Elem Asian Artifacts

Chinese pioneers were hired out as workers to pay for their passage to the U.S.
Food and drink from China.
Examples of Ng-Ka-Py jars.
Sample Chinese food jar and lid.
Bamboo ware rice bowls at Elem.
Four Seasons dinner ware at Elem.
Examples of Four Seasons dinner ware.
Chinese blue-on-white and polychrome rice bowl fragments at Elem.

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 (3)

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 duck eggs.

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 stopper.

Porcelain (14)

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 Seasons (3).

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 Elem through trade with Chinese miners working at the Sulphur Bank Mine. It is also possible that these items ended up at 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.