Butte County California Chinese Immigrants



This exhibit is part of a smallish study undertaken to find and document information that would assist us or any researcher to discover the identities of Chinese men purported to be residing in Chico, Butte County, California. These images appear to be nineteenth century photographs published during the period of time when Chinese exclusion statutes were passed by the United States Congress and signed by several Presidents of the United States excluding one class of people, Chinese laborers, from immigrating into the United States. There were many nineteenth century immigration laws concerning the Chinese people. The First was the Burlingame Treaty of 1868. This bill recognized the right of people to freely emigrate from one country to another. It established the principle of reciprocity of citizens living in China and the United States. Fourteen years later, May 8, 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act suspended the immigration of Chinese laborers both skilled and unskilled for ten years. Teachers, students, merchants, and travelers were exempted. It formally prohibited the naturalization of Chinese in the United States. The act was extended and additional ten years by the GEARY ACT of MAY 5, 1892. The Scott Act of October 1, 1888 prohibited the return of any Chinese laborers who had departed from the United States. All Chinese had to carry certificates, like the modern green cards, so as to avoid deportation.

Previous to the passage of these exclusion acts, slanderous and defamatory journalistic-based essays were written by a number of United States congressmen from both parties. By 1882 that defamation had become law, passed by that Congress and made much stronger and more complex by later lawmakers and signed into law by no less than six consecutive Presidents over more than a sixty-year period (1882-1943).

After first being made aware of the images (sometime in the 1980’s), I was immediately interested in what these images may offer regarding my current research on Chinese immigrant populations. I decided to discover more about these men--for whom they worked, where they lived, and information regarding their appearance (derived from the photographs and from descriptions sometimes found on the federal decennial census). We used federal census records, Butte County assessor records, and some secondary sources to discover pertinent information. We used those same primary and secondary sources to identify people (mostly white males) who had placed or maybe even personally written their names on these documents purportedly to vouch for their class/resident status specifying that they were indeed not laborers (the first excluded group of Chinese immigrants.

Although I started to study these photographs 20 years ago, my recent ability to study them further was greatly assisted by grant funds awarded to me by the Ellen Deering Endowment (2001-2002). The CSU, Chico Information Resources College allowed me a four-month sabbatical leave during the Spring semester of 2004. The advent of this sabbatical and its structured release time allowed us time to discover more source material about Chinese communities in Oroville, Butte County. Fortunately, this research also resulted in a collateral study regarding some Chinese male residents of Chico and the initial effects of the not incidental paper work needed by the Chinese to comply with the statute named the Geary Act (1892). This statute solidified the difficulties discovered in enforcing the law after the initial federal exclusion statute in 1882. Much of the legislation was repeatedly extended in 1894, 1898, 1902, and 1904 (see the United States Statutes at Large) and not repealed until China became the ally of the United States during World War II.