The Chinese in California, 1850-1925

About the Collection

The Chinese in California 1850-1925 is a compilation of selected holdings from collections housed in the archives and special collections of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; The Ethnic Studies Library, University of California, Berkeley; and the California Historical Society, San Francisco. Presenting approximately 8000 images, this virtual archive makes accessible material related to the history of the Chinese people in California between 1850 and 1925. The materials were selected to illustrate broad topical themes:

For a brief essay on each theme, see Topical Overview -- Essays & Galleries

The materials selected are drawn from a variety of archival collections, compiled by institutions and libraries with varying missions. Many of the collections have distinctive histories of their own. In some cases entire collections have been included; more often a selection of materials relating to the Chinese in California has been selected from a collection with broader scope. It is our hope that The Chinese in California presents a balanced perspective on a tumultuous and changing history of this community in California. Major issues explored in these records include the Chinese contribution to California and the American West in the 19th and early 20th centuries; the rampant anti-Chinese sentiment encountered by these immigrants, eventually leading to the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1892 (repealed in 1943); and settlement and development in various communities, including San Francisco's Chinatown, which remains the largest Chinatown in the United States.

The materials presented in The Chinese in California are only a small part of the wealth of historical and archival materials documenting this topic at participating institutions. Users should note the source of the materials found on this site and contact the holding libraries or archives for further information.

Contributing Institutions

The Bancroft Library, The University of California, Berkeley

The Bancroft Library is the primary special collections library at the University of California, Berkeley. One of the largest and most heavily used libraries of manuscripts, rare books, and unique materials in the United States, Bancroft supports major research and instructional activities and plays a leading role in the development of the University's research collections. The Bancroft Library's holdings include more than 500,000 volumes, 50,000,000 manuscript items (some 35,000 linear feet), 2,800,000 photographs and other pictorial materials, 43, 000 microforms, and 23,000 maps.

The Bancroft Collection, the Library's largest resource, documents the history of North America from western plains states to the Pacific Coast and from Panama to Alaska from the late eighteenth century onward. The collection was initially assembled by Hubert Howe Bancroft, who settled in San Francisco during the gold rush era, becoming a bookstore owner and publisher. Beginning in the 1860s he gathered materials for his vast publication project of a series of histories of western North American, in the end numbering 39 volumes. Within a decade he had amassed 16,000 volumes. Purchased by The University of California, Berkeley in 1905, the collection documents, through primary and secondary resources, the economic, political, social, and cultural history of this vast region. The greatest emphasis in the collection is on California and Mexico, with the history of most other Western American states collected up to 1900, except such broad, overlapping issues as water and the environment, which are collected without regard to date. Also represented are early Pacific voyages of exploration and discovery; continental expansion west of the Mississippi, including the Louisiana Purchase, fur trade, overland journeys to the West; Hawaii and the Philippines, British Columbia and the Yukon.

Some of the topical strengths include materials relating to Spanish/ Mexican California, the California Gold Rush and the settlement that followed, urban and rural development, particularly in northern California, the environmental movement in the American West, and local, state, and national political figures. The Bancroft Collection richly documents nineteenth and early twentieth century Chinese immigration to California and the West. Included in the collection is much that reflects the social life, culture, and commerce of these immigrants as well as the varying responses of other communities and individuals to the Chinese. The primary source materials include photographs, original art, cartoons and other illustrations; letters, diaries, business records, and legal documents; as well as pamphlets, broadsides, speeches, sheet music, and other printed matter.

The Ethnic Studies Library, The University of California, Berkeley

The Ethnic Studies Library contains one of the most comprehensive and unique Asian American Studies Collections in the United States, including materials on the cultural, political, and socio-economic life of Asian Americans and Chinese Overseas. Aside from developing a core collection on the identified Asian American groups--Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian American (Cambodian, Lao, Lao Hmong, Lao Mien, Thai and Vietnamese Americans), the Asian American Collections also contain the largest Chinese American archival collection in the world.

Chinese American Archives contains manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, newsletters and other primary source materials, including the largest collection of biographies on prominent people in different fields and active community members. This is the most extensive collection of its kind. The collection also contains newspapers collections in Chinese and English dating from 1880 to the present; an extensive slide collection on Chinese American history; hundreds of photographs on historic events; and a numerous historical posters by Asian American artists announcing community events. There are over hundred unique archival collections including the collection of Dr. Margaret Chung, the first Chinese American Woman Physician (1916) and the documents of the Chinese Empire Reform Association (it also called Baohuang Hui) on the political activities of Chinese Overseas, pa house. Also included are The Chinese Historical Society of America Collections, The Ray Jones Collection (Jones was a fervent Chinese anarchist in the United States), and University of California at Berkeley Alumni Collection, including collections from Mr. Yuk Ow, Mr. Him Mark Lai, and Professor Judy Yung.

California Historical Society, San Francisco

The California Historical Society (CHS) was founded in 1871, and designated by the state legislature in 1973 as the official historical society of California. Its mission is to engage the public's interest and participation in collecting, preserving, and presenting art, artifacts, and written materials relevant to the history of California and to support historical research, publication, and educational activities. The Society's holdings include research collections of library, archival and photography materials, as well as a fine arts collection with more than 5000 works of art that document the history of California in both the 19th and 20th centuries. Plans for the library were developed after the Society reorganized in 1922, and C. Templeton Crocker (1884-1948), eager to find a permanent home for his sizable collection of Californiana, placed it on permanent loan to the Society in 1923. Now owned by CHS, the library's collections today are built upon the strengths of Crocker's collection.

Housed in the North Baker Research Library at the Society's headquarters in San Francisco, the Society's research collections of primary and secondary resources include over 35,000 volumes of books and pamphlets, more than 4,000 manuscript collections, and some 500,000 photographs documenting California's social, cultural, economic, and political history and development, along with a large collection of maps, ephemera, posters, broadsides, periodicals, and newspapers relating to the history of California and the West from the early explorations to the present time.

The library's collection of rare books is notable for its 17th, 18th, and 19th century volumes on early explorations of the West and the Pacific, and many early books relating to the Mission period and the Gold Rush in California. Its manuscript collections include diaries of overland travelers as well as trips to California around the Horn and over the Isthmus of Panama. Its photography collections represent unique holding of many of California's most prestigious photographers, including Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge and Arnold Genthe. Of particular note among the many images that document the social, political, and cultural evolution of California are Genthe's street scenes of the San Francisco Chinese community in the late 1800s. The Library is also home to the Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing, one of the most complete collections of materials documenting printing and publishing in the western United States, consisting of more than 4,000 books, extensive pamphlet and ephemeral materials, photographs, periodicals and manuscript material. The research collections at CHS include many sources reflecting the social life, culture, and commerce of Chinese immigrants as well as the varying responses of other communities and individuals to the Chinese.

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