Chinatown Turf Wars Between Chinese and White Children

     Today, one can find Chinese living throughout the city of San Francisco but a century ago, racial animosity toward Chinese restricted them to living in the confined area known as "Chinatown," which did not extend west beyond Stockton Street until the early 1900s.
         Due to prejudices against them, Chinese elementary school students were not allowed to attend white schools as far back as 1859. In fact, San Francisco did not fund any schools at all for Chinese until the landmark 1885 Tape v. Hurley case which required the S. F. Board of Education provide public education to Chinese. The city lost the case but maintained its exclusion of Chinese from white schools by building a segregated "Chinese Primary School." It was renamed, "Oriental Public School" (when it was decided to segregate Japanese students as well) in 1906.  Sometime after the April, 1906 earthquake, the school was rebuilt on Clay Street halfway up the hill between Stockton and Powell Streets.  Below is a photograph of the school sometime around 1908.

San Francisco’s “Oriental School”
Oriental School, Clay Street
Oriental School (Fairmont Hotel in Background)
           Although the Oriental School was already on Clay Street for several years, in October, 1912 protests were made at the Board of Education over its proximity to white schools. One protest leader argued that: 

"Any oriental school located outside of oriental territory near to any school of the Caucasian race will greatly injure the discipline of each school, as a constant race war will be kept up between the boys of the schools."

       Perhaps these protests were triggered by the tragic event earlier that year in February involving a stone throwing confrontation between Chinese and white students near the Oriental School. At one point, a group of white boys found themselves trapped between two groups of Chinese boys so one of them, Jose Aguilar, fired a B. B. shot air rifle twice hoping to frighten the Chinese so they could escape. However, Wong She*, a 10-year old Chinese boy had a gun and fired back. One bullet passed through Aguilar's coat sleeve as he ran and fatally struck James Kane, a 14-year old white boy in the school yard. The newspaper account described Wong as "a gunman of the powerful Wong family" and reported that "four companions of the slain youth picked out Wong as the man last seen chasing the boy."  One Chinese boy testified he saw Wong She carrying the body of Kane.

                         San Francisco Call, Volume 111, Number 64, 2 February 1912, 1.

        On Feb 12, Judge Weller, to the surprise of most, granted bail at $5,000, defending his unpopular decision on the grounds that "Chinese witnesses were not reliable."
       At the May 19 trial, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the guilt of the accused as much of the evidence against the prisoner was worked up by detectlves as the result of statements by schoolmates of James Kane. Ten of the jurymen found in favor of conviction  for manslaughter, while two held out for murder. A second trial was to be set by Judge Dunne.**
        Dominic Kane, father of the slain boy, upon hearing the verdict, whipped out a .44 caliber revolver and tried to avenge his son's death.  A sharp struggle ensued to remove the revolver from the man's grasp, and total chaos was averted as over 50 Chinese were present, and apparently, ready to defend the Chinese boy.
        In the present day context of school shootings, the Wong-Kane case is erroneously included in a listing of school shootings:  

January 31, 1912: San Francisco, California In a brawl between the white and Chinese students at the Oriental School, James Kane was shot dead.[59]
        The tragic Wong-Kane case did not occur in a school nor did it involve students at the same school. It is the story of how hostility of one group toward another group can escalate into further harm and tensions between the opposing groups.

* "She" may be a misspelled name and might have been "Shee."
** No information could be found about the second trial or what happened to Wong She.


  1. thanks john! it goes to the serious of such incidents and how ready the chinese community was ready to deal with it in light of Chinese exclusion and laws against the Chinese.

  2. My father attended the Oriental School about the time of this incident.

    As a kid growing up in Chinatown in the 1930s and 1940s, I used to play in the empty lot where the Oriental School was.

  3. thanks for sharing your experiences...did your father know about the shooting incident, by any chance?


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