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This study investigates anti-Chinese violence in the American West—focusing primarily on events in the Arizona Territory between 1880 and 1912—and the role of diplomatic relations between the United States and China in tempering the worst excesses of that violence. Recent scholarship asserts that the Chinese rarely suffered lynching and were commonly targeted for other types of violence, including coercion, harassment, and intimidation. Building on that work, this study advances a definition of racist violence that includes a broad spectrum of attacks, including the threat of violence. While affirming that such “subtler” violence achieved many of the same objectives as the “harsher” violence, it seeks to explain why whites used such radically different and less openly violent methods against this minority and explains why this difference mattered. Using these insights to interrogate the complex relationship between the United States and China, this essay shows that Chinese diplomatic influence stifled anti-Chinese mob violence by white Americans. It argues that this relationship denied white racists the same agency against the Chinese immigrants as they possessed against other racial and national minorities and thus forced them to “choose” the “subtler” acts of violence against this group rather than those usually employed against these others.


California History, Vol. 98, Number 3, pp. 2–27, ISSN 0162-2897, electronic ISSN 2327-1485. © 2021 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page, https://www.ucpress.edu/journals/reprintspermissions. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2021.98.3.2.

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California History



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