Chinese Burial Grounds at Mount Hope

Mount Hope Cemetery is quickly becoming one of my favorites. In a city full of beautiful and famous burying grounds (Mt. Auburn, Granary, Copp’s Hill, Forest Hills), Mount Hope is generally overshadowed and forgotten, but there’s no better cemetery to get a feel for the shape and scope of the last 150+ years of the city’s history.

On my last visit there, I came across a small section, at the far end of the cemetery, that I’d never seen before: a Chinese burying ground. Many of the stones were broken or fallen, and landscaping work needed to be done, but it was a beautiful small spot that spoke to an interesting past.

Chinese immigration to Boston can be traced to the 1870s, not long after Chinese immigrants began arriving in large numbers in California – first to take part in the Gold Rush of the 1840s and 1850s, and later to build the western portion of the transcontinental railroad. Almost as soon as the railroad was complete, however, Chinese immigrants found themselves at the center of a debate over their presence in their new home; while many in industry saw Chinese labor in the west and eventually the north as a cheap alternative, new nativist movements heavily opposed Chinese presence in the country. This culminated in the 1882* Chinese Exclusion Act, severely limiting new Chinese immigration. By then, some Chinese immigrants had begun to find work in the east, and many settled in what is today Boston’s Chinatown. The community was not large in the first decades of the 1900s, though there are some records that underline their presence and treatment: here, for example, are listings from the 1918 Boston Death Record showing Chinese immigrants who died during the city’s influenza epidemic. Note that their names are followed by the designation “yellow”.

Chinese Influenza Records

By then, Mount Hope was the main municipal cemetery in Boston. It was also the burial place for Boston’s poor, homeless, and indigent populations, meaning that many Chinese immigrants in the early years wound up there, buried in its unmarked indigent lot (a section of which can be seen below).

Indigent Lot.jpg

By the 1930s, as Chinese immigrants and their children had begun establishing themselves and building some wealth, a marked section of Mount Hope was set aside for Chinese-American burials (there is some discussion I’ve seen that this was a choice by the community, but others – including the Chinese Historical Society – asserts that it was segregated by the cemetery or public officials). The oldest burials I saw were from the early 1950s, and most of the section I looked at was from the 50s and 60s, but some sources say there were earlier burials there. Today, the section remains, though in need of some repair. There have been efforts to do so; a new temple was built to replace the crumbling old one in the 1990s, and a memorial to Boston’s Chinese immigrants was placed in front of it – a nice contemplative spot that serves as a gateway to the grounds. Photos of stones, as well as the memorial and temple, are below.

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*The original post had the incorrect date for the Chinese Exclusion Act. It has been updated to reflect the correct year of passage.

2 thoughts on “Chinese Burial Grounds at Mount Hope

  1. Thank you for writing about the Chinese burial grounds in Mt. Hope Cemetery. This cemetery in Boston was the first to allow the burial of Chinese. The neglect of the area stems in part from typical weathering, but also from the lack of care by family members. Early Chinese in Boston and elsewhere in the United States were sojourning males, working far from their families in China. Their successes allowed them to visit their families before returning again to Boston for work, and some never returned home.

    I would note, please, that the first Chinese Exclusion Act became law in 1882 and restricted the entry of Chinese laborers for 10 years. Merchants and diplomats, their families, and students were exempt. Minor restrictions did occur as early as 1875. In 1892 Congress extended the restriction 10 more years by passing the Geary Act. The immigration restriction became permanent with the McCreary Act in 1902, because it stated no date limit. With the U.S. entering the Second World War and becoming an Ally with China, Congress repealed the Exclusion laws in 1943.

    Today, the descendants of those buried in Mt. Hope visit and tend the graves of their immigrant ancestor(s). They clean, restore and replace the stones of their family member, and a very few care for nearby gravestones,. Those buried here and are without descendants wait to be remembered.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much for your reply – it’s good to hear a bit more about the background of the section. I certainly hope the post didn’t cause any offense – it was clear many of the graves were being tended and that efforts have been made for keep-up. The headstones are beautiful and it simply saddened me to see them in disrepair. I appreciate your perspective, and your reminder about the date of the Exclusion Act – that error has been fixed.

      Thank you for reading.


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