Newspaper logo  
 
 
Local News & Opinion

Ref. : Civic Events

Ref. : Arts & Education Events

Ref. : Public Service Notices

Travel
Books, Films, Arts & Education
Letters
Open Letters:

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

07.28 Why Warren Buffett Loves Renewable Energy

07.28 Report shows 1 in 3 Texans chooses renewable energy options

07.28 Half of Britain to be opened up to fracking

07.28 Wishful Thinking About Natural Gas: Why Fossil Fuels Can’t Solve the Problems Created by Fossil Fuels

07.27 JOHN FRANCO: A DIGESTABLE WAY TO SINGLE-PAYER

07.25 Antarctica’s Point of No Return

07.24 Top Doctor Working To Contain Current Ebola Outbreak Is Now Infected With Ebola

07.24 Under Water: The EPA’s Struggle to Combat Pollution

07.24 Why Do Other Rich Nations Spend So Much Less on Healthcare?

07.23 Germany, UK and Poland top ‘dirty 30’ list of EU coal-fired power stations

07.23 The strange relationship between global warming denial and... speaking English [chart]

07.23 Great Barrier Reef contaminated by toxic coal dust, inquiry told

07.23 Chinese city sealed off after bubonic plague death

News Media

Daily FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

Justice Matters

07.24 The Leader of the Unfree World [Scary charts]

US Politics, Policy & Culture

07.28 My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats

07.27 Repeal Prohibition, Again

07.26 Krugman Divulges Real Reason Conservatives Freak Out About California Success Story

07.26 What is Paul Ryan's plan to expand the EITC?

07.25 Black Homeowners Are Worse Off Today Than They Were 40 Years Ago

07.24 Calm Down ... You Are Much More Likely to Be Killed By Boring, Mundane Things than Terrorism

High Crimes?

07.28 As the Gaza crisis deepens, boycotts can raise the price of Israel’s impunity

07.27 Palestinian Resistance: an icon for those who long to live free

07.27 Wyden Ponders Release of CIA Torture Report Without White House Consent

Economics, Crony Capitalism

07.27 PRIVATE EQUITY’S FREE PASS

07.27 The Typical Household, Now Worth a Third Less

07.27 Federal regulators let utilities gouge customers

07.26 You Can’t Taper a Ponzi Scheme: Time to Reboot

07.25 Obama Seeks to Close Loophole That Firms Use to Shield Profits Abroad [1:13 video]

07.25 Administration Plans Orwellian Statistics Fudge to Make Offshored Production Look Like US Made

International

07.28 Why Is Israel Losing a War It's Winning?

07.28 Stopping Putin: The Time Has Come for Europe to Act

07.27 North Korea Is Not Pleased: Dance Video Features Kim Jong Un [3:29 video]

07.27 Gaza death toll over 1,000 - Israeli toll up to 42 [videos, photos]

07.26 Gangs, guns and Judas Priest: the secret history of a US-inflicted border crisis

07.26 Central American leaders meet Barack Obama to criticise US border policy

07.26 Iraq: Isis warns women to wear full veil or face punishment

07.25 America Is the Only Country with a Favorable View of Israel [graphs]

07.25 The Gaza war has done terrible things to Israeli society

07.25 Ex-Israeli Security Chief Diskin: 'All the Conditions Are There for an Explosion'

07.25 West Bank erupts as UN deplores Gaza school attack

07.24 8 Celebrities Outraged by Israel's Assault on Gaza

07.24 Keeping Spies Out: Germany Ratchets Up Counterintelligence Measures

07.24 How America Finances the Destruction in Gaza—and the Cleanup

We are a non-profit Internet-only newspaper publication founded in 1973. Your donation is essential to our survival.

You can also mail a check to:
Baltimore News Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 42581
Baltimore, MD 21284-2581
Google
This site Web
  Contemporary Lessons from a Tragic Chapter
Newspaper logo

BOOK REVIEW:

Contemporary Lessons from a Tragic Chapter

The anti-Chinese pogroms in California, Oregon and Washington are largely missing from our collective memory.

Reviewed by John Hickman

Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese
by Jean Pfaelzer
2007. New York: Random House

Chinese immigrants were targeted by racist agitators who mobilized the white majority by appealing to their economic, demographic and cultural anxieties.
One of the most tragic chapters in American history—the spasms of white mob violence against Chinese immigrants followed by round-ups and expulsions that continued for more than half a century—forms almost no part of popular historical memory in the United States. Unlike the rolling genocide against Native American tribes, the brutality of African slavery and Jim Crow segregation, and the Second World War internment of Japanese Americans, the anti-Chinese pogroms in California, Oregon and Washington are largely missing from our collective memory. That is unfortunate because echoes of the savage, officially sanctioned racism motivating those outrages against the Chinese can be heard today in the populist agitation against Hispanic immigrants and in the jingoist drumbeat against China as an economic power. University of Delaware English and East Asian Studies professor Jean Pfaelzer’s Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans traces this tragic passage in a book that should appeal to both academic and popular audiences.

As Pfaelzer explains, the Chinese were first drawn to California in the 1850s by the same prospect of easy riches from gold mining that attracted tens of thousands of others from distant parts, especially New England, Canada, Eire, Mexico and Chile. The Chinese differed, however, in arriving burdened with labor contract debts. Although not slaves, in keeping with California’s status as a free state under the Compromise of 1850, most Chinese immigrants arrived indebted to the Chinese Six Companies in San Francisco, which had paid their passage, found them employment and organized ground transport. In the ugly inter-ethnic scrum for the gold fields, white miners forced out most of the Mexicans and Chileans by 1852 and then turned on the growing numbers of Chinese. Effective indenture under debt obligations provided the argument that competition from Chinese miners was unfair. One of the most effective weapons in driving the Chinese from the gold fields was California’s Foreign Miners Tax Law of 1852, which levied a punishing monthly tax on foreigners for the right to mine. “Between 1852 and 1870, years in which one billion dollars’ worth of untaxed gold was mined in California, Chinese miners paid a staggering fifty-eight million dollars to the state, ranging from one fourth to one half of California’s revenue” (pg. 31). Empowered to seize the mining claims, tools and other goods of Chinese miners, local tax collectors adopted the thuggish means of the tax farmer to extract payments that were shared between the state and local governments.

After low-capital gold mining was exhausted in the early 1860s, white agitation against the Chinese shifted to the opportunities in lumbering, fishing and orchard farming. Isolated in small-town Chinatowns and lacking most of the legal rights of citizens, Chinese immigrants were targeted by racist agitators who mobilized the white majority by appealing to their economic, demographic and cultural anxieties. White economic boycotts, mob violence, and mass round-ups abetted by local officials purged Chinese from many of California’s small towns, often driving them toward the relative safety of San Francisco’s Chinatown. The expulsion of more than 300 Chinese from the lumber town of Eureka in 1885 took place amid attempted lynchings and the looting of Chinese homes and businesses before they were burned (pp. 121-128).

Pfaelzer’s Driven Out makes very timely reading not only because of the familiarity of the successful xenophobic agitation that begins locally and later emerges as a national issue, but also because of what it tells us about the limits of ethnic organization and resistance. Chinese immigrants and a handful of sympathetic whites were able to wage an uneven struggle by organizing Chinatown fire companies and Chinese unions, filing habeas corpus actions in federal courts, and organizing mass civil disobedience. Chinese across the United States unified after the passage of the Geary Act in 1892. Conceived by Congressman Thomas Geary, a Sonoma County Democrat, that legislation repeated the disability of Chinese becoming American citizens, extended the Exclusion Act banning further Chinese immigration for another decade, and made undocumented immigration a crime punishable by one year’s imprisonment at hard labor. What most enraged opponents, however, was that it required every Chinese to carry an identification card with photographs. The Chinese Six Companies in San Francisco, the largest ethnic Chinese organization at the time, responded by calling on all Chinese in the United States to refuse to register. Initially successful—only 3,169 of some 110,000 complied—the civil disobedience ended in 1894 at the urging of the Chinese government, which was pressured by the cost of U.S. trade sanctions. Chinese immigrants began registering and the pace of arrests and deportations for illegal immigration increased. “From 1890 to 1900, the total number of Chinese people in the United States dropped from about 107,000 to 90,000, a loss of 16 percent. In California, the drop was even more precipitous. In 1890, California had 72,000 Chinese residents; by 1900 that number had dropped by more than half, to 31,000” (pg. 330).

The lesson in all this is that anti-immigrant agitation is more than a device for politicians to win votes. Whether it is the bug-eyed anti-Hispanic posturing of Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo or less hysterical versions of the same message from other Republican politicians, agitation against immigrants may do more than persuade working Americans to vote against their own interests. Basic human rights may be trampled as a consequence, and the United States left with a shameful legacy.


John Hickman is associate professor of comparative politics at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. His published work on electoral politics, media, and international affairs has appeared in Asian Perspective, American Politics Research, Comparative State Politics, Contemporary South Asia, Contemporary Strategy, Current Politics and Economics of Asia, East European Quarterly, Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, Jouvert, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Political Science, Review of Religious Research, Women & Politics, and Yamanashigakuin Law Review. He may be reached at jhickman@berry.edu.


Copyright © 2007 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

pRepublication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on November 27, 2007.

 


Public Service Ads: