Puget Sound profs and students explore the city's anti-Chinese violence of the late 1800s—and its legacy today.

Read "Where Is Tacoma's 'Chinatown'?" in Arches

Illustration: From "The Massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs, Wyoming," Library of Congress
From the illustration "The Massacre of the Chinese at Rock Springs, Wyoming," in the Library of Congress​​​​

In 1886, the U.S. Congress was debating how to respond to China’s demand for compensation for the loss of life and property suffered by Chinese immigrants in the U.S. To gather more information, Congress ordered Washington Territory governor Watson Squire to find the Chinese residents who had been expelled from Tacoma the previous year.

Squire located only a handful, but took sworn statements from everyone who was willing to talk to him. In the affidavits he collected, ”you can see Chinese Americans as full people with full histories in this region,“ says Andrew Gomez, Puget Sound associate professor of history. Gomez’s students used the affidavits in creating The Tacoma Method (tacomamethod.com), a website about the expulsion. Six of the affidavits can be viewed at the site, along with maps, biographies of the 27 residents behind the expulsion, and other historical information.

Squire found Tak Nam in Portland, Ore. He and business partner Lum May had owned Sam Hing Co. in downtown Tacoma for 10 years:

We had a very large business, dealing in China goods, Teas, Rice, Medicinal supplies, and contracted Chinese Labor. ... Our business was completely broken up and we financially ruined by being driven off, without being allowed to remove our stock. ... Our losses and damages footed up to something over Fifteen Thousand [15,000] Dollars.

Mow Lung, who owned businesses and properties in Tacoma, was located in Victoria, British Columbia:

The entire amount of my loss by means of the unlawful acts of the people of Tacoma in expelling the Chinese, and in seizing and appropriating my goods, and in the burning of my houses furniture and clothing on the dates named amounts to the sum of $21.424.75.

In 1888, Congress authorized more than $270,000 to be paid to the Chinese government. Not a penny went to Chinese American victims or their families.


—By Dori Cahn