Plague Fear and Politics in San Francisco's Chinatown



When Health Officials In San Francisco Discovered Bubonic Plague In Their City S Chinatown In 1900, They Responded With Intrusive, Controlling, And Arbitrary Measures That Touched Off A Sociocultural Conflict Still Relevant Today Guenter B Risse S History Of An Epidemic Is The First To Incorporate The Voices Of Those Living In Chinatown At The Time, Including The Desperately Ill Wong Chut King, Believed To Be The First Person Infected.Lasting Until 1904, The Plague In San Francisco S Chinatown Reignited Racial Prejudices, Renewed Efforts To Remove The Chinese From Their District, And Created New Tensions Among Local, State, And Federal Public Health Officials Quarreling Over The Presence Of The Deadly Disease Risse S Rich, Nuanced Narrative Of The Event Draws From A Variety Of Sources, Including Chinese Language Reports And Accounts He Addresses The Ecology Of Chinatown, The Approaches Taken By Chinese And Western Medical Practitioners, And The Effects Of Quarantine Plans On Chinatown And Its Residents Risse Explains How Plague Threatened California S Agricultural Economy And San Francisco S Leading Commercial Role With Asia, Discusses Why It Brought On A Wave Of Fear Mongering That Drove Perceptions And Intervention Efforts, And Describes How Chinese Residents Organized And Successfully Opposed Government Quarantines And Evacuation Plans In Federal Court.By Probing Public Health Interventions In The Setting Of One Of The Most Visible Ethnic Communities In United States History, Plague, Fear, And Politics In San Francisco S Chinatown Offers Insight Into The Clash Of Eastern And Western Cultures In A Time Of Medical Emergency.Plague Fear and Politics in San Francisco's Chinatown

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  • Hardcover
  • 371 pages
  • Plague Fear and Politics in San Francisco's Chinatown
  • Guenter B. Risse
  • English
  • 11 February 2018
  • 1421405105

10 thoughts on “Plague Fear and Politics in San Francisco's Chinatown

  1. says:

    A Probing, Thoughtful Investigation into a Criminal ActWhat appears at first to be a dissection or post mortem on an embarrassing period of history in this country that lifts my light beside the golden door to immigrants is in fact a brilliant piece of medical and sociological and political investigation Author Dr Guenter B Risse is both a physician and a medical historian who in his prolonged introduction to this book states To unpack historical narratives fully, readers must consider the A Probing, Thoughtful Investigation into a Criminal ActWhat appears at first to be a dissection or post mortem on an embarrassing period of history in this country that lifts my light beside the golden door to immigrants is in fact a brilliant piece of medical and sociological and political investigation Author Dr Guenter B Risse is both a physician and a medical historian who in his prolonged introduction to this book states To unpack historical narratives fully, readers must consider the identity of the storyteller and the historical time in which any work is written My own trans national status I was born to emigrant German parents in Argentina, and I subsequently immigrated to the United States has contributed to an understanding of the pressures of cultural assimilation, amplified by the political and bureaucratic vicissitudes surrounding my own legal entry My residency in two West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, both with Chinatowns, provided exposure to transpacific influences and people A medical background allowed me to delve into the e scientific aspects of plague and to appreciate the tensions between clinical experience and laboratory diagnoses Witnessing the early stages of AIDS epidemic in San Francisco prompted a series of comparisons between the psychosocial aspects of historical plague and this highly lethal new scourge With this informed consent the reader gains understanding that this book is written both as a treatise about the plague form 1900 to 1904 that walled off San Francisco s Chinatown in many ways isolation from contact with the city s people and resources from the medical community and sanitation departments, denial of basic human rights during a time of crisis, and feeding into the already existent prejudices about Chinese immigrants Dr Risse make this opusintriguing by examining the life and death of Wong Chut King, a recent immigrant who sustained the perilous journey to America to find gold to send back support to his poverty stricken, war torn family in China, and how he is the traced first individual to have been infected by the rat bourne bubonic plague.The author brings a ring of sincerity to his survey of this critical period of time by researching both the public health documentation of the disease period by the political systems of the government of San Francisco and compares those to Chinese language papers and accounts of the disease and the hideous living conditions in the sequestered Chinatown The contrast is now a shameful account of California s response to Chinatown information about the quarantine of the area, the refusal to maintain clean conditions as the disease ramped up, and how the Western and the Chinese medical personnel differed in their response to the crisis.This book replays a period of history few others have investigated and points out how at the bottom of the crisis lay the inherent fear of the differences between two cultures Dr Risse addresses the ultimate courage of the Chinese residents who successfully organized as a community to oppose the quarantine and the evenstrenuous measures imposed by the frightened Westerners all the way to the courts of law.For some this book may lean too heavily on scientific investigation and for those it may well be necessary to re read the Introduction before studying this exceptionally well written book If we do not face errors of the past then we will and have find that we repeat them Grady Harp

  2. says:

    I thought that politicizing health care was a modern thing Was I ever wrong about that This book, which on the surface is about bubonic plague in 1900s San Francisco, is really about the political machinations that took place because of it In 1900, a few cases of bubonic plague were discovered in San Francisco s Chinatown Chinatown back then was not a pretty, tourist friendly, place It was dirty, crowded beyond belief, ill built, rundown, and almost completely poorof a ghetto than an I thought that politicizing health care was a modern thing Was I ever wrong about that This book, which on the surface is about bubonic plague in 1900s San Francisco, is really about the political machinations that took place because of it In 1900, a few cases of bubonic plague were discovered in San Francisco s Chinatown Chinatown back then was not a pretty, tourist friendly, place It was dirty, crowded beyond belief, ill built, rundown, and almost completely poorof a ghetto than anything else and infested with rats At this time, the method of transmission of the plague by rats and fleas was not understood The general belief was that it was carried on a miasma such as occurred in damp, dirty places But people knew it could be wildly contagious The reaction of the city and the state was not to try and help the people of Chinatown most Americans of the time were quite prejudiced against the Chinese And San Francisco was a transportation hub at the time, with freight coming and going by train and by ship If the city were to be quarantined or be avoided in favor of Seattle, the economic consequences could be disastrous The plague deaths were immediately hushed up, with the deaths blamed on all sorts of disease other than bubonic When news of the deaths did get out, Chinatown itself was quarantined The health of the Chinese in the city was not considered by most of the politicians and the moneyed people who owned them, just the health of the economy The Chinese didn t trust or want the American doctors and health agents coming around Chinatown They wanted to treat the plague victims with their traditional system of medicine, and autopsies were considered desecration Federal health agents sent by President Roosevelt were denied access in most cases and when they did manage to take samples from the bodies and found plague bacillus they were declared to be wrong I expected the book to be about medical issues, but it really isn t It sabout social and political history This is not a history written for light reading the author delved deeply into records in both English and Chinese It s a meticulously written, sometimes slow moving, document about how money corrupts government and how prejudice can destroy lives

  3. says:

    This is a thorough and well researched into a little known period in The City s history the years immediately before the 1906 quake and fire, in which bubonic plague surfaced in Chinatown It ll be of interest to those interested in the history of San Francisco and California, since the plague and its quarantines would affect the regional economy and its rail and sea commerce The City and state politicians of the day, including the Southern Pacific political machine, appear in a new light.For This is a thorough and well researched into a little known period in The City s history the years immediately before the 1906 quake and fire, in which bubonic plague surfaced in Chinatown It ll be of interest to those interested in the history of San Francisco and California, since the plague and its quarantines would affect the regional economy and its rail and sea commerce The City and state politicians of the day, including the Southern Pacific political machine, appear in a new light.For ethnic history, it is superb The author seems to have researched the Chinese language records and newspapers of the day, seems to understand the cultural dynamic of the day, and he covers, in detail, the Chinatown and Chinese government reaction to the plague and California politicians efforts, often abusive or ignorant, of dealing with the community The demographics of Chinatown, heavily single male due to the peculiar labor and immigration requirements, affected the sanitation and interactions among its inhabitants, and the story highlights this.It may also be of interest to medical historians and students of epidemiology The medical authorities dealings with a stricken community, through a screen of isolation, racism and cultural ignorance, made matters worse, and the limitations of medical knowledge at the time didn t help It seems that researchers were only dimly aware of the role of rats in a plague situation Also, the book is an object lesson in many ways of _not_ dealing with an isolated and rightly suspicious community It would be a story repeated again in San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic and it s instructive seeing it play out here, in 1900 1905.Strongly recommend for those interested in the history of the American West, of the ethnic Chinese experience in America, and of medicine

  4. says:

    Plague, Fear and politics in San Francisco s Chinatown explores the early 1900 s of San Francisco and the outbreak of Plague that threatened the city It shows the rampant racism that pervaded the western sea board against Chinese during that period and the lengths a society was willing to go to enforce it Risse writes in a very scholarly fashion that can get bogged down in details at times as he jumps from Chinatown racism by San Francisco to intricate politics both at the local and state leve Plague, Fear and politics in San Francisco s Chinatown explores the early 1900 s of San Francisco and the outbreak of Plague that threatened the city It shows the rampant racism that pervaded the western sea board against Chinese during that period and the lengths a society was willing to go to enforce it Risse writes in a very scholarly fashion that can get bogged down in details at times as he jumps from Chinatown racism by San Francisco to intricate politics both at the local and state level He is short in details for those who are not familiar with the time period and a lot of knowledge is assumed as he dives into his topic so this is not a book I would recommend for someone who is just starting to explore the time period It is however a nice blend of political, epidemiological, and urban history that gives a refreshing look on something that is glossed over in many other books since the 1906 quake is what dominates most accounts of 1900 s San Francisco history Overall if you are looking for a scholarly account this is a great addition to the historiography but probably not for the popular historical reader

  5. says:

    Gunter Risse s history is of the 1900 outbreak of Bubonic plague in San Francisco s Chinatown The first victim of the plague died in February 1900 and the last victim died four years later in February 1904 The real story here is not the plague itself, as horrific as it was, but rather of the politicians using that horror to try to eject the Chinese residents from the city The media fueled long standing racial prejudices against the Chinese using the plague as its reason for doing so.Risse s r Gunter Risse s history is of the 1900 outbreak of Bubonic plague in San Francisco s Chinatown The first victim of the plague died in February 1900 and the last victim died four years later in February 1904 The real story here is not the plague itself, as horrific as it was, but rather of the politicians using that horror to try to eject the Chinese residents from the city The media fueled long standing racial prejudices against the Chinese using the plague as its reason for doing so.Risse s rather dry reporting of this period to understand decades long anti Asian sentiment in California and the rest of the nation is tedious reading The period is important to understand as it explains current day underpinnings of prejudice against the Asian countries, but this isn t the book that will capture the casual reader s attention and or imagination to keep them interested in the subject matter long enough to finish the book

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