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Disinterment in Oregon

Exterior of Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association

Exterior of Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA), Portland, OR
Photo credit: Colin Fogarty, Northwest News Network

In 1948-1949 the CCBA organized the disinterment of hundreds of remains from cemeteries throughout Oregon.

While many Chinese immigrants intended to return to China after making their fortunes, even those who wanted to settle in Oregon permanently would have found it very difficult. Legally, there were anti-Chinese laws regarding employment and land rights, laws that prohibited Chinese women from immigrating, and a state miscegenation law that prohibited mixed-raced marriages. Because wives could not be reunited with their husbands and bachelors had little to no opportunities to marry, the majority of the Chinese in Oregon were single men. However, in keeping with the Chinese belief that the continuity between this life and the afterlife depended on care of one’s material remains by family after death, the majority of Chinese immigrants made arrangements to return to their homelands even after death.

Local district or family associations, like the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA), would have taken care of the burial, disinterment, and shipment to China for a death “insurance” fee. These associations generally bought plots of land in a town’s cemetery and it was very common for there to be a designated “Chinese section” within a cemetery. Though the exact time for exhumation varied, it was usually at least three years after death and burial; however, it could be decades later. At the appropriate time, the organization or association charged with the task to disinter certain men would exhume remains from all over the state.


Chung, Sue Fawn and Priscilla Wegars, eds. Chinese American Death Rituals: Respecting the Ancestors. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2005.