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The Chinatown War: Chinese Los Angeles and the Massacre of 1871 Hardcover – June 29, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First Edition edition (June 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019975876X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199758760
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.2 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,007,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Thanks to a new book by Scott Zesch, the rampage of gunfire and lynch law that convulsed Los Angeles in 1871 is not likely to be overlooked again. Zesch has written an authoritative and compelling account of a major event in the history of the American West. His vantage point is an unconventional one, however, adding to the significance of The Chinatown War and the power of its narrative." --California Literary Review

"A powerful look at The Chinatown War. Scott Zesch skillfully reexamines an 1871 massacre of Chinese residents in a Los Angeles undergoing great change, and questions whether the right lessons have been learned." --Los Angeles Times

"The Chinatown War is an extremely readable account that will shed important light on this largely unknown but important chapter in U.S. history. In many ways, its engaging prose, clear organization, and short chapters offer an excellent model for academic historians interested in writing for more general audiences." --The Journal of American History

About the Author

Scott Zesch is the author of The Captured, which won the 2007 Ray Allen Billington Award and TCU Texas Book Award. He lives in Mason County, Texas, and New York City.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you are like me before I chanced on this book, the answer is nothing. I didn't even know there had been such an atrocity. That ignorance is regrettable. So at a minimum THE CHINATOWN WAR serves a worthy purpose in bringing to light that buried, deplorable event of our history.

In the late afternoon of October 24, 1871, a gunfight erupted between the tong fighters or thugs of two Chinese gangs. When the police and overly eager citizen volunteers tried to stop the gunfire and arrest the participants, two of the policemen were wounded and one citizen was killed. An angry crowd surrounded Chinatown, and as afternoon turned to evening and then to night, a mob mentality took over events, an impulse for vigilante justice gave way to unbridled racism, and eighteen Chinese were killed - three shot to death and fifteen lynched. Ironically, probably none of those killed had taken part in the original gunfight (the tong fighters had slipped away); the reasons why those eighteen were slaughtered had little to do with their individual actions and everything to do with their "moon eyes", their queued hair, and the fact that what English they knew they spoke funny. It was a very ugly affair.

The first half of the book sets the stage. In it, Zesch surveys the settlement of Chinese in California and particularly in Los Angeles. His discussion provides a valuable window on the society of Chinese workers here (most of whom planned to return to China after earning more money in this country than they could have in China). It traces the gradual build-up of anti-Chinese sentiment, attributable in part to racism, in part to the competition for cheap manual labor, and in part to the very public involvement of some Chinese in commercial vice, principally gambling and prostitution.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By wogan TOP 100 REVIEWER on July 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is the question that has been asked from recent history; quoted from Rodney King to all the riots and beatings and hate for those who are different from another group of people; whether it is race, gender, religion... the viciousness of those who hate just because we are not the same.

`The Chinatown War' tells of an obscure incident, seemingly lost in history - wanted to be forgotten by Los Angeles. In 1871 the growing Chinese population was a source of scorn for others in the population. Scott Zesch does a marvelous job in explaining the extreme violence of Los Angeles itself, the secret societies and tongs of the Chinese. We are given the reasons and conditions for the immigration from China - even the interesting fact that why many went into the laundry business out in the gold fields, was the fact the laundry had to be sent to Hawaii to be cleaned and then returned.

The manners and problems of the citizens in Los Angeles, on all levels, are well described. The reader is led up to the conditions that were all around - the young girls brought from China into prostitution where there seemed no escape and how men who hoped to earn a few hundred dollars to take back to China were caught up in horrid conditions. There is a step by step accounting of how this massacre took place where innocent as well as some not so innocent were killed.
There are a couple maps and a section of black and white photos. The text is totally documented by 50 pages of notes and an index.

But most of all we see how this kind of mob violence happened and even the court cases that followed are well documented. The lessons of hate and prejudice going unchallenged are held up as an example of racial hate today in this historical account that would interest history aficionados and those interested in the social sciences.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on August 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is another of those books that reveal events in our country's history that are relatively unknown to most Americans. In particular, this recounts the unnecessary murder of many Chinese people by a mob of Angelinos in 1871.

The story takes the reader back to the time when conditions in China compelled young men (in particular) to leave their villages, journey to the United States, and work very hard to acquire enough money to return to China and live a very comfortable life. Most of these folks ended up in California, particularly in San Francisco, but also some in Los Angeles, which at that time was a small village with a small population.

These hard workers took on many demanding jobs, especially founding laundry facilities. Unfortunately, there were those native citizens who resented these Chinese, some for the possibility that they would take away jobs from other citizens, but the majority motivated purely by racial hatred.

The situation became more and more serious as time went along, until it exploded in several hours of murder and mayhem that cost the lives of Chinese folk, many, if not most, only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were those citizens, however, who did attempt to stop the violence, and some who rescued Chinese people and hid them in their homes.

A grand jury indicted several men for their actions on the night of the riot, and the District Attorney brought charges, and began trials. The reader will have to read the book to find out what happened ultimately, but this is a sad stain on our history, added to many other sad stains that resulted from hatred of many different groups of folks who were "different", either in looks, race or religion.
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