Since they lacked the fundamental rights of citizenship, Chinese immigrants in late nineteenth century America were not active in local government. Instead, they became dependent upon mutual help societies that were often based on relationships and districts that had been common in their home country. These groups generally adhered to Chinese law and customs and remained true to their home clans. These localized allegiances hindered the formation of larger, more inclusive (and potentially more politically powerful) organizations that might have worked for rights and representation within county and state government.

Below is a list of the more common organizations and the roles they played in a laborer's life.

Chinese Six Communities An umbrella organization founded in 1862 in an attempt to coordinate the six independent Chinatown groups and provide the immigrants with a political voice.
Fang The basic unit in Chinese organizations founded on intimate friendships that pre-dated emigration from the members' homeland.
Hui-kuan Translated as "meeting hall," this organization was usually run by a democratically elected official. This group maintained altars to local deities and served as a club and meeting house.
Kong Chow Association The first formal Chinese organization in California, it was named after a defunct geographical term that encompassed six districts in China. This association attempted to establish itself as a large organization with many members by representing an area where a number of immigrants had arrived from.
Sze-yap Association An area in China that claimed a larger number of immigrants than the Kong Chow. When this association formed in 1851, it took a number of members away from the Kong Chow Association.
Tong A secret society first founded in 1852 and born of nationalistic and anti-Ch'ing dynasty sentiments. Completely different from Chinese help organizations, these groups often promoted criminal activity and violence.