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China Camp
China Camp 3654.jpg
China Camp in 2010
China Camp State Park is located in California
China Camp State Park
Location in California
China Camp State Park is located in the United States
China Camp State Park
Location in the United States
Location San Rafael, California
Area 75 acres (30 ha)
Built 1865–1925
NRHP reference No. 79000493
Added to NRHP April 26, 1979

China Camp State Park is a state park in Marin County, California, surrounding a historic Chinese American shrimp-fishing village and a salt marsh. The park is located in San Rafael, California, on the shore of San Pablo Bay. It is known for its hiking and mountain biking trails, scenic views, and open spaces. The 1,514-acre (613 ha) park was established in 1976. A 75-acre (30 ha) district, including the shrimping village and a prehistoric shell midden, were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 for having state-level significance in archaeology, architecture, commerce, settlement, and social history. China Camp State Park, along with the Rush Ranch Open Space Preserve, is part of the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.


Pre-Chinese settlement

Prior to the 1700s, the area now containing the park was inhabited by indigenous Coast Miwok people, who lived by hunting, harvesting acorns from the local oaks, and fishing and gathering seafood from the bay. After the 1775 arrival of the Spanish, who founded the nearby Mission San Rafael Arcángel, the Miwok were largely wiped out within 100 years.

In 1844, the Spanish granted much of the land that now comprises the park to Timothy Murphy, an Irish settler who became mayor (alcalde) of San Rafael. Following the United States takeover of California in 1846, Murphy lost most of his land and subsequently died, and the land came into the possession of John and George McNear, two Sonoma County businessmen who established a large dairy ranch and other businesses, such as a quarry and brickyard, on the site. These businesses employed a number of Chinese immigrants, who began to settle in the area.

Chinese settlement

China Camp 247 N San Pedro Rd San Rafael CA 3-21-2010 4-39-54 PM
The Chinese shrimp fishing village in 2010

By the 1880s, Chinese Americans had established a village at China Camp of approximately 500 people, many of whom were originally from Canton, China. They supported themselves by shrimp fishing in San Pablo Bay and/or working at local businesses. In its heyday, the village had three general stores, a marine supply store and a barber shop. China Camp was one of approximately 26 such shrimp-fishing villages established along the coast by Chinese Americans, many of whom had moved from San Francisco to escape racial prejudice and persecution. For a brief time following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, China Camp's population increased to 10,000 as residents of San Francisco's Chinatown fled from the destruction.

In the late 1800s, the Chinese American fishermen of China Camp would catch 3 million pounds of shrimp per year, much of which was exported to China and Hawaii. However, the economy of the village was severely harmed by the passage of laws in the early 1900s that outlawed the export of shrimp, closed the height of the shrimping season, and prohibited shrimping with bag nets which were the main method of catching shrimp. As a result, the population of China Camp greatly declined, leaving only one family — the Quans — carrying on shrimp fishing.

In 1914, a new net, the trawl, was invented, which made it possible for the Quans to resume their commercial shrimp fishing enterprise and process 5,000 pounds of shrimp per day. They also operated other businesses such as a general store, a boat rental, and a cafe, which served both villagers and visitors who came to the area for outdoor recreation.

Establishment of state park

By the 1960s, most of the surrounding area including the future park lands was owned or controlled by developer Chinn Ho. The shrimp population of San Pablo Bay had also greatly declined due to water pollution and diversion, although Frank Quan, the grandson of the original Quan patriarch who came to China Camp and the last remaining Quan family member living there, continued to fish, selling most of his catch for bait.

In the early 1970s, Gulf Oil expressed interest in large-scale development of the area, including high-rise condominiums and large commercial areas. Local residents and environmental and conservation groups protested the plan, and as a result, the land was sold for approximately $2.3 million in 1976 to the nonprofit California State Parks Foundation, who in turn sold it to the state of California to create China Camp State Park. Chinn Ho donated the 36-acre site of China Camp village for preservation as a memorial to Chinese American history. The general plan established for the park specifically provided that Frank Quan would be permitted to continue living in the village.


The park offers a variety of outdoor activities, including overnight camping, picnic facilities, hiking and biking trails, kayaking, paddleboarding, and sailing.

China Camp also celebrates a Chinese-American Heritage Day each August, with lion dances, acrobatic and tai chi demonstrations, arts and crafts sales, activities for children, and a visit by the replica Chinese junk Grace Quan and other historic boats.

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