A flag rack for a Daoist altar in the Won Lim Temple in the gold-mining town of Weaverville, California, testifies to the many religious and secular Chinese structures in North America before 1870. Unfortunately, almost nothing from them has survived except verbal descriptions and a few drawings. The rack is an exception. With an inscribed date of 1861, it is the earliest known object made by or for Chinese Americans. Painted red and gold and simply made, the rack’s function was distinctively Chinese. Its maker/donor Liu Xianan called himself “the follower who is showered by His [probably the God of Brotherhood’s] grace.” The rack bears Liu’s name and “the first month of summer, Xianfeng xinyou year,” which corresponds to May-June 1861. Weaverville’s Trinity Journal, dated June 22, 1861, reported: “The Chinese have completed a place in which to put their gods and worship them, situated in Sydney Gulch. The building is ornamented with dragons, etc., on the outside and inside…” Twelve years later, the Sydney Gulch temple burned down in one of the many accidental fires that occurred in early wood-built mining towns, but the rack was saved and moved to the newly built Won Lim Temple. A rare relic of Chinese American religion in early American history, the rack testifies to the community strength of Chinese pioneers in northern CA. They were already forming stable settlements a generation ahead of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and before the signing of the Burlingame Treaty of 1864, when large numbers of Chinese were recruited to work on the transcontinental railroad.
– Chuimei Ho and Bennet Bronson, Chinese in Northwest America Research Committee (CINARC)