California’s Chinese during the Gold Rush: Part 1 of 2

Guest post by John Putnam

Of all the diverse peoples that poured into California after the discovery of gold, none stood out more than the Chinese. Radically different in dress, language and culture these new men were first welcomed because of their willingness to work hard for low wages at any task presented them.

John McDougall, the 2nd Governor of California, described them as “one of the most worthy of our newly adopted citizens.”

At the start of 1849 only 54 Chinese were in California. By1852 there were nearly 12,000 living here and only seven of them women. Because of turmoil in Canton another 20,000 would arrive that same year.

A community of Chinese Americans quickly grew in San Francisco. They marched in Fourth of July parades and rejoiced at California’s statehood, but celebrated their lunar new year in their traditional way.

In 1852 a Cantonese opera was performed at the American Theater and in 1854 a Chinese language newspaper began publishing.

The Kong Chow Association formed to help the new arrivals adapt to their new home. Then another, the Chew Yick, elected Norman As-sing, an English speaking owner of the Macao and Woosung Restaurant as their leader. Soon there were six associations called tongs that combined to form the Six Companies to better represent Chinese interest.

Continued on November 25, 2015 in Part 2


Reprinted by permission.
First published May 23, 2011 in My gold rush tales.
John Rose Putnam is the author of four novels.


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