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Anti-Chinese Prejudice and the "Six Companies"

The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of San Francisco (commonly known as "the Six Companies") was an umbrella organization of several regional- and clan-based immigrant self-help societies in Chinatown. Such societies helped to get new immigrants housing, food, and jobs; the Six Companies became a national representative of the Chinese in America. In 1876, its leaders petitioned President Ulysses S. Grant and laid out a thoughtful rebuttal to the growing political movement to restrict Chinese immigration. In the first excerpt below, from the petition, the Six Companies also attempted to counter prevalent stereotypes about their own activities; such misinformation continued, as reflected in the second excerpt, from an 1898 book.

"A Memorial from Representative Chinamen in America"

. . . It is charged against us that the "six Chinese Companies" have secretly established judicial tribunals, jails and prisons, and secretly exercise judicial authority over the people. This charge has no foundation in fact. These Six Companies were originally organized for the purpose of mutual protection and care of our people coming to and going from this country. The Six Companies do not claim, nor do they exercise any judicial authority whatever, but are the same as any tradesmen or protective and benevolent societies. If it were true that the Six Companies exercise judicial authority over the Chinese people, then why do all the Chinese people still go to American Tribunals to adjust their differences, or to secure the punishment of their criminals?

Neither do these Companies import either men or women into this country. . . .

With sentiments of profound respect,
Lee Ming How, President Sam Yup Company.
Lee Chee Kwan, President Yung Wo Company.
Law Yee Chung, President Kong Chow Company
Chan Leung Kok, President Ning Yung Company.
Lee Cheong Chip, President Hop Wo Company.
Chang Kong Chew, President Yan Wo Company.
Lee Tong Hay, President Chinese Young Men’s Christian Association.

An Englishman Visits Chinatown

The Chinee is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. He is law-abiding as against the whites, but within Chinatown every kind of lawless outrage goes hardly checked. There is indeed a rule within rule among the Chinese. The six provinces which furnish the Chinese population of San Francisco have their several presidents. The six companies, they are called; each worships in its separate joss-house*, and talks its separate dialect. A suit between two members of the same company is brought before the president of the company; a dispute between two of its different companies, before the six presidents in conclave. Like the Mormons, the Chinese discourage the use of the civil courts. These presidents have of course no legal status in the United States, but they maintain their authority in a manner effective and thoroughly Chinese. If a Chinee in San Francisco defies their mandate, they send word back to his native place; whereupon his father and mother are burned. But in spite of this rule, terror and anarchy are the real government of Chinatown.

* temple

Source | Rev. O. Gibson, The Chinese in America (Cincinnati: Hitchcock & Walden, 1877), 315-323. George Warrington Steevens, The Land of the Dollar (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1898), 247.
Creator | Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association
Item Type | Pamphlet/Petition
Cite This document | Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, “Anti-Chinese Prejudice and the "Six Companies",” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 21, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1149.

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