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The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871by Scott Zesch
Synopses & Reviews
In October 1871, a simmering, small-scale turf war involving three Chinese gangs exploded into a riot that engulfed the small but growing town of Los Angeles. A large mob of white Angelenos, spurred by racial resentment, rampaged through the city and lynched some 18 people before order was restored.
In The Chinatown War, Scott Zesch offers a compelling account of this little-known event, which ranks among the worst hate crimes in American history. The story begins in the 1850s, when the first wave of Chinese immigrants arrived in Los Angeles in the wake of the 1849 California gold rush. Upon arrival, these immigrants usually took up low-wage jobs, settled in the slum neighborhood of the Calle de los Negros, and joined one of a number of Chinese community associations. Though such associations provided job placement and other services to their members, they were also involved in extortion and illicit businesses, including prostitution. In 1870 the largest of these, the See-Yup Company, imploded in an acrimonious division. The violent succession battle that ensued, as well as the highly publicized torture of Chinese prostitute Sing-Ye, eventually provided the spark for the racially motivated riot that ripped through L.A. Zesch vividly evokes the figures and events in the See-Yup dispute, deftly situates the riot within its historical and political context, and illuminates the workings of the early Chinese-American community in Los Angeles, while simultaneously exploring issues that continue to trouble Americans today.
Engaging and deeply researched, The Chinatown War above all delivers a riveting story of a dominant American city and the darker side of its early days that offers powerful insights for our own time.
"In 1871, Los Angeles was a fraction the size of today's metropolis, but it was already a hotbed of crime and racial tension when conflict between rival Chinese gangs led to one of America's worst racial massacres. Despite a relatively small Chinese population, writes Zesch (The Captured), Los Angeles developed its own Chinatown, where life centered on the huiguan, fraternal organizations, and hard work in the burgeoning laundry business. Other immigrants joined tongs, or gangs, and engaged in less savory (and more violent) occupations like prostitution. A tug-of-war over a woman, Yut Ho, that culminated in a dead white man sparked white mob violence, resulting in 18 Chinese lynched on makeshift gallows. Zesch describes not only the structure of the Chinese community but the atmosphere, created by the Los Angeles elite, in which such a massacre could occur. In trials that gained national attention, eight rioters were found guilty, but their convictions were overturned. In this sobering look at racial hatred run rampant, Zesch doesn't draw easy parallels between this long-forgotten episode and today, but rightly underscores that 'remembrance is one way of restoring our blemished humanity.' Maps. Agent: Jim Hornfischer, Hornfischer Literary Management. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Scott Zesch is the author of The Captured, which won the 2007 Ray Allen Billington Award and TCU Texas Book Award. He lives in Mason County, Texas, and New York City.
Table of Contents
1. "Let them come and settle with us"
2. Bound Together by a Solemn Oath
3. Daughters of the Sun and Moon
4. The Chinese Must Go
5. Hating Each Other Like Christians
6. The Night of Horrors
7. An Unpleasant Promincence
8. "We may hope at least to see partial justice done"
Epilogue: It Will be Forgotten in a Brief Time
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History and Social Science » Americana » California