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Written Paper

Anti-Chinese Discrimination in Twentieth Century America: Perceptions of Chinese Americans During the Third Bubonic Plague Pandemic in San Francisco, 1900-1908  [2010]

Vavlas, Belinda A.;

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The bubonic plague arrived in San Francisco in 1900 during the third pandemic of the disease. After infiltrating the local rat population, the plague quickly spread to the Chinese region of the city known as Chinatown. Mainstream society blamed the Chinese for bringing the disease to America, but the reason why the plague was prevalent in this area was the unsanitary, overcrowded living conditions that existed here. The fact that the disease was believed to be “Asiatic” in nature had much to do with the pre-existing anti-Chinese attitudes that were present in the United States. These negative attitudes had been widespread since the Chinese began immigrating to the United States in large numbers following the discovery of gold in California in 1848. Mainstream society’s reaction to the bubonic plague was not all that shocking. In fact, given the relationship that existed between Chinese Americans and the general population in San Francisco at the time, it was not surprising that the Chinese were targeted during the two epidemics, especially the first epidemic which lasted from 1900-04.By utilizing personal letters, telegrams, speeches, political cartoons, and government documents the author will examine the mindset that existed prior to the plague’s arrival. Conversations between Walter Wyman, the Surgeon General, and Joseph Kinyoun, the director of laboratory hygiene within the U.S. Marine Hospital Service, will help prove that the plague merely heightened
pre-existing anti-Chinese sentiment. The author concludes that the Chinese were subjected to discrimination during the epidemic because they had experienced the same treatment prior to the plague’s arrival.