Preferred Citation: Cornford, Daniel, editor. Working People of California. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.

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

Occupational Structure, 1860

The gold rush had a greater impact on the Chinese population in California than it did on other ethnic groups in the state. Throughout the mining


era, a larger proportion of the Chinese engaged in mining than did their counterparts among other ethnic groups. In 1860, 70.4 percent of all gainfully employed Chinese above the age of fifteen were miners, compared to 31.6 percent among non-Chinese gainfully employed persons.[14] Moreover, the Chinese remained in mining longer than the non-Chinese population. White miners had begun their exodus from the mines by the mid-1850s, but Chinese miners began to drift out only after 1863.[15] As late as 1900, small clusters of aging Chinese miners were still listed in the manuscript population census.

Chinese miners worked mainly placer claims, so they were found primarily along streams and rivers. An analysis of the locational distribution of Chinese miners in Yuba County indicates that in 1860, Chinese miners were concentrated most heavily along the Yuba River and its tributaries. The number of Chinese miners was largest in Long Bar, North-east, Foster Bar, and Slate Range townships—townships through which the Yuba, Middle Yuba, and North Yuba rivers flow. In contrast, few Chinese miners were found in Rose Bar, Parks Bar, and New York townships, where a range of mountains is located. There were gold deposits in these latter townships, however, for the number of white miners in them was large.[16] In these mountainous areas, the gold deposits were in hardrock quartz claims, and Chinese miners did not have the capital to purchase the necessary heavy equipment to work such deposits, nor did they feel secure enough to invest in expensive machinery that they might be forced to abandon.

In the 1860s, most of the Chinese miners along the Yuba River and its tributaries were independent prospectors and not laborers for mining companies. They frequently formed their own companies consisting of up to forty partners.[17] Many Chinese miners in Yuba County obtained their claims through preemption rather than through purchase. Preemption claims did not have to be bought; the claimants only had to file the necessary documents in the county recorder's office and put up markers to show the boundaries of their claims. The ability of Chinese miners to file preemption claims is worth noting, for it has been commonly assumed that because of anti-Chinese sentiment in the mines, Chinese immigrants had to resort to buying worked-over claims abandoned by white miners.[18]

The earliest Chinese preemption claims appeared in Yuba County records in 1856. Ah Louie and Company claimed 240 feet at Buckeye Bar along the Yuba River, while Sham Kee claimed 4,200 feet eight miles outside of Marysville City, also along the Yuba River.[19] Records of prices paid by Chinese miners for claims they purchased indicate the approximate amount


of money that they saved when they were able to obtain claims through preemption. In 1856, Ah Chung and Company purchased two claims of sixty feet each from Frederick Antenheimer (the Yuba County tax collector) and John Lawrence for $620. The purchase price included two wheelbarrows and running planks.[20] In the following year, Antenheimer and Ferdinand Furning sold two claims measuring ninety feet each to Ah Locke and Thin Shue for $695, and threw into the bargain two frame houses, two pumps, and miscellaneous mining tools.[21] Those Chinese who were able to obtain claims through preemption therefore saved hundreds and perhaps even thousands of dollars.

Contrary to thlars.

Contrary to thies where Chinese miners were driven away from good claims that they had located, quite a number of Chinese miners along the Yuba River in both Yuba and Sierra counties were allowed to work the same locations year after year. In January 1869, four different Chinese companies filed multiple preemption claims at Missouri Bar on the Yuba River. Hong Fook Kong and Company, with ten partners, filed ten claims of 100 feet each, which they renewed annually between 1870 and 1874. Then they disappeared from the county records until March 1878, when they filed thirty-two claims with thirty-two partners. By 1879, however, the larger group had splintered, and Hong Fook Kong and Company was once again composed of ten partners filing ten claims. These claims were renewed in 1880 and 1881.[22]

Three other groups also worked the same stretch of the Yuba River during the twelve-year period between 1869 and 1881. In Key and Company, with six partners, filed six claims contiguous to Hong Fook Kong and Company's claims, stretching upriver for 600 feet.[23] Jim and Company, with four partners, filed four claims upriver from In Key and Company's claims.[24] Both companies followed the same pattern of claims renewal as Hong Fook Kong and Company. The fourth group, Ah King and Company, had six partners who filed claims which were not contiguous to the other three companies during the same period of time. Perhaps that is why in 1878, when they filed thirty-two claims with thirty-two partners (a different group of persons from the thirty-two in the Hong Fook Kong Company), three of the partners were not individuals but corporate entities: Hong Fook Kong and Company, In Key and Company, and a fifth group called Ah Kong and Company.[25] It may be surmised that certain Chinese miners were buying shares in other people's claims in different localities. This second example of a company enlarging its membership also showed that such larger groupings had a tendency to splinter, for by 1879 Ah King and Company was back to six partners.


Mining was an extremely important source of livelihood for the Chinese in Yuba County. Almost 80 percent of the Chinese there in 1860 were miners, whereas only 21.4 percent of the non-Chinese population were miners. The Chinese constituted 35.9 percent of all the miners in the county, but they made up only 13 percent of the total population. In California as a whole, 29.4 percent of all miners in 1860 were Chinese, while 9.2 percent of the total population were Chinese.

The economic and social importance of gold mining in 1860 led to a bifurcated social structure in rural Chinese immigrant communities. There were a large number of miners who did not grow their own food except for fresh produce cultivated in some corner of their mining grounds. To supply the needs of these miners for food and personal services, there appeared a small group of Chinese entrepreneurs, most of whom lived in the towns in the mining counties, or in cities such as Sacramento, Marysville, and Stockton—the three major supply posts and transportation nodes of the entire mining region.

The occupational structure of the Chinese population in the three cities differed sharply from that found among the Chinese in the hinterlands. In each of the three cities, persons engaged in merchandising and various trades made up the largest portion of the Chinese population. Sacramento City, being the largest of the three with a Chinese population of 980, had the greatest range of occupations, with artisans, professionals, and entrepreneurs constituting 49.4 percent of the city's Chinese population. Marysville, second in importance as an urban center in the Sacramento Valley with a Chinese population of 227, had 34.8 percent of its Chinese population earning a living as merchants, professionals, and artisans. Stockton, located at the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley, being relatively farther away from the center of activities in the southern mines, was less crucial as a supply post and consequently had the least differentiated occupational structure, the bulk of its Chinese population of 115 persons being laundrymen.[26]

Next in importance to the urban entrepreneurs, artisans, and professionals were persons engaged in personal service, which included cooks, servants, waiters and dishwashers, and prostitutes.[27] So employed were 20.8 percent of the Chinese population in Sacramento, 41.4 percent in Marysville, and 29.6 percent in Stockton. By far the largest number of persons in this grouping were prostitutes, with 113 in Sacramento, 75 in Marysville, and 18 in Stockton. In 1860, there were as yet few Chinese servants.

The remaining occupational categories were relatively unimportant. Individuals engaged in mining, truck gardening, and fishing ranged from


8.7 percent of the Chinese population in Stockton to 11.9 percent in Marysville and 16.3 percent in Sacramento. Manual laborers ranged from half a percent in Stockton to 5 percent in Sacramento. Finally, approximately 10 percent of the Chinese population in each city was unemployed in 1860.[28]

Chinese living outside city limits in Sacramento and Yuba counties were almost all miners. (There were only nine Chinese living outside of Stockton in San Joaquin County in 1860.) Chinese farm laborers had not yet become an important element in the rural landscape in 1860. Varden Fuller and Carey McWilliams have stated that Chinese had entered the harvest labor market to work as migratory farm laborers in significant numbers by the late 1850s,[29] but census data do not support their assertions. Even though the 1860 census was taken between June and August, and both Sacramento and San Joaquin counties, in particular, had thriving wheat-growing areas, no Chinese farm laborers were enumerated in the census of the three counties. Census data indicate that the Chinese who first worked on farms were cooks, with 18 in Sacramento County, 35 in Yuba County, and 8 in San Joaquin County.

In terms of the integration of the Chinese immigrant population into the larger society, the miners were certainly very much a part of the mining economy, although contemporaneous accounts indicate that, for the most part, the Chinese miners kept to themselves for the sake of safety.[30] Other than miners, the only Chinese who interacted with whites were cooks, servants, and laundrymen, because they were dependent on white employers for their livelihood. Some prostitutes also served white customers, but it is not known how many did so.[31] Mining and personal service, then, were the two main avenues for sporadic social interaction between Chinese and whites in the 1860s.

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

Preferred Citation: Cornford, Daniel, editor. Working People of California. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.