A little more than a century ago, China Camp was home to a bustling fishing village with hundreds of Chinese entrepreneurs and their families. And then, the villagers’ livelihoods were crushed in a rush of anti-Chinese sentiment and racist laws. Nearly everyone left China Camp, leaving behind the once teeming village that they had built on the shores of San Pablo Bay.
First, a little backstory. The economic depression of the 1870s had Californians, including San Franciscans, pointing fingers and trying to find blame. Chinese laborers, who had come during the boom years of the Gold Rush and the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, were soon pegged as unwelcome foreigners taking jobs from Americans.
The wide open spaces of Marin County offered an attractive escape from mounting anti-Chinese sentiment. Some of these immigrants got jobs at McNear Ranch, which included lands now within China Camp State Park. They started to camp in a shoreline area nearby, and soon the village of China Camp was born.
To supplement their income, Chinese workers began shrimp-fishing in San Pablo Bay. Annual hauls were staggering. By the late 1800s, more than three million pounds of shrimp, most of it dried and shipped back to China and Southeast Asia, were caught in San Pablo Bay every year.