Collection Scope and Content Summary
Title: Chinese in California collection
Date (bulk): 1970-1985
Date (inclusive): circa 1850-1989, undated
Collection Number: MS 095
5.5 linear feet
(11 document boxes)
Rivera Library. Special Collections Department.
The Chinese in California collection is comprised
of photographs, correspondence, press clippings, typescripts, and other material
pertaining to the history of Chinese life and culture in California and other areas
in the western United States. Material relates to the academic study of the Chinese
experience in the United States and the effort to preserve the historic sites and
artifacts pertaining to this experience.
Languages: The collection is in English and Chinese.
This collection is open for research.
Copyright has not been assigned to the University of California, Riverside Libraries,
Special Collections & Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote
from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections
& Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Regents of the
University of California as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to
include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by
[identification of item]. Chinese in California collection, MS 095.
University of California, Riverside Libraries, Special Collections & Archives,
University of California, Riverside.
Processed by Juliana Schouest and Sara Seltzer, 2008.
The Chinese began to arrive in California in large numbers after the discovery of
gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848. Their arrival was part of a complex economic
relationship between China and the United States in which the Chinese became a major
source of labor for the economic development of the American West.
Most of the Chinese that came to the western United States were from southeastern
China and of Cantonese decent. The victims of war, natural disasters, and political
and economic oppression, they were attracted to California by the promise of gold
and opportunity. Many were laborers and farmers, but merchants, craftsmen, artisans
and students also came in search of opportunities. Their exodus from China was aided
by the ongoing development of Hong Kong as an international port. By 1870, the
Chinese made up nearly 25 percent of California's unskilled labor force, but only 10
percent of the state's total population. Ten years later, the Chinese comprised
two-tenths of one percent of the United States population. Ninety-nine percent of
these Chinese lived in the West, nearly three-quarters of them in California.
In cities and towns, many Chinese became domestic servants, cooks, laundrymen, and
held other service jobs. The Chinese also made up the majority of workers in such
light industries as garment, shoe, and cigar making factories. When the railroad
opened up jobs to the Chinese, thousands signed up to work. As early as 1858 the
Chinese were building intrastate railroads, and in the 1860s they were instrumental
in building the western portion of the transcontinental railroad from Sacramento,
California to Promontory Point, Utah.
In the beginning most of the Chinese came to California to work temporarily, but many
eventually made California their home. Their presence led to the creation of Chinese
communities commonly referred to as "Chinatowns." These enclaves were segregated and
considered an exotic curiosity by mainstream America. They had their own form of
self-government organized under the leadership of merchants' guilds and district
When the economy declined, unemployed white workers accused Chinese workers of
causing the nation's demise. Anti-Chinese hysteria permeated California politics.
The state's labor unions claimed Chinese immigration would destroy the nation's
democratic structure. This Sino phobia was realized in murders, exclusion, and the
total destruction of the Chinese communities by the passage of anti-Chinese
legislation. California's 1879 Constitution even contained a specific section on how
to eradicate the Chinese from the state.
On May 6, 1882, the federal government, influenced by powerful anti-Chinese lobbyists
from California, passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred entry of all Chinese
laborers into the United States for ten years. This marked the first time
immigration to the United States was banned on the basis of race and class. Still
dissatisfied with the presence of "too many" Chinese in the United States, the
government continued the Exclusion Act until 1904, when it was extended
indefinitely. Similar restrictive immigration policies were eventually applied to
other Asian ethnicities.
Collection Scope and Content Summary
This collection is comprised of photographs, correspondence, press clippings,
typescripts, and other material pertaining to the history of Chinese life and
culture in California and other areas in the western United States. Topics covered
include the study and preservation of regional Chinatowns (including the
Riverside,California Chinatown), scholarly research on various aspects of Chinese
history and culture, and the lives of Chinese residents in different communities.
Photographic and print materials document the construction of railroads,
agricultural labor, the Gold Rush, and life in multiple Chinatown locations. This
collection also includes material pertaining to the Chinese Historical Society of
This collection is arranged into three series:
- Series 1. Academic Writings on Chinese History and Culture, 1875-1989,
- Series 2. California Chinatowns, circa 1870-1988, undated.
- Series 3. Chinese in Western United States History, circa 1850-1989,
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the
library's online public access catalog.
Genres and Forms of Materials
Clippings (information artifacts).