San Francisco’s Chinese Six Companies Association Forms Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Anti-Asian nativism prompted Chinese immigrants, mainly wealthy merchants, to organize the Chinese Six Companies for political representation, social services, and physical protection of the Chinese in the San Francisco area. The association’s reach would soon encompass the entire United States.

Summary of Event

During the early years of the United States, relations with China consisted of a small amount of trade in scarce goods. After the second Opium War (1856-1860) Opium Wars forced the Chinese emperor to open coastal areas to foreign trade and settlement in 1842, U.S. business interests began to view China as a potential market for exports. Chinese Six Companies Association San Francisco;Chinese immigrants Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association [kw]San Francisco’s Chinese Six Companies Association Forms (Nov. 12, 1882) [kw]Chinese Six Companies Association Forms, San Francisco’s (Nov. 12, 1882) [kw]Association Forms, San Francisco’s Chinese Six Companies (Nov. 12, 1882) [kw]Forms, San Francisco’s Chinese Six Companies Association (Nov. 12, 1882) Chinese Six Companies Association San Francisco;Chinese immigrants Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association [g]United States;Nov. 12, 1882: San Francisco’s Chinese Six Companies Association Forms[5250] [g]China;Nov. 12, 1882: San Francisco’s Chinese Six Companies Association Forms[5250] [c]Social issues and reform;Nov. 12, 1882: San Francisco’s Chinese Six Companies Association Forms[5250] [c]Organizations and institutions;Nov. 12, 1882: San Francisco’s Chinese Six Companies Association Forms[5250] [c]Economics;Nov. 12, 1882: San Francisco’s Chinese Six Companies Association Forms[5250] Huang Zunxian

News Chinese immigrants;and California gold rush[California gold rush] of the California gold rush of 1848-1849 was the first catalyst for large Chinese emigration across the Pacific to the United States. Many dreamed of streets of gold, but most Chinese emigrants arrived too late to capitalize on the limited riches of gold. Although some did mine for gold, often taking over claims that had been abandoned by miners who had moved on to richer deposits, many others worked as laborers building the transcontinental railroad under dangerous conditions. As more Chinese arrived in the West, some whites began to resent the diligent work habits of the Chinese immigrants and feared that their willingness to work would bring down wages for all workers. Like many other groups of newly arrived immigrants to the United States, many Chinese chose to cling to their native language and customs and live with fellow Chinese immigrants.

The Chinese population in the United States at that time was overwhelmingly male. By 1880, more than 100,000 Chinese lived in the western United States, of which only three thousand were women. Because of the preponderance of men, many whites saw the Chinese as transient workers who wanted temporary jobs in the United States to prepare for future marriages Marriage;and Chinese immigrants[Chinese immigrants] after they returned to China. The completion of the railroads and the Panic of 1873 had caused great economic difficulties in the West. Frustrated by political and economic difficulties, many Euro-Americans and elements of organized labor began to blame the Chinese for the lack of jobs and the economic recession.

Violence against Chinese in this period was widespread. In October, 1871, crowds of whites burned and looted the Los Angeles Chinatown Los Angeles;Chinese residents after two white policemen were killed by Chinese assailants. Nineteen men, women, and children were killed and hundreds injured as angry whites randomly attacked crowds of Chinese.

Unemployed men loitering in San Francisco’s Chinatown around the year 1900, when the city had the largest concentration of Chinese immigrants in North America.

(Library of Congress)

Hostility toward Chinese immigrants was reflected in the immigration laws of the period. Under intense political pressure from white voters in the West, Congress moved to exclude Chinese and other foreign-born Asians from obtaining citizenship. Citizenship, U.S.;and Chinese[Chinese] The 1870 Nationality Act denied the Chinese the possibility of becoming naturalized U.S. citizens, specifying that only foreign-born “free whites” and “African aliens” were eligible for citizenship. In 1878, California convened a constitutional convention to settle what was called the “Chinese problem.” The adopted constitution prohibited further Chinese immigration and granted local municipalities the right to exclude Chinese immigrants or confine them to specified areas. California also prohibited Chinese, American Indians, and African Americans from attending public schools.

Chinese immigrants were prohibited from owning property, obtaining business licenses, procuring government jobs, and testifying in any legal proceedings. At the urging of white voters in California, Congress in 1882 passed the first of a number of Chinese exclusion acts that prohibited the entrance of Chinese into the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court Supreme Court, U.S.;and Chinese Exclusion Act[Chinese Exclusion Act] upheld the exclusion acts, ruling in 1889 that the Chinese were “a race that will not assimilate with us [and] could be excluded when deemed dangerous to peace and security.” President Grover Cleveland supported that act and echoed the Court’s description of Chinese immigrants’ role in American society.

In San Francisco, anti-Chinese laws were supplemented to isolate the large Chinese community. Since the gold rush, San Francisco had been a center for recent immigrants to the United States. Attracted by tales of wealth in San Francisco—Jinshan, or “golden mountain”—newly arrived Chinese were forced to settle in the Chinatown area because of local laws and hostility from whites. Local regulations penalized attempts by Chinese merchants to expand by levying special taxes on businesses. There was even a local tax on the long braided hair worn by Chinese men. Segregated San Francisco;segregation in Segregation;in San Francisco[San Francisco] by these discriminatory laws, Chinatown began to establish structures to govern and protect its residents. San Francisco’s Chinatown, made up primarily of men as a result of the immigration control acts, had developed a reputation as a center of vice. Although most leaders at the time did not encourage assimilation with white society, they did move to control the small criminal element that began to define Chinese society to the non-Chinese residents of San Francisco.

Most of the early Chinese immigrants to San Francisco’s Chinatown came from the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. Early on, wealthy merchants in Chinatown had organized around clan groups and district associations in their hometowns in China. By 1854, there were six main associations in Chinatown. The first, formed in 1849, was the Gangzhou Gongsi, named after the district in Guangdong province that was the source of most of its members. The second, the San Yi Gongsi, consisted of immigrants from the administrative districts of Nanhai, Panyu, and Shunde. Immigrants from the districts of Yanging, Xinning, Xinhui, and Kaiping made up the third association, the Si Yi Gongsi. Immigrants from the Xiangshan area formed the fourth association, the Yang He Gongsi. The fifth, the Ren He Gongsi, was made up of the so-called Hakka peoples from Guanxi province.

The formation in 1854 of the sixth association, the Ning Yang Gongsi, marked the informal beginnings of the Chinese Six Companies Association. Formed first as a kung saw (public hall), the Six Companies served as a public association for leaders of the major associations in Chinatown to mediate disputes between their members and serve as a representative of the Chinese community as a whole. Newly arrived immigrants from China who were in need of assistance sought out these family or district associations rather than turn to local social service agencies. When business or personal disputes developed between members of different associations, the Six Companies would provide a forum for peaceful mediation of disputes.

The anti-Chinese legislation of the 1880’s forced the Six Companies to move toward a more overt role as representatives of Chinese interests in San Francisco. In 1882, the Chinese consul general in San Francisco, poet Huang Zunxian Huang Zunxian , recognized the group as the leading body in Chinatown. The Six Companies moved toward creating a formal representative body within Chinatown to represent Chinese interests. On November 19, 1882, the group formalized its existence by establishing an executive body drawn from members of the existing associations. The Six Companies, formally known as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA), adapted some of the representative principles of U.S. political culture. After its reorganization, the office of the president served a specified term and the presidency rotated between member associations that made up the Six Companies.

The CCBA was recognized by the state of California in 1901. At the time, the Six Companies sought to create a body above family clans or associations that would resist the growing anti-Chinese movements in California and the western United States. While it would carry on its role as a mediator in Chinatown, the group now took a more public role in its resistance to anti-Chinese legislation.

Significance

After the CCBA’s formal establishment in 1882, Chinese diplomats encouraged Chinese communities across the United States, Canada, and South America to establish Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Associations. The Six Companies in San Francisco had limited success in challenging anti-Chinese legislation as violations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The Six Companies supported the 1896 case of Yue Ting v. Hopkins, which forced the Supreme Court to overturn San Francisco safety ordinances designed to harass Chinese laundrymen.

Anti-Chinese attitudes in San Francisco and across the United States did not diminish after 1900. In 1902, an amendment to extend the Chinese Exclusion Act indefinitely was passed by Congress without debate. China boycotted Boycotts;Chinese U.S. goods to protest the legislation.

During the first half of the twentieth century, the Six Companies in San Francisco supported measures to improve the quality of life in Chinatown. In 1905, the Six Companies established a school in Chinatown to teach children Chinese culture and language. In 1943, Congress passed an immigration act that repealed the exclusion laws, and barriers to Chinese Americans in the United States began to fall. In California, many Americans of Chinese ancestry moved to white neighborhoods after anti-Chinese laws were overturned.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chinn, Thomas W. Bridging the Pacific: San Francisco Chinatown and Its People. San Francisco, Calif.: Chinese Historical Society of America, 1989. A detailed look at San Francisco from its founding to the late 1980’s, by the cofounder of the Chinese Historical Association of America. Includes photographs, clan charts, notes on transliteration, business directories, maps, a bibliography, and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kinkead, Gwen. Chinatown: A Portrait of a Closed Society. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. A valuable resource for observers interested in the inner workings of New York’s Chinatown. Provides a detailed portrait of the role of the New York CCBA in its Chinatown.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lai, Him Mark. Becoming Chinese American: A History of Communities and Institutions. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira, 2004. Explores the historical and cultural development of Chinese immigrants to the United States, with special emphasis on community organizations. Chapter 4 covers the CCBA.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nee, Victor, and Brett de Barry Nee. “The Establishment.” In Longtime Californ’: A Documentary Study of an American Chinatown. New York: Pantheon Books, 1973. Examines the founding of the Six Companies and its role in Chinatown in the twentieth century.

Chinese Begin Immigrating to California

Second Opium War

Burlingame Treaty

First Transcontinental Railroad Is Completed

“Crime of 1873”

Congress Enacts the Page Law

Arthur Signs the Chinese Exclusion Act

America’s “New” Immigration Era Begins

Anti-Japanese Yellow Peril Campaign Begins

Chinese Californians Form Native Sons of the Golden State

United States v. Wong Kim Ark

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