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August 13, 2012, 5:00 am12 Comments
Picturing the Remnants of Anti-Chinese Violence
By DAVID W. CHEN
Many people try to pay homage to historic sites by preserving or taking
stock of whatever remains. Tim Greyhavens, a photojournalist from
Seattle, wants to highlight a slice of history by challenging his
audience to fill in the blanks.
For a new online project, Mr. Greyhavens pinpointed, based on records
and interviews, the locations of dozens of anti-Chinese incidents in the
American West that occurred more than 100 years ago. After traveling to
those locations, he then photographed whatever exists there now.
The exhibit offers an entry point into a little-known and ignominious
chapter of ethnic cleansing in American history that, viewed more than a
century later, seems stunning for the sheer breadth and brazenness of
racially motivated violence.
From the mid-1800s until the early part of the 20th century, towns up
and down the Western Seaboard, stretching into Wyoming and Colorado,
lashed out against Chinese immigrants by rounding them up, often at
gunpoint, and kicking them out. Dozens were killed and injured, and
houses were set on fire.
Sometimes, the aggressors — who included mayors, judges and businessmen —
acted out of economic fears. Sometimes, they acted out of cultural
fears. But the Chinese also fought back, filing lawsuits and organizing
boycotts, among other means. Yet much of that history is now largely
unknown, even in the places where the violence transpired.
But instead of depicting that violence, Mr. Greyhavens opts for a
minimalist approach. There are no people in his photos. No historical
markers noting that thousands of Chinese immigrants were expelled or
killed. Just frame after frame of seemingly mundane rail yards, downtown
intersections, industrial zones and more, in the hauntingly titled
exhibit, “No Place for Your Kind.”
“I wanted these photos to represent that all these people had been
removed,” Mr. Greyhavens said in an interview. “Here’s something where
time has passed, and what was there before was just gone. How do you
represent something that’s not there? And what is there that can
possibly be visually interesting, especially in these dull urban
Mr. Greyhavens began his project in 2008, when he stumbled upon a
reference to a place called “Chinese Massacre Cove” in Hells Canyon
along the Oregon-Idaho border. After reading up on the events, he began
to “notice parallels between what happened then. and what is taking
place in our country right now,” he explains in the exhibit. “Both
periods are marked by a widespread lack of understanding of other
The project’s name comes from a newspaper article from the time,
describing one of the incidents. A map of the Western United States
serves as an index, allowing viewers to click specific locations and
read short historical summaries.
The clearest juxtaposition between past and present is his entry for
Eureka, Calif., which offers images from 2011 and 1885 of Eureka’s
former Chinatown. Mr. Greyhavens’s favorite photo, perhaps, depicts the
only surviving home from a former Chinatown in Rock Springs, Wyo.
Tensions between white and Chinese mine workers at the Union Pacific
coal mine led to the destruction of 79 homes owned or occupied by
“There is nothing about that picture that says, ‘Oh, I want to live
there, even now,’ ” said Bob Nelson, museum coordinator of the Rock
Springs Historical Museum, who assisted Mr. Greyhavens. “It just needs
to be recognized, so it never happens again. People knew about it here,
and they’re embarrassed, and I think they’re trying to atone.”
PS. More details of the atrocities committed by the White Americans are posted in www.redbeanforum.com under the same heading in the World/International Affairs column.