Chinese pioneers worked as miners at the Sulphur Bank Mine adjacent to the
Elem reservation. Arriving to take part in the 1850 gold rush, men from the
coastal Guang Dong Province of China came to California in great numbers.
They were the most numerous of the gold rush immigrants and by the late
1800’s one of every 10 Californians was Chinese.
As a way of easing the stress of being so far from home, many Chinese brought
with them and imported traditional foods, utensils, and personal items. A
sample of these items was found during the monitoring process.
Stoneware items included pieces of one
wide-mouth food jar and two Ng-Ka-Py
jars. These types of jars have been
manufactured by hand in China for several
thousand years. The brown-glazed
wide-mouthed food jars had an unglazed
stoneware lid that was cemented in place
with clay or plaster. These jars held
various food items such as tofu or salted
Ng-Ka-Py was a 90-proof Chinese liquor
that can still be purchased today and
comes in a brown-glazed pot with a flared
pouring mouth. It is sealed with a wooden
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|History and Prehistory of Lake County
Several styles of Chinese porcelain were
recovered during the monitoring process.
The most numerous represented two styles
of dinnerware known as Bamboo (5) and Four
Bamboo ware was the least expensive of the Chinese porcelain and consisted of a
light gray/blue glaze with hand-painted stylistic darker gray/blue designs. Although
other vessels may have been created, this author has only encountered footed rice
bowls of this design.
Four Seasons was one of the more expensive of the Chinese porcelain patterns. This
design is a hand-painted polychrome stylized depiction of four floral elements
representing the four seasons. The design is painted on a white glazed background
and there is often a maker’s mark on the base of larger bowls and plates. The design
is painted on the outside of bowls and on the inside of plates and spoons.
Two more Chinese porcelain patterns were recovered. Two very fine porcelain pieces
with a blue on white design were recovered (0-196, 210) as were 3 pieces of
polychrome ware. One plain white glazed teapot fragment was also recovered.
The distribution map of Chinese ceramics indicates at
least 4 separate areas of use or discard. As expected, the
reservation, at the entrance road, and in the Lot 2 area in the northern part of the
It is possible that the Chinese materials arrived at the reservation through trade with
that these materials came to Elem along with some of the Chinese miners who moved
to the reservation to live with Elem families. It would be expected that Chinese
miners would feel closer to the people of the Elem community than to their “white”
fellow miners. During the late 1800’s, Chinese pioneers experienced widespread
discrimination at the hands of California’s “white” immigrants. The “white” prejudice
against the Chinese probably came from two areas of perception:
- In the view of Caucasian immigrants, the Chinese had a funny language, wore
strange clothes, ate different foods, and celebrated their holidays by making
lots of noise with firecrackers, drums and cymbals.
- California was experiencing a high unemployment rate following the gold rush.
The rush had swelled the numbers of men in the state but had not increased the
number of jobs. White men needed someone to blame for their unemployed
situation. It was easy to blame the Chinese.