Chinese massacre of 1871

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"Chinatown War" redirects here. For the video game, see Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. For other conflicts in Chinatowns across the United States, see Tong Wars.
Not to be confused with Mudan incident (1871).
Chinese massacre of 1871
Los Angeles, corpses of Chinese victims, Oct 1871.jpg
Corpses of Chinese immigrants who were murdered during the massacre
Location Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Coordinates 34°03′43″N 118°14′17″W / 34.062°N 118.238°W / 34.062; -118.238
Date October 24, 1871
Target Chinese immigrants
Attack type
Deaths 17 to 20
Perpetrators Mob of around 500 white men
Motive Racially motivated, revenge for killing Robert Thompson, a local rancher

The Chinese massacre of 1871 was a racially motivated riot which occurred on October 24, 1871 in Los Angeles, California, when a mob of around 500 white men entered Chinatown to attack, rob, and murder Chinese residents of the city.[1][2] The massacre took place on Calle de los Negros (Street of the Negroes), also referred to as "Nigger Alley", which later became part of Los Angeles Street. An estimated 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants were systematically tortured and then hanged by the mob, making the event the largest mass lynching in American history.[1][2][3]

Riot and massacre[edit]

The riot and massacre were allegedly triggered by the killing of Robert Thompson, a local rancher, who was caught in the cross-fire during a gun battle between two Chinese factions. This fight was part of a longstanding feud over the abduction of a Chinese woman named Yut Ho.[4]

The dead Chinese in Los Angeles were hanging at three places near the heart of the downtown business section of the city; from the wooden awning over the sidewalk in front of a carriage shop; from the sides of two “prairie schooners” parked on the street around the corner from the carriage shop; and from the cross-beam of a wide gate leading into a lumberyard a few blocks away from the other two locations. One of the victims was hanged without his trousers and minus a finger on his left hand.[5]

Practically every Chinese-occupied building on the block was ransacked and almost every resident was attacked or robbed. A total of 18 Chinese immigrants were tortured and then hanged by the mob, making the event the largest mass lynching in American history.[2][3]


Calle de los Negros was situated immediately northeast of Los Angeles’s principal business district, running 500 feet (150 m) from the intersection of Arcadia Street to the plaza. The unpaved street took its name from the Californios (pre-annexation, Spanish-speaking Californians) of darker-complexion (most likely of mixed race: Spanish and Native American) who had originally lived there.[citation needed] Once home to the town’s most prominent families, the neighborhood had deteriorated into a slum by the time Los Angeles’s first Chinatown was established there in the 1860s.

Los Angeles merchant and memoirist Harris Newmark recalled that Calle de los Negros was “as tough a neighborhood, in fact, as could be found anywhere.”[6] Los Angeles historian Morrow Mayo described it as

a dreadful thoroughfare, forty feet wide, running one whole block, filled entirely with saloons, gambling-houses, dance-halls, and cribs. It was crowded night and day with people of many races, male and female, all rushing and crowding along from one joint to another, from bar to bar, from table to table. There was a band in every joint, with harps, guitars, and other stringed instruments predominating.[7]

Calle de los Negros was incorporated into Los Angeles Street in 1877. The adobe apartment block where the Chinese massacre occurred was torn down in the late 1880s. Today, the location is part of El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument.


A growing movement of anti-Chinese discrimination in California climaxed in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.


Only ten rioters were ever brought to trial. Eight were convicted, but their convictions were overturned on a legal technicality. The eight convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to imprisonment in San Quentin[8] were:

  • Alvarado, Esteban
  • Austin, Charles
  • Botello, Refugio
  • Crenshaw, L. F.
  • Johnson, A. R.
  • Martinez, Jesus
  • McDonald, Patrick M.
  • Mendel, Louis

The event was well-reported on the East Coast as newspapers there labeled Los Angeles a "blood stained Eden" after the riots.[9]

Representation in literature[edit]

Alejandro Morales recounts the massacre in his novel The Brick People (1988).[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Chinese Massacre of 1871". University of Southern California. June 23, 2002. Archived from the original on October 14, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Johnson, John (10 March 2011). "How Los Angeles Covered Up the Massacre of 17 Chinese". LA Weekly. Retrieved 1 August 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Erika Lee, Review of The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871, by Scott Zesch, Journal of American History, vol. 100, no. 1 (June 2013), pg. 217.
  4. ^ Scott Zesch, "Chinese Los Angeles in 1870—1871: The Makings of a Massacre", Southern California Quarterly, 90 (Summer 2008), 109-158; Paul M. De Falla, "Lantern in the Western Sky", The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, 42 (March 1960), 57-88 (Part I), and 42 (June 1960), 161-185 (Part II).
  5. ^ USC lessons Archived December 29, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Harris Newmark, Sixty Years in Southern California, 1853—1913 (1916; 4th ed., Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1984), 31.
  7. ^ Morrow Mayo, Los Angeles (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1933), 38.
  8. ^ Paul R Spitzzeri, "Judge Lynch in session: Popular justice in Los Angeles, 1850-1875" Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly 87, No. 2 (Summer 2005), 108
  9. ^ "CRIMES FROM THE PAST" Los Angeles - (Oct. 24, 1871) Archived September 24, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Alejandro Morales (1988) The Brick People, Arte Publico Press, Houston, Texas ISBN 978-0-93477-091-0

Further reading[edit]

  • Scott Zesch, The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°03′43″N 118°14′17″W / 34.062°N 118.238°W / 34.062; -118.238