Opening January 28, 2022, Chinese Pioneers presents a visual history of the social, political, and judicial disenfranchisement of Chinese Californians—as well as moments of Chinese agency and resilience—during the Exclusion Era (1882–1943). The exhibition is drawn exclusively from the California Historical Society’s collections.
In the United States during the Exclusion Era years, depictions of Chinese people ranged from deeply derogatory to highly exoticized. Chinese Pioneers: Power and Politics in Exclusion Era Photographs 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 Chinese people’s interactions with the dominant culture and in the government’s fledgling systems of registration, identification, and surveillance. Chinese Pioneers presents photographs—both studio photography and fine-art photos—alongside illustrated newspapers, paintings, and ephemera from the California Historical Society’s collections.
This exhibition is organized in partnership with the Chinese Historical Society of America. The work of CHS would not be possible without the support of our donors, members, and community advisors. Institutional support provided by San Francisco Grants for the Arts and Yerba Buena Community Benefit District.