The Chinese in Chico

The attitude toward the Chinese in California was one of ambivalence. Employers liked getting labor at low cost. Middle-class families that employed Chinese domestic servants could hardly do without them. And everyone in town turned out to watch the colorful Chinese New Year festivities.

From John Bidwell’s diary for 1871:

Sun. February 19.
J.R.Kennedy & wife also self & wife, went to Ah Sun’s & to Chinatown in evening, found Chinese joyous over their New Year.

sc4766 Chinese New Year Parade / Procession Chico Main near 2nd

Photograph shows a Chinese New Year Parade through downtown Chico, 1894. Special Collections, Meriam Library CSUChico.

But the benefits from the Chinese community were overshadowed by fear, resentment, and prejudice. To the white population, the Chinese were a foreign element that would never assimilate into the American body politic. They were too different. Everything from their food and clothing to their religion was alien.

White workingmen resented the Chinese for taking jobs they thought should be theirs. When times got tough and jobs were scarce, whites turned on the Chinese and blamed them for the loss of jobs. The economic depression of the 1870’s created widespread unemployment and deep resentment of Chinese immigrants.

Men banded together to drive out the Chinese. In Chico they formed a branch of a statewide society called The Order of Caucasians. Members included not only laborers, but store owners, farmers, teachers and lawyers. They rallied to the cry “The Chinese must go!” and repeatedly told John Bidwell and other employers to discharge their Chinese workers or else.

1874    Tues. May 19.
Weather cool and pleasant – Man at dairy abused Chinaman –

1886: Sun., August 29.
Events: Hoodlums threw stones at Chinamen – wounded one badly.-

The chief weapon used against the Chinese was arson. Men set fire to buildings in both of Chico’s Chinatowns. They sent death threats to General Bidwell and told him to get rid of his Chinese workers. Arsonists burned down buildings on the ranch. Chinese men were threatened, beaten, and shot at. For the most part the police ignored these crimes.

1877: Fri. March 9.
Cloudy, but warm, – began to drizzle, – rained all P.M. . . .  Both Chinatowns were set on fire last night.

The tension and agitation would culminate in murder.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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