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.
"Thanks to a new book by Scott Zesch, the rampage of gunfire and lynch law that convulsed Los Angeles in 1871 is not likely to be overlooked again. Zesch has written an authoritative and compelling account of a major event in the history of the American West. His vantage point is an unconventional one, however, adding to the significance of The Chinatown War and the power of its narrative." --California Literary Review
andldquo;Between Mao and McCarthy opens new ground in the study of Chinese American politics. Recovering a lost history with contemporary significance, Brooksandrsquo;s energetically researched study returns a host of once prominent personalities and organizations to their place as political pioneers. Chinese American politics were at the same time local, national, and international, as well as ethnic, ideological, and partisan. Brooksandrsquo;s richly textured account is an original and important contribution.andrdquo;
andldquo;With the support of extensive and prodigious research, Brooks has written a path-breaking book that articulately explores the complicated relationship between, on the one hand, changing racial politics in general and the experience of Chinese-American communities in particular in the 1950s and 1960s and, on the other, the deeply politicized pressures of the Cold War environment.and#160;Between Mao and McCarthy is highly revealing and, therefore, highly recommended.andrdquo;
and#8220;Drawing upon prodigious research,and#160;Between Mao and McCarthyand#160;remakes the possibilities of Chinese American civic participation and pushes back to the 1930s the kinds of political activism and claims once associated only with the civil rights movement. An impressively nuanced account of a complex and perplexing era.and#8221;
and#8220;Between Mao and McCarthy is an enlightening and engaging political history of Chinese Americans from the Depression Era to the Civil Rights Movement. Brooksand#8217;s comfort and ease in moving back and forth between languages makes for an especially compelling narrative, as she deftly unearths the moments when newspapers, advertisements, or historical actors purposely provided divergent messages or translations. She culls evidence from archives as variegated and far-flung as the Bancroft Library, the British Foreign Office on China, Congressional records, the Kennedy and Truman Libraries, the Hoover Institution, and various community association holdings. The reader is rarely left wondering whether or not the author may have missed an unturned stone here or there.and#8221;
andldquo;Between Mao and McCarthy is an impressive scholarly tome on the evolution of Chinese American politics in the years after World War II. . . . Brooksandrsquo; inclusion of the prominent voices in community newspapers and her detailed information about the power players within New York and San Francisco lend an insiderandrsquo;s view on a turbulent time for Chinese American communities. . . Well worth a read.andrdquo;
During the Cold War, Chinese Americans struggled to gain political influence in the United States. Considered potentially sympathetic to communism, their communities attracted substantial public and government scrutiny, particularly in San Francisco and New York.
Between Mao and McCarthyand#160;looks at the divergent ways that Chinese Americans in these two cities balanced domestic and international pressures during the tense Cold War era. On both coasts, Chinese Americans sought to gain political power and defend their civil rights, yet only the San Franciscans succeeded. Forging multiracial coalitions and encouraging voting and moderate activism, they avoided the deep divisions and factionalism that consumed their counterparts in New York. Drawing on extensive research in both Chinese- and English-language sources, Charlotte Brooks uncovers the complex, diverse, and surprisingly vibrant politics of an ethnic group trying to find its voice and flex its political muscle in Cold War America.
In the peak postwar years of American Red-baiting, Chinese nationals and Chinese Americans were considered suspicious by the mainstream whether or not they were actually Communists. Far more than other immigrant or ethnic groups, Chinese Americans found that their political activism intersected with U.S. foreign policy, larger Asian American struggles for access to equal opportunity, the growth of Great Society programs, and the black civil rights movement, making for an exceptionally dense and fraught experience. This was particularly apparent in the two cities that saw the development of the largest and most prolific Chinese and Chinese American communities, New York and San Franciscoand#151;each of which saw Chinese American men and women form political clubs, campaign both secretly and openly for an array of local, state, and federal politicians, serve in both partiesand#8217; bureaucracies, and push for racial equality and access to social welfare programs. Brooks highlights the many facets of Chinese American political culture in the postwar decades. The Chinese American community of New York, a city with a tradition of radical and leftist politics, contained both the founders of the Chinese Anti-Communist League and the communist sympathizers who ran the China Daily News. San Franciscoand#8217;s outspoken Chinese American liberals, meanwhile, worked to forge multiracial coalitions and encourage voting and moderate activism. Across this spectrum, Brooks focuses not only on political activism but on the meanings of political involvement vis-and#224;-vis ethnic identity and Americanization.
About the Author
Charlotte Brooks is associate professor of history at Baruch College, City University of New York. She is the author of Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations
A Note on Names and Translations
New York and San Francisco: Politics in the Political Capitals of Chinese America
War, Revolution, and Political Realignment
The Resurgence of China Politics
Divergence: New York and San Francisco in the 1950s
The and#147;Immigration Racketand#8221; Investigation and the Rise of a New Politics
Chinese Americans, Orientals, Minorities: Politics in a New Era