The Chinese Experience in 19th Century America

19th Century American Ideas About Other Peoples

Chinese Exclusion: The Process

Exclusion: Chinese Perspectives



Anti-Chinese Violence: The Rock Springs Massacre, 1885

After several decades of discrimination and legal harassment, anti-Chinese sentiment found expression in the violent actions taken by vigilante groups during the 1880s and 1890s. The growing labor movement officially endorsed an anti-Chinese, pro-Chinese-exclusion platform and this exacerbated tensions. Chinese workers throughout the western states were driven out of mines, agricultural settlements, and cities. Local authorities did little or nothing to prevent these attacks and were sometimes active participants in the mob action. In several cases federal troops were called in to restore order.

Massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs, Wyoming

In 1885 in Rock Springs, Wyoming, white miners attacked Chinese miners after the Chinese refused to join in a strike for higher wages. The San Francisco Chronicle ran several articles on the attack. The first of the set of newspaper clippings describe what happened at Rock Springs, Wyoming. The second set of clippings asks the question, “What Will China Do?” Have the students read the newspaper articles and as a class discuss the following questions.

  • What does citizenship mean? Are you entitled to protection from the nation of your citizenship no matter where you live?

  • Under what circumstances should the government of one country attempt to intervene on behalf of its citizen(s) residing in another country?

  • What reasons does the news article give for predicting a weak response to the massacre by the Chinese government?

    It may be necessary at this time to brief the students on the situation in China during the 19th century. Relevant information can be found in the Teacher Background for this lesson.

The Chinese government, however, did respond to the violence. The head of the Chinese legation in the United States sent three Chinese officials to Wyoming to investigate. The surviving miners presented the Chinese consul from New York, who was one of the investigating officials, a letter describing the attack and requesting help in securing redress and compensation.

Divide students into small groups to read the letter from the Chinese survivors and discuss the questions following the reading. The questions focus on the Chinese immigrants’ response to the violence as citizens of China and ask students to consider the international issues that come into play when foreign citizens are attacked or abused.

Directions are also given for an independent research assignment.


Previous Next



Home | Unit Overview | 19th Century American Ideas | Chinese Exclusion: The Process | Exclusion: Chinese Perspectives
Resources | Credits