The mid- to-late 1800’s were rife with anti-Chinese discrimination and persecution. At the Federal level, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was enacted, barring immigration of Chinese to the United States. The State of California went even further with its own legislation: a miners tax enforced primarily against Chinese (1850); disallowing Chinese to testify in court (1854); barring Chinese immigration into California (1858); anti-Coolie tax (1862); anti-prostitution act (1870) designed to stem the immigration of Asian women in general; the Page Law barring the entry of Chinese prostitutes, felons, and contract laborers (1875); Article XIX of the Second California Constitution barring Chinese from being employed (1879). It is in this context that Chinese were pushed into small neighborhoods that eventually became Chinatowns. It was here that the early missionaries struggled to offer safety, education, community, and God [ARMSMEC-1890, page 338].
The San Francisco Call, April 10, 1890
Under the Superintendency of Otis Gibson and then Frederick J. Masters, the Chinese Missions persisted. A handful of Euro-American missionaries, missionary wives, and teachers dedicated themselves to sharing God’s love to the Chinese people in the area. Chinese lay members such as Lee Tong Hay, Fung Sui, Cheng Game, and Loy Yan offered their skills by preaching and teaching in Chinese language [ARMSMEC-1884, page 204]. Many of these would become the mainstay that kept these missions going and growing. Each year, the Northern California Chinese Missions would gather for worship and mutual support.
Chinese Missions in California
The Chinese were connected to the Methodists in 1866 as a Bible Study in Sacramento [Gibson, The Chinese in America]. In 1868, Gibson was officially authorized by the California Annual Conference of the Methodist Church to establish missions to the Chinese in California. The home base for these missions began in San Francisco, and then missions were extended to Los Angeles, Oakland, San Jose, and Chico.
In the initial stages, the two primary ministries provided by these missions were schools and a refuge for women escaping slavery and prostitution. In parallel, the Methodist Church was expanding outreach ministries to Asian populations through the Japanese Gospel Society, Women’s Missionary Society of the Pacific Coast, and the YMCA.
Mainstream views of Chinese and Chinatown
Oakland Herald, April 27, 1906
The Christian church was not immune to this prejudice either. Within the dominant ethnicities, there were debates whether people of Chinese heritage could even grasp Christianity and be converted. Our early Chinese Mission preachers rose to publicly challenge this anti-Chinese discrimination in faith and political settings.