrants in the UnitedStates become a target for legal disfranchisement, economicdiscrimination, segregation, ridicule, and violence. The Japanese,Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Asian-Indian immigrants wererepeatedly told, and in a myriad of ways, that they were viewed asoutsiders in the American society as a whole. While the anti-Asianxenophobia were based on long traditional thoughts on Orientalist, itintensified in times of moral crisis, social, and economic, duringwhich the Asian immigrants became scapegoats for arrays of problems.

Moreover, the entire Asian groups became targets of the organizedmovements, which led to federal immigration exclusion eventually –the ultimate rejection symbol from the American central meltingpoint. Snow (2007) noted that racism was not just a central thematicexperience among the Asians in the United States. The movementagainst the Asians spanned over a half-a-century and was successivelyconnected and built on one another. The paper, therefore, will lookat the anti-Asian agitation in San Francisco, United States, itshistory, and how the agitation brought about unrest among the Asianimmigrants.

Anti-AsianAgitation in San Francisco

Given the deeply-rooted history of the &quotwhite&quot Americans todisenfranchise or marginalize people of color, Snow (2007) mused thatit is of no surprise that the Asian immigrants entered the UnitedStates. It is whether the Chinese sailors stranded after theshipwreck along the American coastline in the 19th century or thefirst 153 Japanese immigrants from Yokohama who had set sail in thelate 18th century in search of employment in the sugar plantations –would be faced with the anti-Asian agitation.

In San Francisco, and from the onset, the Asian immigrants were madeto feel unsafe and unwelcome. As a matter of fact, their arrivalswere more predictably the subject of excessive and overt exploitationacts at the hands of a majority of whites. That said, according toShipler (2004), the first well-planned attempt for anti-Asianagitation resulted in the Anti-Japanese movement of 1892 in theFrancisco Bay area, which was accelerated by the San FranciscoBulletin, and the San Francisco Examiner. The specific elements ofSan Francisco Bay-area newspapers resulted in the passing of theresolution by the Board of Education in 1893. The resolution led tothe relegation of the Japanese students to the more segregatedChinese schools in San Francisco.

According to Davis (2006), the anti-Asian agitation in San Franciscodated back to the summer of 1876, when the workingman`s associationwas formed in San Francisco, and Denis Kearney elected as thesecretary. The association was formed in response to the high rate ofunemployment and also in sympathy with the railroad passing throughthe San Francisco area in California. The meetings were carried outnext to the City Hall. During the first meeting, resolutions werepassed by the members, which supported the striking railroademployees. It called for an end to the government railroad subsidiesand the military against the strikers` intervention. The interventioninsisted on an eight-hours-a-day confiscatory on wealth tax and otherdemands (Davis, 2006). In turn, the intervention led to the crowdbecoming agitated against the Asian immigrants, for instance, theChinese. They went on a rampage, which lasted three days and nights,and also led to the killing of several Chinese, with Chineselaundries destroyed, and the Pacific Mail Company`s wharves raided.

Between the 1850s and 1920s, the anti-Asian agitation in SanFrancisco was mainly fueled by racism, fear, and stereotype,according to Coppa &amp Curran (1976). The agitation led to theformation of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which grew toincorporate the other Asian immigrants. Davis (2006) noted that theact led to Korean and Japanese exclusion movement, which eventuallydilated into a more incorporated Asiatic Exclusion League. The Leaguewas formed in 1908 aimed at excluding all the Asian immigrants thatthe League had declared as &quotincapable and utterly unfit tohandle duties of the American citizenship&quot (Davis, 2006).

The agitation, according to George (1880), had not been planned. Theearly 19th century experienced an influx of Japanese, Chinese, andKoreans in San Francisco. The Japanese were determined to avoid theChinese immigrant`s stereotypes, with the Japan government setting upstrict standards for Japanese people to emigrate. Most of theJapanese immigrants in San Francisco were skilled and literateworkers however, the agitation came as a result of the Americansusing the anti-Chinese sentiments to cause fear, and racism, of theanti-Japanese flames. In 1908, the San Francisco newspaper summed upon its headline. The headline caused agitation to most of the&quotAmerican Undesirables&quot (Shipler, 2004). It led to anotherphase in the Asia immigration, the Japanese replacing the Chinese andthe importation of the Contract Laborers and Women. Irrespective ofthe Japanese best efforts, they were all lumped up together with theKoreans and Chinese.

Much of San Francisco`s anti-Asian agitation from the 18th and 19thcenturies was more deeply-rooted in economic terms and not so much onother terms. The Chinese workers, for example, were hired in the Bayarea to help in replacing the striking workers working inside theNorth Adams shoes factory. The Chinese workers, for instance, wereperceived to be a huge threat to those individuals seeking employmentopportunities. The emergence of the Exclusion Act was caused by theanti-Asian agitation and was broadened in the 1900s. Snow (2007)observed that the congressional debate over the exclusion that turnedto the question of religious and cultural compatibility over economicexclusion.

The early 1900s also came as a little surprise, which at the sametime saw the anti-Asian agitation etched towards branding to changein and around San Francisco. The prejudiced, unthinking, andanti-Chinese rioting movement led to proposed return of the Asianimmigrants back to their countries. Chinese immigrants, for instance,were suggested for their return to China. According to Snow (2007),their return to China could have costed an approximated 7 milliondollars accompanied by dozens of the ship for every available vessel,but eventually was laid aside and as a result, caused more agitation.The scheme failed, and it was asserted that the Chine immigrants bedriven out of the San Francisco mines, but as this would haveresulted in the State of California losing a lot of revenues, itcould also have led to the crowded the city with a great number ofoutcasts.

Some local authorities passed legislations that were intended tocause harassment and agitation to the Chinese immigrants. Consideringmost of these immigrants were in San Francisco, the principal effortput in place were established in the city (Shipler, 2004). One of thelegislations had this famous &quotpig-tail ordinance,&quot whichrequired that all the convicted male Chinese immigrants all be cutoff their hair within one inch from their scalp causing a lot ofagitation.

However, besidesthe prejudices as a result of ignorance, race-feeling fear andeconomic crisis, George (1880) noted that there were real causes ofagitation and discontent against the Asian immigrants in SanFrancisco. The agitation led to the immigrants engaging in sexualimmorality while others did business that involved women importationin prostituting to other people. These acts of the Asian immigrantsreceived a lot of emphasis in the Bay area among the more thoughtfulindividuals. The prostitutes` proportions among the Asian immigrantswere higher than the residents of San Francisco at the time. Gamblingwas also the result of anti-Asia agitation (Davis, 2006). While theChinese people indulge in it, they were never the ones that hadstarted it, but because of the agitation from different causes, theAmericans were the ones the frequented the Asian immigrantshouseholds.

The 1917 and 1924`s Federation Immigration Acts came up with a quotasystem for the Asian immigration that also excluded those ineligibleindividuals for naturalization as the citizens of San Francisco,United States. The 1790`s Federation Naturalization Law, for example,had put a limit to the limited naturalization of the foreign-bornindividuals to Native Americans only. As the Asian immigrants move toAmerica and in San Francisco to be specific, the law became the basisfor Asian exclusion, and thus causing agitation from citizenship(Coppa &amp Curran, 1976). The inability to grant citizenry to theseAsian immigrants also causes agitation. For instance, Tad Ozawa in1922, a Japanese man had lived all his life in California but wasruled to be ineligible for citizenship.


It was until 1924 that anti-Asian agitation came to an end. Beforethat, the agitation had been caused by fear, economic crisis, andstereotype from the San Francisco residents. The anti-Chinesesentiments, for instance, were one of the many sentiments by Asianimmigrants that had spread through the Bay area of San Francisco. Itculminated into the effective importation of Asia workers followingthe 1882 passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Also, the agitationalso resulted in the immigrants engaging in activities that hadcaused an uproar from the San Francisco residents.


Coppa, F. J., &amp Curran, T. J. (1976). The Immigrant experiencein America. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Davis, T. J. (2006). Race relations in America: A reference guidewith primary documents. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

George, H. (1880).The Kearney agitation in California. New York: D. Appleton.

Shipler, D. K.(2004). The working poor: Invisible in America. New York:Knopf.

Snow, J. C. (2007). Protestant missionaries, Asian immigrants, andideologies of race in America, 1850-1924. New York: Routledge.