San Francisco and Chinatown Essay

San Francisco and Chinatown Essay

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San Francisco and Chinatown


Gilded age San Francisco stood as a beacon for travelers bound for the western coast of the United States. The most prominent city in the developing west during the latter parts of the nineteenth century and the opening of the twentieth, San Francisco encompassed a range of conflicting identities. This time period marked a transitory stage in the development of San Francisco, evolving from a booming “frontier town” to a “civilized metropolis,” the emerging San Franciscan identity retained qualities from both poles of this spectrum. Chinatown, existing as a city within the city, shared this relationship of extremes with San Francisco. To travelers visiting San Francisco, Chinatown was a necessary stop. The writings in travelogues published during this period describe Chinatown through a mix of revulsion and curiosity, its inhabitants virtuous and sub-human. In short, within the developing city of San Francisco, an expedition into Chinatown remained a visceral exploration of a foreign and exciting environment.

Emily Faithful, an Englishwoman writing in 1884, traveled through America in order to explore the changing position of women during the nineteenth century.[1] Faithful remarked, “San Francisco is a city of strange contrasts. Perhaps there is not a faster place in the world, and yet there are few more conspicuous for works of true benevolence. There is more drinking, and more fanatical total abstinence than I ever encountered elsewhere…”[2] Faithful focused mainly upon the moral decay accompanying San Francisco’s prosperity, however she closed her description of San Francisco by contrasting the decadence of the “so-called society set,”[3] to the equally large “cultured...


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...ities (Philadelphia: Hubbard brothers, 1883), 455 and Alfred Falk, Trans-Pacific sketches; a tour through the United States and Canada (Melbourne: G. Robertson, 1877), 23.

[8] Glazier, Peculiarities of American Cities, 464.

[9] Nicholas Everitt, Round the world in strange company; America, British Columbia and the west (London: T. W. Laurie Ltd., 1915), 270.

[10] Green, Notes, 65.

[11] Glazier, Peculiarities of American Cities, 468.

[12] Glazier, 469.

[13] Catherine Bates, A Year in the Great Republic (London, Ward & Downey, 1887), 140.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Bates, A Year in the Great Republic, 141.

[16] Ibid.

[17] ibid, 142.

[18] Glazier, Peculiarities of American Cities, 469.

[19] Green, Notes on New York, San Francisco, and Old Mexico, 71.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Green, Notes, 71.

[22] Glazier, Peculiarities, 470.

[23] Ibid, 471.

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