Date of Award

Spring 6-8-2017

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of arts (BA)


Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Mary Hanneman

Second Advisor

William Burghart


In the literature on anti-Chinese violence in the American West during the 1880s, the depiction of Chinese immigrants is often limited to that of a faceless group, the pawns in an American political struggle that they neither understood nor had agency in. This historical interpretation of the Chinese as a people entirely alien to their communities is largely based on an over-reliance on contemporary white sources while ignoring Chinese accounts. Many contemporary whites were unwilling to honestly describe their relationship with Chinese immigrants, either because of racial bias or because of the threat of mob violence against those perceived as too friendly to the Chinese.

In this paper I argue that eyewitness testimonies and personal papers of Chinese immigrants often demonstrate an in-depth understanding of local and national American politics. Chinese accounts also often show personal relationships with many of the leading white citizens of their communities, whom the Chinese called upon for aid in the face of mob violence. This paper examines the anti-Chinese violence in three different American frontier towns – Rock Springs, Tacoma, and Seattle – primarily from the perspective of Chinese eyewitnesses. These testimonies demonstrate that Chinese residents actively resisted efforts to force them out by appealing to both US and Chinese officials. In the aftermath of mob violence, Chinese immigrants pressured the US government to pay indemnities for Chinese losses by publicizing their accounts in China, which encouraged retaliatory anti-American violence in Chongqing. By creating international pressure on the US government, Chinese immigrants and diplomats were able to successfully force the US into agreeing to pay indemnities for Chinese loss of life and property.