Even as they struggled to find work, Chinese immigrants were also fighting for their lives. During their first few decades in the United States, they endured an epidemic of violent racist attacks, a campaign of persecution and murder that today seems shocking. From Seattle to Los Angeles, from Wyoming to the small towns of California, immigrants from China were forced out of business, run out of town, beaten, tortured, lynched, and massacred, usually with little hope of help from the law. Racial hatred, an uncertain economy, and weak government in the new territories all contributed to this climate of terror and bloodshed. The perpetrators of these crimes, which included Americans from many segments of society, largely went unpunished. Exact statistics for this period are difficult to come by, but a case can be made that Chinese immigrants suffered worse treatment than any other group that came voluntarily to the U.S.
One traveler from the east coast, in his account of life in California, observed that "To abuse a Chinaman; to rob him; to kick and cuff him; even to kill him, have been things not only done with impunity by mean and wicked men, but even with vain glory.
"Had 'John'--here and in China alike the English and Americans nickname every Chinaman 'John'--a good claim, original or improved, he was ordered to 'move on'--it belonged to someone else. Had he hoarded a pile, he was ordered to disgorge; and, if he resisted, he was killed. Worse crimes even are known against them; they have been wantonly assaulted and shot down or stabbed by bad men, as sportsmen would surprise and shoot their game in the woods. No one was so low, so miserable, that he did not despise the Chinaman, and could not outrage him."