If Karl Marx wrote, "The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle," one can add that American history is also the history of ethnic struggle. In The Chinese Massacre (Annotated), playwright Tom Jacobson takes a Howard Zinn-like "people's history" look at Los Angeles, revealing a little-known, yet significant, episode. In 1871, long before the 20th century's Zoot Suit, Watts and L.A. riots, there was a pogrom against L. A.'s then-200 inhabitants of Chinese ancestry.
There are few more important, serious subjects than ethnic cleansing and genocide. Jacobson and Circle X Theatre Co. are to be commended for rescuing this butchery and burning 140 years ago from our collective amnesia. The killing of 18 Chinese men - almost 10 percent of Chinatown's population - surpassed the number of victims of the Manson tribe, yet is as forgotten as Squeaky and Charlie remain remembered.
Massacre weaves a multicultural fabric of a far smaller, yet still ethnically complex, city of not such Angels, with competing groups of American, German and French-born whites, Jews, Hispanics, newly freed blacks, and Chinese. The solidarity that historical figure Biddy Mason, former slave turned community leader, extends to the beleaguered Chinese in their moment of need is moving, especially in light of today's antagonisms between Korean immigrants and African Americans here.
Jacobson also takes some pointed jabs at racial and religious stereotypes, delighting in lampooning the hypocrisies of Christianity. And there's a startling bit of Jew-against-Jew content that forms a piece of the ethnic background of L.A. Who knew of the Paris Commune's impact on L.A.'s fledgling population?