Southern California Quarterly

From the Spring 2015 Issue

A Path to Acceptance

Promoting Chinese Restaurants in San Francisco, 1849–1919


Middle-class Chinese might take their meals in the ordinary dining room on the ground floor, while the banqueting room upstairs catered to higher price patrons. Engraving of Chinese restaurant on Dupont Street, Illustrated San Francisco News, 1889. Chinese in California Collection, fxF850.142 v.2:1,21. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.In the first years of the gold rush, Chinese immigrants ran many of the restaurants in San Francisco—although they served steaks and pork chops as often as they served anything like “Chinese food.” The growing city had a Chinese quarter by 1853, where new arrivals from China could find cheap lodging and Chinese businesses of all kinds. American attitudes towards the rapid influx of Chinese soon changed from amused tolerance to outright hostility. Over the next five decades, Chinese American restaurateurs and community leaders confronted white aggression and legal discrimination, using food to try to win friends. These nineteenth- and early twentieth-century businessmen reached out to a wide range of customers—lower, middle, and upper class; Chinese, non-white, and white; everyday diners and people throwing grand banquets. They devised menus for Anglo palates; they modified Chinese dishes to please Anglo tastes; they won positive notice as gracious hosts; and they engaged in outreach to draw a desirable class of white customers. Read more.

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Southern California Quarterly: 97 (2)

Vol. 97 No. 2, Summer 2015
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ISSN: 0038-3929
eISSN: 2162-8637
Published: February, May, August, November

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About the Journal

Southern California Quarterly, the flagship publication of the Historical Society of Southern California, carries forward the tradition of fine regional history scholarship begun with the Society’s first annual publication in 1884.

Southern California Quarterly has served as one of the preeminent sources of historical study on Southern California, California as a whole, and the West, including these regions’ transnational borderlands and global contexts. The Quarterly was founded on a commitment to building public awareness and appreciation of the historical development of one of the nation’s most vital areas, and it continues that essential mission today.