The 1871 Chinese Massacre (1871年洛杉矶华人大屠杀) was a racial massacre that occurred on October 24, 1871, in Los Angeles, when a mob of about 500 people predominantly white or of Hispanic descent entered Old Chinatown and attacked the residents of the Chinese community and ransacked their homes. At least 19 Chinese immigrants were brutally murdered.
Los Angeles was a small urban center with no more than 5800 inhabitants according to the 1870 census. Only two years earlier, the United States had signed the Treaty of Burlingame with the Chinese Empire, which set conditions for immigration. At this time, most of the Chinese immigrants entering the United States were men, intending to work temporarily on American soil. The Chinese community in Los Angeles at the time numbered no more than 200 people, 80% of whom were men.
The city, despite being so small, had been the scene of countless lynching incidents and had attracted a predominantly transient population from across the country. Alcohol use and abuse were also widespread.
In the days leading up to the attack, two Chinese (Tong) factions, the Hong Chow and Nin Yung, had begun a dispute over the alleged kidnapping of a Chinese woman named Yut Ho (or Ya Hit). Due to the lack of women in the Chinese community, most of the women were being sold as prostitutes. In the past, the police had assisted the Tongs in resolving these kinds of disputes, but in this case, things got out of hand.
Two Chinese men were arrested in connection with a shooting, and they were released on bail. The police continued to keep a watchful eye on the neighborhoods of the old Chinatown, which ran along Calle de los Negros, named so in the colonial period by the Spanish in reference to the multiracial population (mostly of Spanish, African, and Native American descent) that inhabited the street.
The events of October 24
Jesús Bilderrain, a policeman on patrol in Calle de los Negros, was injured during an altercation. The officer blew his whistle requesting reinforcements. Some civilians rushed to his aid. One of them, Robert Thompson, a rancher, and former saloonkeeper, chased a Chinese man to the door of a house in the alley, despite the warnings of the others. He was hit by a bullet and died a few hours later in a nearby store.
More officers, including Police Chief Francis Baker, rushed to the scene as a crowd began to gather at the edge of Chinatown to block escape routes for Chinese residents.
News that the Chinese in the los Negros community were “killing white people” drew a multitude of angry people to the edge of the neighborhood.
The rioters climbed onto the roofs of the buildings where the Chinese immigrants resided, began to pickax the roofs to drill holes in them. Then, they began firing into the houses from cracks in the ceilings.
Those who tried to escape from the houses were shot by snipers on all of them. Many were beaten and tortured.
By the end of the fighting, the corpses of the Chinese were hanging in three places in the city. One of the victims had been hanged without pants, and one finger had been severed to steal a diamond ring, according to historian Paul de Falla.
The mob looted all buildings occupied by the Chinese and attacked virtually all residents.
According to the first Associated Press account, the mob consisted of at least 500 people, or 8 percent of the city’s population, including women and children.
Authorities arrested and tried 10 people. Eight were convicted of manslaughter and sent to San Quentin prison. Their convictions were overturned on appeal due to a legal technicality.
The discriminatory anti-Chinese movement in California culminated in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned Chinese women from immigrating to the United States.
Calle de los Negros was renamed Los Angeles Street in 1877 and eventually deleted in 1888, with the extension of Plaza.
CHINA-UNDERGROUND. Matteo Damiani is an Italian sinologist, photographer, author and motion designer. Matteo lived and worked for ten years in China. Founder of CinaOggi.it and China-underground.com.