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 & geography.Bothell, WA: McGraw-Hill Education.