What was the Chinese Massacre of 1871?

The largest mass lynching in the US took place in Los Angeles' old Chinatown, since torn down. Editorial credit: Alex Millauer / Shutterstock.com
The largest mass lynching in the US took place in Los Angeles' old Chinatown, since torn down. Editorial credit: Alex Millauer / Shutterstock.com

On October 24, 1871, a mob of about 500 white and Latino rioters went to Chinatown to attack rob and kill Chinese residents of Los Angeles, California. This event was the massive mass lynching in the history of America. About 17-20 Chinese immigrants were tortured and hanged by the mob , and bodies of the dead could be seen hanging at three different places close to the center of the downtown business area of the city. Some were outside a carriage shop, hanging from a wooden awning over the sidewalk. Around the corner, other bodies hung from the sides of two prairie schooners parked on the street. The rest of the Chinese men were hanged from a cross beam of a large gate leading into a lumberyard. All the buildings on the block that were occupied by Chinese men were ransacked.

Causes of the Chinese Massacre

Racial discrimination against the Chinese, whose climax was the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, was the cause of the lynching. A less likely but more proximate cause was the murder of a white rancher, Robert Thomson who died during crossfire between two Chinese groups. The fight was a result of a longstanding conflict over the kidnapping of a Chinese woman named Yut Ho.

Location of the Massacre

The massacre took place on a road called "Calle de loss Negros" (Street of the Negroes), that ran 500 feet from the intersection of Acadia Street to the plaza. It was located northeast of the principal business district of Los Angeles. The street was named Calle de loss Negros by the Californios of darker complexion who formerly lived there. The Californios were most probably of mixed race; African, Native American, and Spanish. The area had initially been an affluent neighborhood of the town’s most prominent families. However, by the time the first Chinatown was established in the 1860s, it had deteriorated into a slum. The street was ever crowded both at night and during the day with people of many races rushing and crowding along to and from the many cribs, salons, dance halls, and gambling houses that filled area. In 1887, Calle de loss Negros was incorporated into Los Angeles Street. Around the same time, the adobe apartment in which the Chinese massacre occurred was torn down and is now a part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument.

Aftermath of the Massacre

Out of the mob of about 500 that facilitated the lynching, only ten were tried in court. Of these, eight were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to imprisonment in San Quentin. Their convictions, however, were overturned on a legal technicality. The massacre was widely reported on the East Coast, with Los Angeles described in the newspapers as a "blood stained Eden."


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