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Chinese Pioneers: Power and Politics in Exclusion Era Photographs
Traveling Exhibition

Chinese Pioneers: Power and Politics in Exclusion Era Photographs

Significant numbers of Chinese people began to arrive in California during the Gold Rush, coinciding with growing national debates about inclusion and assimilation. The 1866 Civil Rights Bill and the Fourteenth Amendment extended the rights and privileges of citizenship to African Americans and some Native Americans, but the “Chinese question” persisted. This free-standing banner exhibit explores the Chinese immigrant experience in the years leading up to and after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and sheds light on the history of Sinophobia and resonates with broader questions about immigration, citizenship, and border control currently being debated.

Chinese Pioneers: Power and Politics in Exclusion Era Photographs

Chinese Pioneers: Power and Politics in Exclusion Era Photographs, is a traveling banner exhibition, managed by Exhibit Envoy, shown at locations across California. Drawn exclusively from the California Historical Society’s deep collections of topical material, this exhibition presents a visual history of the social, political, and judicial disenfranchisement of Chinese Californians—as well as moments of Chinese agency and resilience—in the years leading up to and after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.

Significant numbers of Chinese people began to arrive in California during the Gold Rush, coinciding with growing national debates about inclusion and assimilation. The 1866 Civil Rights Bill and the Fourteenth Amendment extended the rights and privileges of citizenship to African Americans and some Native Americans, but the “Chinese question” persisted.

Anti-Chinese sentiment, fueled by fears that Chinese laborers were taking jobs away from white men, led to protests, violence, and vigilante expulsions up and down the West Coast. The 1882 Exclusion Act and the more stringent 1888 Scott Act banned Chinese laborers from immigrating; prohibited Chinese people from becoming citizens; and tightened restrictions on previous residents reentering the country.

In the United States during the Exclusion Era years, depictions of Chinese people ranged from deeply derogatory to highly exoticized. The Chinese Pioneers exhibition examines the visual record of how mainstream culture influenced, aligned with, and/or diverged from politics and state actions. Photography played a potent role in both Chinese people’s interactions with the dominant culture and in the government’s fledgling systems of registration, identification, and surveillance.

Exhibition dates and locations:

Please check directly with these institutions to confirm viewing days and hours.

February 4, 2024 – March 31, 2024 Linda Vista Library, San Diego Public Library, San Diego, CA
April 14, 2024 – June 9, 2024 Museums of Lake County, Lakeport, CA
June 23, 2024 – August 18, 2024 Sacramento History Museum, Sacramento, CA
September 1, 2024 – October 27, 2024 Clarke Museum/Humboldt County Historical Society, Eureka, CA

For the full exhibition schedule and availability, please visit Exhibit Envoy.

Chinese Pioneers: Power and Politics in Exclusion Era Photographs was organized by the California Historical Society and tours through Exhibit Envoy thanks to the generosity of the Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation.

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