Chinese in America


Spanish explorers under Gaspar de Portola enter the area that is now Los Angeles on their way northward.

El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles is founded by Governor Felipe de Neve in 1781. The Boston Tea Party happens in 1773.

Declaration of Independence is approved and George Washington is inaugurated as the first President of the United States

In 1791, the Bill of Rights is ratified


Thomas Jefferson is elected President

In 1803, the Louisiana Territory Purchase is made. The Indian Removal Act is passed in 1830.

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill starts the California gold rush. This brings people from all over the world including Chinese.

On September 9, 1850, California gains statehood. The first U.S. census taken after statehood shows two Chinese house servants listed as residents of Los Angeles: Ah Fou and Ah Luce.


California Supreme Court includes Chinese among racial classes prohibited from testifying against whites

1859, Arrival of first Chinese woman to Los Angeles. First in U.S. was Afong Moy in 1834. Chinese fishermen become established off Catalina Island.

Abraham Lincoln is elected President and the Civil War begins


Thousands of Chinese men, the vast majority from Guangdong Province, are hired by Central Pacific Railroad Co. for work on the western portion of the first transcontinental railroad.

In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation happens

President Lincoln is assassinated

In 1869, the first transcontinental railroad is completed


Census: out of 5,728 citizens in Los Angeles, 172 are Chinese. A Chinese cemetery is established at Fort Moore Hill near the current headquarters of the Los Angeles School District.

“Chinese massacre” leaves 18 Chinese dead in Los Angeles

Sixty seven Chinese arrive in Los Angeles to work on construction of Los Angeles and Independence Railroad.

The Southern Pacific Railroad connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles is completed by Chinese laborers; work includes 1.25-mile San Fernando tunnel.


Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and Chinese vegetable peddlers are required to acquire licenses.

Chinese Methodist Mission is established. Successful bidders for irrigation projects are not allowed to use Chinese laborers.

Chinese vegetable peddlers strike when the city passes a new ordinance aimed at the Chinese. The attempt to drive Chinese labor out of Los Angeles is unsuccessful.

Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. The Chinese Exclusion Act is passed by Congress. Further immigration of Chinese laborers is suspended. Chinese residents are denied the right to become naturalized U.S. Citizens


Part of the Chinese quarter is burned by arsonists. Los Angeles Trade and Labor Council and Knights of Labor move to boycott Chinese goods and labor in Los Angeles. Boycott fails when Chinese counter-boycott.

Los Angeles Congregational Mission for Chinese is established. Chinese cemetery shrine established at Evergreen cemetery in Boyle Heights.

Los Angeles Chinese population figure decreases. Way Leung Kung Saw is formed to protect the welfare of Chinese in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Chinese market gardeners, recruited to raise celery in the area between Westminster and Huntington Beach, are harassed and attacked. Chinese resident laborers must register under the Geary Act and must obtain resident certificate. First Chinese deportee in U.S. is from Los Angeles.


Chinese are invited to participate in Los Angeles’ La Fiesta de las Flores, a new annual tradition in effort to market Los Angeles.

First Chinese newspaper, Wah Mei Sun Po (Chinese American News) is founded in Los Angeles by Ng Poon Chew. The Spanish-American War begins.

An estimated 3,200 Chinese are believed to reside in Los Angeles. The Chinese in Los Angeles renounce the Boxer Rebellion, a movement in China aimed at destabilizing the increasingly weak Qing rulers. Chinese attempting to re-enter the United States during this period of unrest back in China encounter greater difficulties.

Theodore Roosevelt becomes President.


Sun Yat-Sen, an American educated doctor and one of the leaders of a campaign to establish a republic in China, pays a visit to Los Angeles.

The San Francisco Earthquake happens.

Louie Gwan and other Chinese (along with Caucasian and Japanese vegetable growers) build the City Market Wholesale Produce Terminal, located at 9th and San Pedro Streets in modern day downtown Los Angeles. Two hundred thousand shares of stock were sold at a dollar a share to finance the start of the market.

The Ford Model T is introduced to the consumer market.


China’s last dynastic emperor abdicates in Beijing. The Republic of China is established with Sun Yat-Sen as its first President.

Native Sons of the Golden State establishes a lodge in Los Angeles Chinatown. Its members are American born Chinese in California. The Lodge’s main purpose is to defend the civil rights of Chinese Americans. In 1914, its name is changed to the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (C.A.C.A.).

World War 1 begins. Chinese Americans travel to Europe to fight.

Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association establishes a cemetery at First St. and Eastern Ave. in East L.A.


Wall St. crashes, and Mei Wah Club, a social and athletic organization for Chinese American women, is founded in Los Angeles.

In 1937, Sino-Japanese War starts with troops of the Japanese Imperial Army invading Manchuria, a resource rich region of northern China. Chinese Americans in Los Angeles hold a Moon Festival to raise relief funds for China. In San Pedro Harbor, Chinese Americans march to protest the United States’ sending scrap metal to Japan despite the Chinese government’s request for an immediate embargo against Tokyo.

New Chinatown and China City open in Los Angeles. Chinese populations in Los Angeles districts of City Market, East Adams, and Spring Street near China City increase due to destruction of Old Chinatown site to make room for construction of Union Station.

In 1939, World War 2 begins. Still officially neutral, the United States declares an embargo against American made war supplies being sold and sent to Japan in 1940.


In July, Washington declares a total economic embargo against Japan and freezes its assets. This and other policies triggers Japan’s December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor in the U.S. territory of Hawaii. Washington declares its entry into World War II. The Flying Tigers, a volunteer troop of aviators led by American Clare Chennault, is formed in China to combat Japanese aggression.

Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the wife of China’s leader, delivers an address at Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. During the East Coast leg of her American tour, the American educated Chinese First Lady asks Congress to repeal Chinese Exclusion laws. Her wish is granted. Quota of 105 Chinese immigrants (regardless of natural origin) imposed.

WW2 ends. World War II ends with the Allied powers led by the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and China victorious over the Axis faction of Germany, Italy and Japan. Nationalistic sentiments among the peoples of Asia leads to calls for independence, gradually forcing out the British, French and Dutch colonial regimes that had ruled in the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), French Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos), British Malaya (Malaysia) and British India (India, Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh). Periods of violence and unrest grip most of the region as its leaders struggle to build their own nations. In subsequent decades, this would lead to influxes of refugees (including ethnic Chinese and their descendants who had migrated to other parts of Asia) seeking safety in the shores of countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and France.


The number of Chinese women entering the United States increases largely due to the passage of the 1945 War Brides Act and the 1946 Fiance Act. These bills allowed Chinese American returning servicemen to bring back their China born brides, most of whom they had met while fighting the war in Asia.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson plays for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1949, Chinese Communists win the bitter civil war that had plagued China since the defeat of Japan four years earlier. Mao Tse-tung and the Communists declare the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1st. The Nationalist Chinese government, led by Chiang Kai-shek, moves its republic to the island of Taiwan.

The Korean War begins. Passage of a number of laws contributes to a surge in Los Angeles’s Chinese population. The McCarran-Walter Act removes racial barriers to immigration and the Refugee Relief Act approves admission of many refugees above ordinary quota limitations.

Military experience and greater access to college educations, made possible by various G.I. bills, and the passage of a number of laws, including the McCarran-Walter Act help propel Chinese Americans into the mainstream of American life.


The Chinese Chamber of Commerce is established to promote and encourage the development of the Chinese American business community.

Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Soviet Union launched Sputnik.

Judge Delbert Wong
 of Los Angeles is the first Chinese American appointed as judge in the continental United States. The appointment is recognized as a historic event, receiving national media attention. Later, Judge Wong helps form the Chinatown Democratic Club.

“Confession Program” pardons undocumented Chinese immigrants, including the so-called “paper sons,” whose personal histories in the United States are difficult to trace and verify.


Kennedy Emergency Immigration Act leads to the acceptance of 5,000 Chinese immigrants into the United States during the period of “The Great Leap Forward” in the People’s Republic of China. Cathay Bank, the first Chinese American bank in Southern California, is founded to provide and promote economic development of the Los Angeles Chinatown community.

In 1961, the Vietnam War begins. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated.

Discriminatory immigration laws end, opening up thousands of slots for migrants from Asian countries. The new law sets a new quota of 20,000 persons from any country. The U.S. Immigration Act of 1965 opens the door to a wave of Chinese migration from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Subsequent immigration leads to a revitalization of the New Chinatown area of Los Angeles.

The Immigration Act is passed.


New contingents of Chinese arrivals settle outside of New Chinatown in Los Angeles, favoring instead to purchase homes in communities such as nearby Monterey Park. Meanwhile, the Chinatown Service Center, which offers referral services and social aid to the community, is established in Los Angeles Chinatown.

Martin Luther King is assassinated. Neil Armstrong walks on the moon.

President Richard Nixon’s trip to the People’s Republic of China opens up diplomatic relations. The Nationalist party in Taiwan, who had previously been recognized by Washington as the legitimate government of China, is marginalized. Taiwan eventually loses its seat as a standing member of the United Nations. The perception of “two Chinas” impacts community life among Chinese living overseas, Los Angeles being no exception. Look Forward, Preserve the Past.


Chinese Historical Society of Southern California is established to foster greater understanding of the experience of Chinese Americans in this region. End of large scale U.S. involvement in the war in the former French Indochina results in the migration of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Many of these new migrants to the U.S. are ethnic Chinese, some of whom eventually relocate to Los Angeles Chinatown.

The Chinatown branch of Los Angeles Public Library opens in 1977.

California State Legislature passes the Chinese Roast Duck Bill, AB2603, which stemmed from concerns about Chinese roast ducks and other protein items prepared in the restaurants of Los Angeles Chinatown. The bill ensures that Chinese culinary traditions be maintained despite some concerns at the time that meat and other protein items were not being handled in manners that were in compliance with Los Angeles County health codes.

Iran hostage crisis happens in 1979.


Lily Lee Chen of Monterey Park becomes the first Chinese American female to serve as Mayor of an American City.

Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles in 1984 and Cathay Manor, a large senior citizen, low-income housing project, is built.

Monterey Park is identified as the first suburban Chinatown in the U.S. Center of Chinese American population shifts to San Gabriel Valley.

The Friends of the Museum of Chinese American History is founded with representatives from El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California and the local community.


U.S. executive order allows students from the People’s Republic of China to stay in the United States following the Chinese government’s crackdown on demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The several week-long stand-off between masses of mostly students and soldiers from China People’s Liberation Army revolved around calls for China’s Communist Party to reform.

The Cold War ends.

The Gulf War begins. The Chinese Historical Society of Southern California aquires and restores the Historic Burial Shrine at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights, where many Chinese American pioneers now rest. It is still used for Ching Ming ceremonies.

The Chinese Historical Society of Southern California purchases two historic houses at 411 and 415 Bernard Street for its permanent home.


Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwan-born scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is hauled away by FBI agents on charges of leaking sensitive defense secrets to China. His case sparks protests by Chinese American civil rights groups, including the Organization of Chinese Americans Greater Los Angeles Chapter. After 278 days in solitary detention, the charges against Lee were dropped in 2000.

9/11 happens in 2001.

The Chinatown Library opens on February 6, 2003 at 639 North Hill Street. A few months later, the Chinese American Museum opens on December 18, 2003 on the site of the historic Garnier Building between Los Angeles Street and Sanchez Alley.