Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chinese Massacre of 1871: Anti-Chinese Sentiment on Early Los Angeles

The slain bodies of Chinese residents lied in a pile at the police station, awaiting identification by family members.

      In the early hours of the evening of October 24, 1871, two Chinese rivaling gangs, which had been disputing over the ownership of a Chinese woman, opened fired against each other in Calle de los Negros (later renamed Los Angeles Street), the heart of Chinatown at the time. In the vicinity, police officer Jesus heard the shots rang out and calling for assistance, was joined by a man named Robert Thompson. However, in the ensuing crossfire between the gangs, Thompson was hit in the chest, and after being taken to Wollober’s drug store, died soon after. The news of the killing spread throughout town, and rumors emerged that the Chinese “were killing whites wholesale.”  Soon after the incident, a mob of about 500 people consisting of “people of all nationalities”, including prominent citizens and officials.

     Surrounded, some Chinese residents had taken refugee from the threat of violence in an old adobe building. Outside, Marshall Francis Baker, accompanied by officers and members of the mob, gave orders to “shoot any Chinese who try to escape.” At first, a part of the mob attempted to force them out by digging holes through the adobe roof, and then shoot into the into the building. This lead two of the Chinese men hiding to attempt to escape, but they were one of them was shot down from the roof midway, and another was captured and hanged. Finally, around 9 in the evening, a number of people were able to gain entrance into the building and rushed with “hooting and yelling and firing of pistols”, and dragged 8 Chinese men who “in vain pleaded piteously for their lives.” Once the men were brought out, they were quickly beaten and hanged by the angry mob. The first victim of the massacre was identified as Wong Tuck However, who was hanged from a corral gate in the corners of Main and Temple Street. However, the violence didn’t stopped here, and instead it spread throughout Chinatown.

      Present in scene, as the events unfolded, was Judge R. M Widney, who perceiving the intentions of the crowd expressed that he knew that “a general massacre of those innocent, as well as guilty was underway.” Soon the mob had started to roam through the quarters of the Chinese immigrants, while at the same time dragging people out into the streets to be beaten and hanged. 

     One of the victims was a well-known Chinese physician by the name of Gene Tong, who once in the hands of the mob, pleaded for his life in both English and Spanish, but to no avail. Hanging from an awing, Gene Tong’s body was hanged, and had his left finger cut off to take away his ring, and his trousers were pulled down because “it was suspected that he had some money in them which could not be readily available.” The looting of homes and stores was also rampart. Property and valuables were taken away, and the monetary losses amounted from $30,000 to $70,000. 

     In the late evening, the mob had subsided and started to disperse. The result of their violence was the death of 19 Chinese immigrants, while the principal culprits of the shootings that resulted in the death of Robert Thompson had scape to the countryside before the mob set upon Chinatown. The ensuing investigation by the Los Angeles court indicted 150 people involved in the violence. However, only 6 of those indicated were convicted, and none served full sentences

Other sources of information are:

Pfael Jean Pzer. Driven Out: the Forgotten War against Chinese Americcans
Paul De Falla "Lantern in the Western Sky." Historical Society of Southern California 42

LA Weekly: "How Los Angeles Covered Up the Massacre of 17 Chines" 

 Professor of American Studies Jean Pfaelzer speak on her book "Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans":