Sources on Anti-Asian American Violence Part I: Chinese Americans
This is the first of a series of posts with sources on the history of anti-Asian American violence in the United States. It's not easy to categorize, and different themes--imperialism, gender, capitalism, etc.--often reinforce one another, so there might be some repetition and this might not flow in chronological order. I'll be adding different collections (along with your suggestions and guidance) in the coming days.
There are many ways to compile readings. My goal here is to provide some ideas on how to craft modules that instructors can add to their lesson plans (if that is a possibility). I've included some secondary sources--books and articles--and some links to supplementary primary sources.
I also have a clunky, yet reliable app for scanning documents and access to a research database, so if you need any materials, please let me know! We also can probably tailor most of the topics here to wherever you are located. Anti-Asian American violence was not restricted to the West Coast and I can help track down newspaper articles and secondary sources that might only be available in more specialized databases.
This is not a complete list. I am always looking for more sources, especially because I'm a historian and there is excellent work by other scholars in different fields that I know I am overlooking.
If you are just beginning to broaden your knowledge on Asian American history, I suggest first taking a look at the Stop AAPI Hate's recent report on the increase in anti-Asian American violence since 2020. There is a real hesitancy to attribute these attacks to racism and many will deny that there is a pattern and/or insist that the verbal attacks are not as severe as the physical. If you are comfortable doing so (and this is not an easy task), take a look at some of the language used against Asian Americans in the report, then read some of the primary sources and note the similarities in language between the 1800s and today.
Asian American history is the history of the United States. Relegating it to a special field of study separate from the larger narrative of this country is a contributing factor to the violence that threatens so many today. Reading and learning is one small step that Americans can take to understanding the roots of this dangerous and dehumanizing trend.
Lee, Erika. The Making of Asian America: A History. New York. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016.
Ngai, Mae. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014 (updated edition).
PBS documentary Asian Americans.
Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1998 (updated edition).
Yung, Judy. Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995.
Zia, Helen. Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. New York: Macmillan, 2001.
Gonzales, Fredy. “Chinese Dragon and Eagle of Anahuac: The Local, National, and International Implications of the Anti-Chinese Campaign of 1934,” Western Historical Quarterly 44, no. 1 (2013): 48-86.
Ngai, Mae M. “Chinese Gold Miners and the ‘Chinese Question’ in Nineteenth-Century America and Victoria,” Journal of American History 10, no. 4 (2015): 1082-1105.
Pfaelzer, Jean. Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008. This book also includes a detailed selection of anti-Chinese rhetoric and visuals that could be used along with any of the works listed here as well as the primary sources provided below.
Williams, Beth Lew. The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018.
Zesch, Scott. “Chinese Los Angeles in 1870-1871: The Makings of a Massacre,” Southern California Quarterly 90, no.2 (2008): 109-158.
The Tacoma Method: This website provides an overview of the "method" used by anti-Chinese mobs in Tacoma, Washington to expel Chinese from their communities with "orderly" means sanctioned by local officials. As Williams explains in her book, this became a common tactic used by white supremacists throughout the West to drive Chinese immigrants from their homes. There is also a website on the Tacoma Chinese Reconciliation Park to explore public history and how anti-Chinese massacres and expulsions are remembered and memorialized.
The Chinese in California Virtual Collection: A massive collection of virtual primary sources, this is a great site for finding readings that could accompany any of the secondary materials above. It contains a lot of holdings and can be overwhelming, but pulls together documents from different California archives (including the Bancroft Library and Ethnic Studies Library).
Stanford Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project: This is a great interdisciplinary site (with an accompanying edited collection--I also have this book and would be happy to scan essays) that used different methods to gain a better understanding of the Chinese men who built America's railroads as well as their experiences. It pulls together newspaper articles from across the country and would be an excellent way to customize any discussion or lesson plan. Manu Karuka's Empire's Tracks: Indigenous Nations, Chinese Workers, and the Transcontinental Railroad also provides a more complex, yet inclusionary discussion of railroad labor and its impact on multiple communities.
Vincent Chin's Story: In 1982, two white men who were laid off by a Chrysler plant in Michigan murdered Chinese American draftsman, Vincent Chin, during a renewed anti-Asian movement in the early 1980s in response to economic competition with Japan. This might be a good way to connect the earlier instances of anti-Chinese violence with a more contemporary event.
Rock Springs, Wyoming Massacre: In 1885, white miners employed by the Union Pacific Railroad and members of the anti-Chinese union the Knights of Labor attacked two Chinese miners after a dispute over pay. Later, a white mob terrorized the Chinese quarter of Rock Springs, murdering twenty-eight Chinese men and driving the rest from Rock Springs. Many of the secondary sources above discuss Rock Springs, but I've linked to a primary source--a petition from the Chinese miners who witnessed the attack--that could accompany the readings.
I would say one main point to emphasize with these sources is how dangerous verbal abuse is and how influential it is on physical attacks and violence. Words are powerful and the more Americans realize this, the better.