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2 Chinese Livelihood in Rural California The Impact of Economic Change, 1860-1880
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Occupational Structure, 1870

In the decade between 1860 and 1870, four significant developments in the larger California economy influenced the occupational structure of the rural Chinese immigrant population: the decline of mining, the emergence of San Francisco as a manufacturing center, the growth of intensive agriculture, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Through immigration, the Chinese population had increased during the decade. Mining absorbed a far smaller absolute number as well as percentage of the Chinese population, but othinese population, but othing a living in light manufacturing, agriculture, and common labor became available.

Gold mining declined enormously in importance as a source of livelihood for the rural Chinese population in California between 1860 and


1870. In 1860, there had been 24,282 Chinese among a total of 82,573 miners in the state, but by 1870, of the some 43,000 miners left in California, about 16,000 were Chinese. Compared to a decade earlier when miners made up over 70 percent of the Chinese population in California, they now constituted only about a third.[32]

A significant divergence had developed between the economy of San Francisco and the rest of the state by 1870. Such a trend was clearly observable as it affected the Chinese immigrant population. In San Francisco, 27.2 percent of the gainfully employed Chinese worked in light manufacturing. Four industries—cigar and tobacco manufacturing, the boot and shoe industry, woolen mills, and the sewing trades—employed over 2,300 Chinese workers. In contrast, in all of rural California, only 174 persons, or only 0.7 percent of the gainfully employed Chinese adults, worked in light manufacturing, 96 of whom were in the shoe industry, 48 in the cigar industry, 28 in the sewing trades, with 1 each in a woolen mill and in an iron foundry.[33] Fifteen of the shoemakers lived in Sacramento City, 6 in Marysville, and 1 in Stockton. Of the cigar makers, 35 worked in Sacramento City and 3 in Marysville. Eleven of the individuals engaged in the sewing trades lived in Sacramento, while 8 lived in Yuba County.[34] Thus, although Sacramento and Marysville also had nascent light manufacturing industries, the number of Chinese employed in this sector was miniscule compared to San Francisco.

After manufacturing, independent businesses and various professions absorbed the largest number of Chinese in San Francisco. These trades provided a livelihood to 25.8 percent of the gainfully employed Chinese in the city. Nonagricultural manual laborers made up 24.8 percent of the gainfully employed, while those in personal service constituted I4.8 percent. Only 6 percent of the San Francisco Chinese population were in primary extraction and production, and over three-fifths of them were miners visiting the city. The only important resident group in primary production was 145 fishermen.[35]

In rural California, on the other hand, over 17,000 of the 37,000 Chinese remained in primary extraction and production—a sector that supported 46 percent of them. Miners numbered some 16,000; truck gardeners and farmers some 1,000; while 151 fishermen made up the rest of this group. Next in numerical importance were almost 6,000 nonagricultural laborers; slightly over 3,000 providers of personal service; and almost 3,000 artisans, professionals, and entrepreneurs. Even though labor-intensive agriculture was developing, in 1870 only a little over 2,000 Chinese in rural California as a whole worked as agricultural laborers.[36]


The three counties in this study differ from rural California seen as a whole: a much larger percentage of their Chinese population had entered agriculture by 1870. Sacramento County led the state in the transformation of its agriculture from extensive grain cultivation to intensive fruit and hop growing. In 1870, Sacramento County ranked first in the state in the value of its orchard products, and fifth in the value of its market garden products. Truck gardening had been an important means of livelihood for the Sacramento Chinese as far back as the 1850s. By 1870, although truck gardening continued to be important, Chinese agriculturalists had begun to move out of small-scale truck gardening inside the city of Sacramento into large-scale tenant farming in the Sacramento Delta. While 35 Chinese truck gardeners and 4 farmers resided within city limits (compared to 110 truck gardeners cultivating plots within city limits a decade earlier), 37 truck gardeners and 26 farmers now tilled the soil in the Sacramento Delta.

The presence of Chinese farmers in the Sacramento Delta was first documented narratively in a newspaper account in 1869 and statistically in the 1870 manuscript agriculture census.[37] In 1873, the first lease was officially recorded between two Chinese tenants, Chou Ying and Wee Ying, and George D. Roberts, president of the Tide Land Reclamation Company, which had employed many Chinese to drain the peat islands of the delta. Chou Ying and Wee Ying leased 551 acres in three tracts on a mixed cash-rent and share-crop basis. On one tract, they paid eight dollars per acre, while on the other two tracts, they were to give the landlord a fourth of the crops. However, the lease stipulated that if the tenants chose to grow Chinese vegetables, then the landlord did not wish to have any of the crops; instead, a cash rent of ten dollars per acre would be paid.[38]

In the late 1870s, other Chinese tenants leased plots ranging from 160 acres to 200 acres for rents ranging from fifteen dollars per acre for unimproved land to eighty dollars per acre for land with growing orchards. Most of these leased farms were in the so-called backswamps of the peat islands, where the danger of floods was much greater. White owner-operators usually retained farms along the elevated natural levees for their own cultivation.[39] It is difficult to compare the rent paid by Chinese tenants to that paid by white tenants, for the former usually leased farms on a cash rental basis, while almost all the latter leased them on a share-cropping basis.

Chinese had also begun to work as farm laborers by 1870, but they were found in significant numbers only in Sacramento and San Joaquin counties, with 567 and 224 persons, respectively. The largest concentration


of Chinese farm laborers in Sacramento County was in Sutter, Franklin, and Georgiana townships—the three townships along the Sacramento River in the delta portion of the county. The only other cluster of Chinese farmworkers was in the hopfields of American and Center townships, along the American River. In these areas, approximately a third of them lived in the households of white farmers, while the remainder lived in their own households. Since the number of Chinese farmers was still relatively small, it can be assumed that almost all the Chinese agricultural laborers worked for white farmers in 1870.[40] In San Joaquin County, the Chinese farm laborers were also in the delta region. No Chinese farm laborers were enumerated in Yuba County, but Marysville had sixty Chinese truck gardeners.[41]

The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 disgorged thousands of Chinese workers into the labor market all over the western states. Many of these discharged workers returned to California, where most of them sought work as nonagricultural common laborers. Their presence was especially noticeable in Marysville and Stockton. In the former city, common laborers made up 45.6 percent of the Chinese population, while in the latter, the figure was 44.3 percent.[42] Levee building and maintenance, road-building, and other road-building, and otherrobably engaged most of these persons. If this was indeed the case, then Chinese laborers were responsible for building many of the roads, ditches, levees, and bridges in these areas.

By 1870, a tripartite division of labor had emerged within the Chinese immigrant population: independent miners and agriculturalists, independent urban entrepreneurs earning their living largely within ethnic enclaves, and a numerically growing group of wage-earners who depended on employment from the larger society for their livelihood.

The number of persons in primary extraction and production varied according to locality. This group represented less than 5 percent of the total Chinese population in the three cities. In the countryside, there were no Chinese miners or farmers in San Joaquin County, while in Sacramento County outside of Sacramento City, miners, farmers, truck gardeners, and fishermen made up 43.7 percent of the Chinese population, and in Yuba County outside of Marysville, 64.8 percent of the Chinese were in agriculture or mining.

Proportionately (but not in absolute numbers), artisans, professionals, and entrepreneurs had declined in importance in the three cities by 1870. Moreover, within this grouping, some subtle but significant changes had occurred during the 1860-1870 decade. Practitioners of certain skilled


trades, such as bakers, cabinetmakers, and carpenters, had all but disappeared, most probably because better organization by whites had driven the handful of Chinese in these occupations in the 1860s out of them. On the other hand, occupations requiring a small amount of capital investment had grown in importance. The number of boardinghouse keepers increased, reflecting the emergence of Sacramento, Marysville, and Stockton as important stopping places for transient Chinese migrant laborers. The number of professional gamblers had also increased dramatically, perhaps indicating that some individuals had discovered a profitable way to earn a living by exploiting their fellowmen's need for recreation. Chinese had also carved a niche for themselves as vegetable vendors manning stationary stalls (in contrast to peripatetic Chinese vegetable peddlers, long a familiar sight on the California scene). Lastly, Chinese appeared for the first time in 1870 in a number of semiskilled trades, such as brick, barrel, and candle making.

Persons dependent on white employers for their livelihood had increased greatly in number. They included farm laborers, nonagricultural common laborers, wage-earners in light manufacturing, and a growing number of persons providing personal service.[43] Together with laundry-men whose customers were mainly white, this group embraced the majority of the Chinese population in all three cities and in rural Sacramento County. In rural Yuba County, they made up a third of the Chinese population, while in rural San Joaquin County, they included almost the entire Chinese population.

If employment by whites is viewed as a channel for interaction with the larger society, then the Chinese population in rural California in 1870 was in more frequent interaction with the white population than a decade earlier. Although such interaction was mainly in the form of employer-employee relations, and even though such social relations were hardly a good basis for providing genuine understanding between the two groups, it nonetheless cannot be said that the Chinese lived only in their own segregated world by the beginning of their third decade of settlement in California.

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2 Chinese Livelihood in Rural California The Impact of Economic Change, 1860-1880
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