1839 - 1842
Opium WarThe British seize Hong Kong and strategize against Chinese troops in an effort to maintain the trade of British opium and limit the amount of traded silver. The emperor of the Qing Dynasty at that time had tried to place heavy restrictions on the drug’s widespread circulation due to its addictive qualities. By 1842, the British had also defeated Chinese troops at the mouth of Yangtze River and were occupying Shanghai.
The Treaty of Nanking
(The Unequal Treaty)British and Chinese officials meet to sign the Treaty of Nanking, which changed the framework of foreign trade that was being enforced by the emperor for almost a hundred years. The treaty opened more ports for foreign trade and granted foreigners the right to trade with anyone they pleased. In addition, the Qing Dynasty was to pay the British government reparations for the opium that was lost and ceded Hong Kong to the Queen to provide British traders a permanent harbor.
1850 - 1864
The Taiping RebellionsLocal peasants led by the Christian convert Hong Xiuquan perpetuate a large-scale revolt against the corrupt feudal system in place under the Qing Dynasty. With its capital at Nanjing, the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace at one point holds land with almost 30 million people. This rebellion is considered one of the bloodiest civil wars.
1856 - 1860
Second Opium War or “Arrow War”A dispute regarding the trade vessel, the “Arrow,” along with accusations that local Chinese bakers were lacing baked goods with arsenic to harm Europeans, sparked more conflict between the Qing Dynasty and British troops. The British, aided by the French, attacked and occupied Guangdong.
Treaties of TianjinThis series of treaties between China and England opened up eleven more ports to foreign trade, allowed Christian missionaries access, permitted foreign officials in Peking, and legalized opium.
Sino-French WarConflict between the French army and for the occupation of Tonkin (North Vietnam).
First Sino-Japanese WarChina and Japan clash over control of Korea. The conflict seriously weakens the Qing Dynasty, which recognized Korea as an independent country and ceded Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores Islands to Japan as part of the Treaty of Shimonoseki.
The Boxer RebellionMembers of the Society of Right and Harmonious Fists, a group who routinely practiced martial arts, rebelled against foreign influence in trade, religion, and politics. This anti-imperialist peasant movement began in the north where huge technological undertakings where taking place, such as the construction of railways.
The Republic of China
Xinhai RevolutionSun Yat-sen, a Chinese revolutionary and political figure, played an influencial role in the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. Later he became the first provisional president of the Republic of China and co-founded the Kuomintang (KMT). Sun Yat-sen has been accredited as the Father of Modern China.
1917 - 1923
New Culture MovementStudents and intellectuals protested the warlord governments and blamed the “cultural heritage” of China for wrongdoing. Stirred by the creation of the New Youth journal, established in 1915 by a professor of Peking University, students called for widespread nationalism and a revaluation of longtime cultural institutions such as Confucianism. The drastic changes they demanded fueled the formation of the Communist Party.
Chinese Communist Party (CCP)Initially, the Chinese Communist Party joined forces with the Kuomintang in order to make change from within the Nationalist Party instead of forming a separate competitive government.
Chiang Kai-shek Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek succeeds Sun Yat-sen as head of the Kuomintang.
1927 - 1950
Nationalist-Communist Civil War or War of LiberationThe Western-supported Nationalist Party and the Soviet-supported Chinese Communist Party split, due to ideological differences. This civil war would eventually encompass and spark hundreds of battles between military and peasant troops.
China FloodsIn 1931, a series of floods devastates areas surrounding the Yellow, Yangtze, and Huai rivers. Preceded by drought and accompanied by cyclones, the flood destroyed farmland and drowned several million people.
Second Sino-Japanese WarFought during World War II, China and Japan continued to fight over control of resources and raw material reserves. Until 1941, China fought alone against Japan.
The People’s Republic of China
Founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)Mao Zedong declares, “the Chinese people have stood up” and founds the People’s Republic of China as the form of government to replace the Kuomintang. The KMT and Chiang Kai-shek retreat to Taiwan and surrounding islands. Up until the 1970s, the KMT remains the only formally recognized Chinese government by the U.S.
The Great Leap ForwardAfter the Chinese Communist Party defeated the Nationalist Party during the War of Liberation, warlords, landlords, and wealthy peasants had their land confiscated from them and redistributed to poorer peasants. In an attempt to raise profits, the first plan of land collectivization was installed. During the Great Leap Forward, Mao called for a simultaneous development of agriculture and technology. He hoped to industrialize China by maximizing cheap labor and limiting the amount of imported machinery. However, due to the movement of laborers from farming to industry, many harvests went unkept. In addition, natural disasters and drought created periods of starvation and loss.
The Four OldsMao Zedong orders destruction of Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits and Old Ideas in an effort to quell anti-revolutionaries and make way for the “new.” Countless architectures, artifacts, and traditional arts were destroyed during the wake of this movement. During this time, Mao Zedong also pushes for Simplified Chinese characters in order to unite different spoken dialects and increase literacy among the uneducated.
The Cultural RevolutionIn an attempt to continue the class struggle and mobilize China’s youth, Mao remained focused on wiping out “old” ideas and traditions in China. Moreover, he wanted to “crush” the authorities who welcomed capitalism and those that did not correspond with the development of the socialist system.
Dong Fang Hong 1The PRC launches its first satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1, and becomes the fifth nation to achieve independent launch capability.
Mao Zedong dies of heart attackMao’s body was embalmed and placed in the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, although he had wished to be cremated.
Tiananmen Square ProtestsLabor activists, students, and intellectuals meet en masse to protest the policies that were underway in the Era of Reconstruction. With belief in political reform, the protestors were concerned with how much control the Communist Party of China had in the centralized government. Students called for free media reform and initiated dialogue between government authorities and student-elected representatives. In an effort to end a hunger strike and quell protestors, the national government sent in military troops to Beijing, initiating violent conflict.
First McDonald’s restaurant in Beijing
Hu Jintao assumes office as the President of the PRC
China hosts the XXIX OlympiadDespite international protests regarding a host of environmental and humanistic concerns, China hosts the Olympics for the first time with the Olympic slogan, “One World, One Dream.” In order to prepare for the games, billions of dollars have been allocated for new infrastructure, revamped transportation units, and cultural change in order to welcome foreign guests.
United States & World
California Gold RushThe promise of gold and other assets in the California drew large numbers of Chinese immigrants to the West Coast. Initially “tolerated,” once surface gold became scarce, the Chinese were forcibly evicted from the mines and driven to form “ethnic enclaves” in cities such as San Fransisco.
continental RailroadIn an effort to build America’s first transcontinental railroad, a rail system that would extend from the West to the East coast, project managers hire “coolies,” Chinese laborers from the southern provinces of China, who worked for extremely low wages and little protection under U.S. law.
Burlingame TreatyThis treaty between the United States and China recognized, among other things, that citizens of either country residing in the other would be granted certain privileges, except for the privilege of naturalization. In addition, immigration from China to the U.S. was encouraged, citing that Chinese subjects in the U.S. would enjoy “liberty of conscience” and would be free of persecution on account of their customs or beliefs.
The Sidewalk Ordinance of 1870 This ordinance, originated in San Francisco, California, banned immigrants from practicing the Chinese tradition of carrying vegetables on a pole across their backs.
The Queue Ordinance of 1873 This ordinance banned Chinese immigrants from fashioning a braid, or queue, the hairstyle commonly worn by Chinese men as a sign of allegiance to an emperor of the Qing Dynasty.
Chinese Exclusion ActThe U.S. Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, depriving the Chinese of citizenship rights and barring women from entry to the United States. Since “Oriental-Caucasian” marriages were prohibited in several states, most Chinese men living in the U.S. at the time remained bachelors.
Henry Ford builds the Model-THenry Ford unveils the assembly line as a form of swift and efficient mass production.
1914 - 1918
World War I
Henry Ford seeks laborersDetermined to increase his labor force, Ford sent his supervisors to Honolulu, Hawaii to hand-pick a group of Chinese workers to fuel his lines in Detroit, because internal conflict in China was too great to pull immigrants from abroad.
Great DepressionDevastating economic downturns in the U.S. cause Americans to lose their jobs in both the agricultural and industrial sectors.
World War II BeginsOften considered to have begun when Germany invaded Poland, Western countries aligned forces against Nazi forces.
Pearl HarborA surprise attack on the U.S. naval base in Hawaii presses the U.S. to join allies in fighting the war both in Europe and in Asia.
The Chinese Exclusion Act is repealedU.S. Congress repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act by the Magnuson Act.
U.S. troops drop atomic bombsOn August 15, 1945, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered and WWII ended. At the end of the War the both the U.S. and the Nationalist Party of China are founding countries of the United Nations, an organization that was to replace the League of Nations, responsible for stopping wars between countries and providing a platform for dialogue.
Korean WarConflict between North Korean and South Korean regimes escalate, eventually extracting the aid of external parties. With Soviet powers aiding the North and Western powers aiding the South, tensions developed into the rivalry commonly referred to as the Cold War.
1959 - 1975
Vietnam WarAttempting to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam, the U.S. sent troops to combat the guerilla Vietcong forces of the North. With the North aided by China and the South aided by the West, the Vietnam War was another incident that increased hostility between the U.S. and perceived communist threats.
Cuban Missile Crisis
Martin Luther King, Jr. marches in DetroitOn June 23, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. leads a civil rights march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan.
Japanese cars sold in U.S. marketAutomobile production in Japan increased rapidly in the 1970s and 80s, as Mitsubishi and Honda designed and manufactured smaller fuel efficient vehicles that competed heavily with the more sizeable U.S. models.
President Richard Nixon visits ChinaIn an effort to improve China-America relations, President Richard Nixon visited with Mao Zedong and conceded that there is “one China, and Taiwan is a part of China.”
China begins to send students abroadAfter almost 30 years of conflicting relations with the U.S., China lifts its restriction on students studying abroad. For much of the 80s, 90s, and the beginning of the 21st century, the number of students from China who study in the U.S. will rapidly increase.
China sends most students to U.S.China displaces Taiwan as the leading sender of students to the U.S.
Rodney King incidentAfter being chased for speeding, Rodney King, and African American taxi driver, was stopped and beaten until death in L.A. Racial tensions skyrocketed after the incident, stirring rebellions throughout the city. Heavy looting and arson started across neighborhoods, having a devastating effect on Korean and other Asian American shopkeepers. Feeling abandoned by law enforcement and media coverage, many Korean Americans formed self-defense teams in order to repel attacks. After the rioting ended, Asian American shopkeepers reported a majority of the economic losses endured.
Asian American contributors deemed “Asian Connection”A the end of 1996, as Asian Americans were becoming more politically active and contributing donations to the Democratic National Committee for the re-election of the Clinton-Gore ticket, accusations that the DNC accepted money from a lawful permanent resident on behalf of another sparked a widespread investigation into the DNC’s contributors who were of Asian descent. Lengthy donor lists were subjects of intense scrutiny and many Asian Americans were singled out as “guilty by association.”
September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center
China sends nearly 65,000 students to the U.S.In the 2002-2003 academic year, China remains only second to India as one of the leading countries in sending students to study abroad in the U.S. Approximately 82% of students will pursue a graduate degree in the U.S. and 13% will achieve an undergraduate degree.
XXIX OlympiadPresident George Bush attends the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Detroit's Chinatown
First “Oriental” arrives in Detroit Born in the Canton region in China, Ah-chee moves to Detroit and openes a laundry in a Gratiot Street shanty. There are no materials in the local archives that further explain Ah-chee’s journey to Detroit or where he may have stayed prior to his arrival.
Another “John Chinaman”Lu-How moves to Detroit and helps Ah-chee “take in washee” at his Gratiot street laundry. Lu-How is considered by reporters to be “a friend and a brother” to Ah-chee.
14 Chinese “washermen” live in DetroitOne Chinese resident, Sam-Lee, who had lived in America for four years, was reported to celebrate Christmas in this year. Sam-Lee and his wife, the only Chinese woman in Detroit, went toy shopping for their son.
No Chinese women in DetroitThe papers report there is no Chinese woman in Detroit, the only one returning to the “Celestial Empire” from which she came.
Chinese residents celebrate Chinese New YearThe 14 “Chinamen” who lived in Detroit met at Wah Hop’s apartment to plan the New Year festivities; however, certain traditions, such as lighting fireworks, could not take place due to legal restrictions.
Lung Sing considers his residenceLung Sing, after living in Detroit for four years, “talks of taking out his naturalization papers and becoming one of us.”
Chinese Sunday schoolThe First Presbyterian holds a class for the Chinese men who reside in Detroit. The objective of the class is to teach them English and introduce them to Christianity.
27 Chinese residents live in Detroit
50 Chinese residents live in Detroit
Herbert Johnson is arrested Officer E.O. Wood arrests Johnson for smuggling four Chinamen across the Detroit River, from Canada to the U.S.
2 Chinese men open lunchrooms in DetroitBoth lunchrooms served sailors at the waterfront. One individual, Homer Gam moved to Detroit from Chicago and opened King Yink Lo, which served Chinese food to the general public. Reportedly, $800 worth of fireworks exploded at the grand opening of the restaurant. Detroit police rushed to the scene to quell what they thought was a “Tong outbreak.”
Detroit’s first Chinese newsboyHorace Way, born in Sacramento, California, moved to Detroit to live with a relative at the age of 10. “Keen eyed, alert, nattily attired in a suit of the most approved cut,” Horace joined the ranks of the Detroit Free Press news delivery.
The first Chinese woman to remainMrs. Rose Fong came to Detroit and remained as a permanent resident. Until this point, the ratio of Chinese males to females was 100-1; by 1934 it was 10-1.
Harry Chung arrives in Detroit After studying in Akron, Ohio, Harry Chung opens Chung’s restaurant at 1343 Third Ave., near Tiger Stadium. Many other commercial businesses and restaurants also cluster in this area at Michigan and Bagley.
400 Chinese men and 97 Chinese women live in DetroitIn an article, “Bits of the Old World In Detroit,” reporter Faye Elizabeth Smith briefly details the expenses of Chinese merchant endeavors in the city (estimated at $2,000,000) and suggests that the Chinese colony in Detroit is the most Americanized and most focused on active citizenship than any other “ethnic enclave.”
Who is “Chinese”?Neither “Chinese” nor “Asian” exist as racial or ethnic designations for the purpose of census statistics in the City of Detroit Directory.
Local Chinese raise fundsLocal Chinese set a goal to raise $3,000 needed to train Chinese students from Ann Arbor and young men from around the Detroit colony as aviators to service the Nationalist government against the Japanese. The plan includes enlisting former army instructors to train the men, as well as the purchase of two or three planes to send with the soldiers.
Chinese residents organize a boycott of Japanese goodsFollowing the Imperial Japanese Army’s six-week occupation of the Chinese city of Nanjing during World War II, Chinese residents in Detroit and in other cities around the U.S. organize protests of Japanese imports like silk hose.
Detroiters organize protestA collective of Detroiters organize in Chinatown to demonstrate against continuing Japanese atrocities in China.
Bishop of Nanking visits DetroitThe On Leong Chinese Merchants Association halted their deliberations to welcome special guest Most Rev. Paul Yu Pin, Catholic bishop of Nanking, and Lu Tze Chin, Chinese consul general at Chicago.
Firecrackers don’t pop in ChinatownLocal Chinese residents choose to restrict Chinese New Year celebrations in order to save money for the war effort.
Chinese residents apply for citizenshipFor the first time since the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed, local Chinese residents apply to become U.S. citizens in a ceremony at the Central Methodist Church.
V-Day CelebrationResidents of Chinatown threw a victory celebration for “Peace in Detroit” following the resolve of WWII. At this point, the population of Chinatown had reached over 3,000.
Chinese residents browse real estateSuburban neighborhoods such as Warren began to allow entry of Chinese residents. Other suburbs, however, remain inaccessible to Asian Americans.
Harry Chung dies at the age of 50 His two-day funeral, which cost the Tong and the Chungs $25,000, was the most “opulent” Detroit Chinese have ever seen. Chinese elders across America mourned his death.
Juvenile delinquency lowJournalist turned sociologists report that the Chinese families in Detroit have low juvenile delinquency rates due to strict education regiments and tight familial bonds.
Chinese merchants and city officials plan International VillageArticles report the destruction of old Chinatown on Third and Abbott as part of the city’s $12,500,000 development to replace skid row. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lee suggest that a New Chinatown move into a planned International Center near the Civic Center to not only induce tourism, but also encourage other ethnic groups to settle there.
Mrs. Harry Chung moves restaurantThe Chung’s restaurant is now located at 3177 N Cass.
The Detroit Housing Commission condemns ChinatownThe DHC condemns the district for a slum clearance project. A modern $3 million Chinatown was to be located on 1 ¾ acres of land bounded by Abbott, Third, Howard and the Lodge Expressway, as part of an International Village, proposed by Walter Shamie. 30 merchants whose places would be razed by urban renewal and who wanted to be in New Chinatown enlisted their businesses.
Birmingham and Berkley still discriminate“Realtors in Birmingham and Berkley [have] a gentleman’s agreement not to let Orientals or blacks in..” said Henry Leung, a businessman who tried to obtain a home for sale in Birmingham through a realtor friend. When the real estate office found out who the prospective buyer was, the house was suddenly unavailable.
Plans to relocate change courseA large amount of land is purchased on the north side of downtown by the On Leong Chinese Welfare Association to accommodate the Chinese community in Detroit. The plan included a Chinese school and a residential community for senior citizens. The Free Press Sunday Magazine praises the rebirth of a New Chinatown, boasting that the “new neighborhood is less shabby than the old site on Skid Row’s fringe.” The article promised that Detroit has bigger, handsomer, and more prosperous plans for Chinatown’s urban renewal, but by December, plans for an International Village, and subsequently a New Chinatown, fell through, leaving thousands of Chinese empty-handed and near homeless.

Opening ceremonies for New ChinatownThe media report that Chinatown is “born anew” at its new location at Cass and Peterboro.
Chinese New Year celebrations reconsideredHenry Yee says that there aren’t enough Chinese in Detroit to hold a celebration, because many have moved to suburban residencies. In addition, less money is available to support the cause and restaurant owners cannot afford to shut down their business to honor the holiday.
Tommie Lee is killed at gunpointTommie Lee, proprietor of the Bow Wah restaurant at Cass and Peterboro, was held-up by gunpoint. When Lee tried to escape, the thief fired a bullet into his lung leaving him mortally wounded. Lee had been a victim of violence before when he was shot twice at his other restaurant Lung Fung Chop Suey in 1969.
Detroit’s metropolitan Chinese population increasesLocal estimates mark metro Detroit’s Chinese American population at 6,000, but the official census notes that only 2,000 are in Detroit City proper.
WSU Plans Chinese classroom
Plans to plant flowers in New ChinatownA news reporter wrote an article about a $300,000 federal investment in Detroit Chinatown, set to plant flowers and fix sidewalks. Hayne Leung, who helps run a cultural clubhouse for young Chinese off Cass says: “Flowerpots! The pimps and the hookers and the drunks will just fill them up with trash.” Another resident, Rosie Yee remarked on how unsafe the neighborhood was and how suburban Chinese and non-Chinese alike were ceasing to return to Chinatown.
Streets are widened in New ChinatownThe sidewalks on Peterboro were widened to create a community space and walkway, but did not lead to the rejuvenation needed. The lack of presence in the community coincided with many of the community members leaving for suburban homes.

Early Detroit Chinese Settlers exhibitionThe Chinese American Educational and Cultural Center teamed up with Dearborn Department of Libraries to host the Chinese Archives Exhibit of Early Detroit Chinese Settlers, one of the first to publicly display and celebrate local Asian American history.
Detroit’s Chinese fear gang extortionThe Fay Lung, or “Flying Dragons,” a gang of young Chinese immigrants make calls to local merchants, inciting fear of violence in the community. The young rebels claim that if the merchants don’t pay, they won’t live. Sources say that Chinese business-owners purchased guns and bullet-proof vests in addition to alerting Detroit police to the incident.
Vincent Chin is beaten to deathVincent Chin, a young man of Chinese descent, was beaten to death by two Ford autoworkers from Highland Park. Mistaken for Japanese, Chin was targeted because of his race. His brutal murder triggered Asian Americans and civil rights groups alike to organize and protest throughout the nation.
Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz freeThe men facing charges for the death of Vincent Chin are set free by Judge Charles Kaufman. They are ordered to pay $3,780 each in fines and court costs and serve three years probation, but no jail time is served. Asian American activist groups, among others, are outraged at the court’s decision and take to the streets to protest. American Citizens for Justice raise a banner that read, “It’s Not Fair!” and keynote speakers address the racial tensions that underline this case.
Ebens and Nitz in federal courtAfter the Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury would investigate Chin’s slaying in 1983, Ebens and Nitz are indicted on charges of conspiracy to deprive Chin of his civil rights. Ebens is found guilty on the charges; however, Nitz is acquitted.
Ebens appeals his case in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati
Ebens is acquitted When Ebens appeals his case in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, he is acquitted of the charges against him for violating Chin’s civil rights. In the Chin estate civil suit, he is ordered to pay $1.5 million.
Many mourn the 10-year anniversary of Chin’s death
Chung’s restaurant closes after 40 years of service
Community organizers meetIn the summer of 2002, community organizers, including students and members of different institutions, met for an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s death. By the end of the summer, the Detroit Chinatown Revitalization Workgroup formed to discuss and execute planned initiatives in the now historic Chinatown district.
Detroit Chinatown mural is erectedThe Detroit Chinatown mural, a project that arose from collaboration of Detroit Chinatown Revitalization Workgroup and Detroit Summer, speaks volumes about the history of the area and the ongoing fight for racial justice. The mural depicts the upheaval of the community during the construction of the Lodge freeway (M-10) in the 1960s and 70s and parallels this event with the destruction of Paradise Valley for the construction of I-75. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the largest civil rights march in Detroit, is depicted beneath a portrait of Helen Zia, one of the key spokespersons for American Citizens for Justice, an activist group responsible for organizing during the Vincent Chin case. Vincent Chin’s mother is seen on the left holding a portrait of her son next to a vision of Peterboro street.
Student volunteers clean-up ChinatownIn July 2007, a modest group of student and community volunteers cleaned the Peterboro street and the corners of Cass and Second. Members of the Association of Chinese Americans helped by providing food and beverage and an open door to the visitors.
Detroit Chinatown: Works In ProgressCome April 4, 2009, visitors to the Detroit Historical Museum can enjoy a temporary exhibit, “Detroit Chinatown: Works in Progress,” that will help deepen their understanding our region’s rich Asian American history. Visitors young and old can walk back in time and view archived photographs of Chinatown’s bustling city streets during World War II or browse detailed biographies of Chinatown’s movers and shakers. Divided into sections on infrastructure, culture, narratives, and community, this exhibit will also explore the social, political, and economic factors that aided in the decline of one of the largest ethnic boroughs in wartime Detroit. Please join us in remembering and celebrating the experiences of Asian Americans in metro Detroit from the late nineteenth century to today.