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The Forgotten Massacre of Chinese People in Torreón, Mexico

Plaza de Armas del Centro Histórico de Torreón. Imagen en Flickr del usuario ego2005 (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Main Square of Historical Center of Torreón. Image on Flickr bu user ego2005 (CC BY-SA 2.0).

In May 1911, the town of Torreón, in the Mexican state of Coahuila, was the scene of bloody and almost forgotten events when 303 Chinese citizens, half the Chinese population of the town back then, were killed during the height of the Mexican Revolution.

The web Cultura Colectiva sums up the background of the events:

El odio antichino se afincó en una idea de razas superiores e inferiores, donde el mestizaje mexicano era visto como la imagen ideal de un país donde, la “raza amarilla”, no tenía más cabida que para degenerar.
Con el propósito de liberar al país de este terrible peligro, se creó un movimiento “anti chino” que se desarrolló entre 1911 y 1934. La mayoría de sus logros fueron plasmados en una lista de restricciones publicada bajo el gobierno de Álvaro Obregón en 1923, donde se estipulaba entre muchas cosas que:
-Los chinos no podían vender comestibles.
-Los chinos no podían entrar a restaurantes ni museos.
-Se prohibían los matrimonios entre mexicanos y chinos (en caso de que alguna mexicana se casara, perdería su nacionalidad inmediatamente).
-Se prohibía a los chinos acceder a puestos públicos.

The anti-Chinese sentiment was rooted in an idea of superior and inferior races, where the Mexican blending of races was seen as the ideal image of a country, where the “yellow ethnicity” was to be degenerated.
With the purpose of liberating the country of this terrible threat, an “anti-Chinese” movement was created, developed between 1911 and 1934. Most of their accomplishments were a list of restrictions published under the administration of Álvaro Obregón in 1923, that stated among other things:
– Chinese citizens are not able to sell food.
– Chinese citizens are not allowed in restaurants nor museums.
– Mexican-Chinese marriages were forbidden (in case any Mexican woman married a Chinese, she'd lose her citizenship immediately).
– Chinese citizens are forbidden from having jobs in the government.

The killing of Chinese citizens took place during the Mexican Revolution, an armed struggle that started as an uprising in November 20, 1910, against then President Porfirio Díaz, who had ruled the country as an authoritarian since 1876. The uprising was led by Francisco I. Madero and its initial purpose was to fight against the establishment, but ended up as multi-sided civil war.

In 1911, the Chinese community of Torreón had about 600 people, most of them storekeepers and peasants. There were also wealthy people who founded the main bank in the city.

In the early hours of May 15, 1911, about 2,000 soldiers from the forces loyal to Madero entered Torreón. The events that followed are narrated by website Jornada:

El viernes 13 de mayo de 1911, […] gavillas de rancheros armados, que gritaban vivas a Madero, trataron de tomar la ciudad por el oriente [y fueron recibidas] con fuego nutrido de fusilería y quizá morteros, y les causó muchas bajas. Corría la conseja de que los chinos habían resistido desde sus huertas y edificios altos. El sábado 14 de mayo, algunos grupos de soldados rebeldes empezaron a matar a los chinos que encontraron en las huertas, entre ellos a uno muy estimado, ya mayor, de nombre Juan Maa (Huang Mah). Un ranchero mexicano que se opuso a tales asesinatos, Francisco Almaraz, fue victimado también.

On Friday, May 13, 1911, […] groups of armed ranchers, shouting praise for Madero, tried to occupy the city from the east [and were received] with heavy gunfire and maybe mortars, causing many fatalities. Rumor had it that Chinese people had resisted from their plantations and tall buildings. On Saturday, May 14, different bands of rebel soldiers started to kill Chinese people who were found on their plantations, among them a very well-liked older man by the name of Juan Maa (Huang Mah). A Mexican rancher who opposed those killings, Francisco Almaraz, was also killed.

And the account goes on:

El 15 de mayo, la guarnición federal desalojó sigilosamente la plaza. Hacia las 5 de la mañana, […] entraron en la ciudad y, viéndose dueños de ella, se pusieron a saquear las cantinas. Muy pronto, una parte de los soldados de la rebelión estaban ebrios, exaltados y armados. Se empezó a clamar venganza contra los chinos, que supuestamente los habí­an combatido. Los buscaban en sus tiendas, el hotel, las fondas, y el restaurante.[…] Una gran turba que se puso a saquear las casas y tiendas de los chinos: la gente se llevaba todo. El saqueo del banco, en la Plaza de Armas de Torreón, después de que se aniquiló a todos sus empleados y al gerente Kang Shai Jack, fue el clí­max de la jornada. Eran las 10 de la mañana.

On May 15, the federal garrison silently evacuated the square. By 5 in the morning,  […] they entered the city, and feeling they owned it, started to loot the bars. Very soon, some of the soldiers from the rebellion were drunk, excited and armed. They started to call out for revenge against the Chinese, who allegedly had fought them. They looked for them inside their stores, the hotel, the food stands and the restaurant. […] A big mob started looting houses and stores owned by Chinese: people took everything. The looting of the bank, Torreón Main Square, after all its employees and its manager Kang Shai Jack were killed, was the climax of the day. It was 10 in the morning.

The Chinese government learned of the unfortunate events that happened “to its more well-known and wealthy community in Mexico”:

La respuesta de Pekín fue la publicación en el Pekín Daily News, y en muchos otros periódicos chinos, japoneses, europeos y americanos de un texto que decía: “En la Revolución Mexicana se mata y pilla de la manera más arbitraria. Ayer en T’saiyüan (Torreón) fueron asesinados más de trescientos ciudadanos chinos en circunstancias muy deplorables”.
El emperador chino “Suan Tung” –Pu Yi- mandó entregar a la Legación de México en China una lista de exigencias, que en términos corteses “pero claros”, pedían que el gobierno mexicano expresara sus condolencias por el hecho; que se desagraviara (compensara el perjuicio causado) a la bandera china y que se indemnizara a los deudos de los muertos, a más de proteger su vida y sus propiedades en México.

The response by Beijing was one article in Pekin Daily News, and in many other Chinese, Japanese, European and American newspapers of a text that read: “In the Mexican Revolution, there are the most arbitrary killings and looting. Yesterday in T’saiyüan (Torreón) more than 300 Chinese citizens were killed amidst very regrettable circumstances.”
Chinese emperor “Suan Tung”–Pu Yi–sent the Mexican Legation in China a list of demands, that in polite “but clear” terms asked the Mexican government to express its condolences for the events; to make amends for (to compensate for the damages) the Chinese flag and to indemnify the relatives of the dead individuals, besides protecting their lives and properties in Mexico.

As a conclusion, the blog Algo de aquí, algo de allá reflected:

Sin duda, el racismo es semillero fértil para los baños de sangre. Siendo México un país de mestizos, donde confluyeron personas de distintas etnias para dar origen al mexicano actual, un episodio como el vivido en la ciudad de Torreón resulta indignante, pero sobre todo nos debería poner a pensar en la irracionalidad de las creencias de la superioridad de razas.

Without a doubt, racism is a fertile hotbed for a bloodbath. As Mexico is a country of people of mixed races, where individuals from different ethnicities got together to create the current Mexican individual, events as what happened in the city of Torreón are simply outrageous, but above all, they should make us reflect upon the irrationality of the beliefs in race superiority.

Some Twitter users posted photos and links to websites with more information about the May 1911 violence:

BBC World – The “forgotten” massacre of Chinese people in Mexico.

Remembering the killing of Chinese in Torreón.

It's been a century since the massacre of at least 303 Chinese citizens in Torreon, Coahuila, as recalls my dear Alberto…

Between last February and April, an exposition was held as a remembrance of the massacre in Torreón:

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