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The Places

Chinese Voices

"Few years after I come, they drive Chinese out of Portland... they very cruel, very mean to Chinaman at that time...."

Chin Bong, Portland, Oregon

It is difficult to find stories about expulsion events and other violence against Chinese immigrants from those who were the victims. Newspaper and magazine articles were notoriously biased, and almost all of the descriptions of riots and expulsions were told from a white person's viewpoint. In addition, most Chinese immigrants were rightfully reluctant to speak about their plight for fear of further violence against them. The few Chinese stories that are less affected by the usual bias of white reporters are found in various official investigation reports of the U.S. Government.

Here are some of those accounts.

This photo shows some of the many signatures of Chinese merchants in Butte, Montana, who were part of a successful lawsuit 
seeking damages caused by a white boycott against the Chinese stores. The original document is in the collection of the National Archives in Seattle.

Lum May's Story


Lum May lived in Tacoma, Washington, when all of the Chinese residents there were expelled in 1885. As part of the official investigation into that event Lum May provided the following testimony, which was recorded by a translator at the time:


“I was born in Canton China and I'm a subject of the Chinese empire. I am aged about 51 years. Have been in America about 11 years and have been doing business in Tacoma for ten years. My business there was that of keeping dry goods, provisions, medicines and general merchandise store.


On the third day of November I resided with my family in Tacoma on the corner of Railroad Street some little distance from Chinatown. At that time I would say there were 800 or 900 Chinese persons in and about Tacoma who... were forcibly expelled by the white people of Tacoma. Twenty days previously to 3rd of November, a committee of white persons waited upon the Chinese at their residences and ordered them to leave the city before the 3rd of November. I do not know the names of [the] white persons but would recognize their faces. The committee consisted of 15 or 20 persons...who notified the Chinese to leave.

I asked Gen. Sprague and other citizens for protection for myself and the Chinese people. The general said he would see and do what he could. All the Chinese after receiving notice to leave were frightened lest their houses should be blown up and destroyed. A rumor to that effect was in circulation. Many of them shut up their houses and tried to keep on the look out.

About half past 9 o'clock on the morning of November 3, 1885, a large crowd of citizens of Tacoma marched down to Chinatown and told all the Chinese that the whole Chinese population of Tacoma must leave town by half past one o'clock in the afternoon of that day. There must have been in the neighborhood of 1000 people in the crowd of white people though I cannot tell how many. They went to all of the Chinese houses and establishments and notified the Chinese to leave. Where the doors were locked they broke forcibly enter the houses smashing indoors and breaking in Windows. Some of the crowd was armed with pistols, some with clubs. They acted in a rude boisterous and threatening manner, dragging and kicking the Chinese out of their houses.


My wife refused to go and some of the white persons dragged her out of the house. From the excitement of the fright and the losses we sustained through the riot she lost her reason, and has ever since been hopelessly insane. She threatens to kill people with a hatchet and any other weapon she can get hold of. The outrages I and my family suffered at the hands of the mob has utterly ruined me. I make no claim, however, for my wife's insanity or the anguish I have suffered. My wife was perfectly sane before the riot.


I saw my countrymen marched out of Tacoma on November 3. They presented a sad spectacle. Some had lost their trunks, some of their blankets, some were crying for their things.


Armed white men were behind the Chinese, on horseback sternly urging them on. It was raining and blowing hard. On 5 November all the Chinese houses situated on the wharf were burned down by incendiary.


A few of the Chinese merchants I among them were suffered to remain in Tacoma for two days in order to pack up our goods or what was left of them. On the 5th of November, after the burning of the Chinese houses on the wharf I left Tacoma for Victoria where I have since resided... No Chinaman has been allowed to reside in Tacoma since November 3rd.


Mayor Weisbach appeared to be one of the leaders of the mob on the 3rd of November. I spoke to him and told him that Mr. Sprague had said the Chinese had a right to stay and would be protected. He answered me: 'General Sprague has nothing to say. If he says anything we will hang him or kick him. You get out of here.' I cried. He said I was a baby because I cried over the loss of my property. He said, 'I told you before you must go, and I mean my word shall be kept good.'


I desire to add to this that... it is ten years since we began business there.”

Source: Washington State Historical Society


Ah Sing's Story


Ah Sing lived in Denver at the time of the 1880 anti-Chinese riot. He was attacked by the mob but was able to escape when some white citizens intervened. A man he employed, Sing Lee, was killed by the mob after Ah Sing escaped.


“I live at the corner of Nineteenth and Lawrence. I keep a wash-house. I was in the house last Saturday when the mob came, and I was lying under the ironing table. I saw the parties, but could not recognize them as it was dark. I did not see them take out Sing Lee, as the mob put a rope around my neck and dragged me out of the house, but it was so dark I could not see them to identify them. Sing Lee was in the house at the time the mob entered the house. The mob cut off my cue after they got me outside of the house.”

Source: Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, December 5, 1881,
p 332.  Available online through the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections


Chin Bong's Story


Chin Bong lived in Portland, Oregon, during the 1886 expulsion in Albina and Oregon City. He told his story to federal officials who were documenting race relations many years after the event.


“Few years after I come, they drive out Chinese out of Portland. When I in Portland, I stayed very close to me store. My Store outside Chinese town, in white district, so when they drive Chinese out of Portland, they no touch me, they forget all about I in Portland. But they very cruel, very mean to Chinaman at that time in Portland. And they drive them out. I was glad that I was in American district.”

Source: Survey of Race Relations. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1924. p 47.



Image above: Butte, Montana


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