Chinese in America

Guangdong (Canton)
The first major immigration wave started around the 1850s. The West Coast of North America was being rapidly colonized during the California Gold Rush, while southern China suffered from severe political and economic instability due to the weakness of the Qing Dynasty government, internal rebellions such as the Taiping Rebellion, and external pressures such as the Opium Wars. As a result, many Chinese emigrated from the poor Taishanese- and Cantonese-speaking area in Guangdong province to the United States to find work.
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Bad Government
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Qing Dynasty
The last imperial dynasty of China (from 1644 to 1912) which was overthrown by revolutionaries; during the Qing dynasty China was ruled by the Manchu. The Manchu brought Taiwan, Chinese Central Asia, Mongolia, and Tibet into China. Trade with Europe was controlled by them. They also tried to stop the flow of opium into China, and they ordered foreign merchants to obey the Chinese laws. This eventually led to war. At about 1860, it appeared on the verge of collapse but still held on for a few more years.
Queue Order
The queue was a specific male hairstyle worn by the Manchus from central Manchuria and later imposed on the Han Chinese during the Qing dynasty. The hairstyle consisted of the hair on the front of the head being shaved off above the temples every ten days and the rest of the hair braided into a long ponytail. The hairstyle was compulsory on all males and the penalty for not having it was execution as it was considered treason. In the early 1910s, after the fall of the Qing dynasty, the Chinese no longer had to wear it.
The Queue Order was a series of laws violently imposed by the Qing (Manchu) dynasty.
The Manchu hairstyle was significant because it was a symbol of Ming Chinese submission to Qing rule. The queue also aided the Manchus in identifying those Chinese who refused to accept Qing dynasty domination.
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Opium Wars
War between Great Britain and China, began as a conflict over the opium trade, ended with the Chinese treaty to the British- the opening of 5 chinese ports to foreign merchants, and the grant of other commercial and diplomatic privileges.
The climaxes of various trade disputes between China and the Western World. British traders had illegally smuggling opium into China, despite laws that prohibited opium in China. The continuation of these illegal actions eventually gave rise to open warfare erupting between China, specifically the Qing Dynasty, against the United Kingdom. This was the first Opium War, which lasted from 1839 to 1842, ending in defeat for China with the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing. The Second Opium war came about in 1856, and lasted till 1860. The opposing sides were the U.S., Britain, and France, against the Qing dynasty of China. Once again, China came out the loser, and the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Tianjin. One of the objectionable actions partaken in the Second Opium war, was the looting and destruction of the Summer Palace, and the Old Summer Palace, as a show of force by France and Britain. (the U.S. dropped out of the war in 1859.)
Bad Weather
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War and Rebellion
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Gold Rush/Gum Shan
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The United States Constitution in the 1850s reserved the right of naturalization for White immigrants to this country. Only two skin colors were recognized, White and Black. Since early Chinese immigrants were neither, some were allowed to become naturalized citizens, but most were not. Without citizenship, Chinese immigrants could not vote, hold government office or be employed by the state. They had no voice in determining their future. Designated as “aliens ineligible for citizenship,” they were unable to own land or file mining claims. Since Chinese immigrants could not testify in court against Whites, the only reasonable course of action was to avoid open confrontation and avoid direct competition with Whites. Some retained their Chinese citizenship, since they were not allowed to become citizens of the United States. Their future in the country was uncertain, even though they paid taxes and contributed to the economy.
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Return Migration
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Credit Ticket System
The Chinese often emigrated in self-help groups from the same village, often with the same surname. Most had to borrow money for their passage and were required to repay the debt here. Those who could not borrow from their families borrowed from agencies under the credit-ticket system.
American employers of Chinese laborers also sent hiring agencies to China to pay for the Pacific voyage of those who were unable to borrow money. This “credit-ticket system” meant that the money advanced by the agencies to cover the cost of the passage was to be paid back by wages earned by the laborers later during their time in the U.S.
Single Men
see Bachelor Society
Urban West Coast
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Chinatowns/Ethnic Enclaves
By the year 1851, there were 25,000 Chinese working in California, mostly centered in and out of the “Gold Rush” area and around San Francisco. During that time, more than half the Chinese in the U.S. lived in that region. These Chinese clustered into groups, working hard and living frugally. As the populations of these groups increased, they formed large cities of ethnic enclaves called “Chinatowns” all over the country. The first and most important of the Chinatowns, without a doubt, belonged to San Francisco. One of the most remarkable qualities of San Francisco’s Chinatown is its geographic stability. It has endured half a century of earthquakes, fires, and urban renewal, yet has remained in the same neighborhood with the same rich culture. Chinatowns have traditionally been the places where Chinese Americans lived, worked, shopped, and socialized. Although these cities were often overcrowded slum areas in the 1800’s, the Chinatowns turned from crime and drug ridden places to quiet, colorful tourist attractions in the mid 1900’s.
Gold Miners
After gold was discovered in California, Chinese immigrants joined gold seekers from all over the world. In 1850 the California legislature passed a law taxing foreign miners $20 a month. Though stated in general terms, it was enforced chiefly against Mexicans and Chinese. In 1852 a mass meeting was held in the Columbia Mining District where a resolution was passed to exclude “Asiatics and South Sea Islanders” from mining activities.
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Service Businesses
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Transcontinental Railroad
The Transcontinental Railroad was the first railroad built that crossed the nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific and was finished in 1869 after being built for 10 years. Union Pacific Railroad & Central Pacific Railroad: built by the Irish, African-Americans, Mexicans, and Chinese; completed at Promontory Point, Utah.
During the 1860’s, 10,000 Chinese were said to be involved in the building of the western leg of the Central Pacific Railroad. The average railroad payroll for the Chinese was $35 per month. The cost of food was approximately $15 to $18 per month, plus the railroad provided shelter for workers. Therefore, a fugal man could net about $20 every month. Despite the nice pay, the work was backbreaking and highly dangerous. Over a thousand Chinese had their bones shipped back to China to be buried. Also, although nine-tenths of the railroad workers were Chinese, the famous photographs taken at Promontory Point where the golden stake was driven in connecting the east and west by railway, included no Chinese workers.
Migrant Farm Work
Few Chinese Americans were able to become independent farmers, because most were not citizens and were prevented from owning land by local laws and restrictive covenants. Many raised vegetables and fruit sold door to door. Others were sharecroppers or tenant farmers, who leased land and paid the landlord part of their crop.
Skilled Chinese Americans were essential to the development of certain crops like celery. Development of the citrus industry was dependent on Chinese Americans. They grew strawberries, peanuts, rice and vegetables. Gardens were often located on land no one else wanted. Chinese American migrant farm workers harvested wheat, other grains, hops, apples, grapes and pears and processed them for shipping.
Bachelor Society
In 1860, the sex ratio of males to females was already 19:1. In 1890, the ratio widened to 27:1. For more than half a century, the Chinese lived in, essentially, a bachelor society where the old men always outnumbered the young. In order to sustain their population after the Chinese Exclusion Act, there was an immeasurable amount of illegal immigration. Plus, the Chinese had created an intricate system of immigration fraud known as “paper sons.”
The Six Companies
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The Race
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Vice Districts
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“Yellow Peril”
[aka Yellow Terror] color metaphor for race that originated in late19th with immigration of Chinese laborers. term refers to skin color of East Asians and the belief that mass immigration of Asians threatened white wages and standards of living. Insulting term stating that Asian immigrants are a threat to the American way of life and therefore should be prevented from coming to the U.S.
Labor Disputes
see Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
The Chinese Question
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Cubic Air Law
Prohibited Chinese from occupying a sleeping room with less than 500 cubic feet of breathing space between each person.
Queue Ordinance
Forced Chinese with long hair worn in a queue to pay a tax or to cut it.
Naturalization Act of 1870
The Naturalization Act of 1870 restricted all immigration into the U.S. to only “white persons and persons of African descent,” meaning that all Chinese were placed in a different category, a category that placed them as ineligible for citizenship from that time till 1943. Also, this law was the first significant bar on free immigration in American history, making the Chinese the only culture to be prohibited to freely migrate to the United States for a time. Even before the act of 1870, Congress had passed a law forbidding American vessels to transport Chinese immigrants to the U.S.
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
United States federal law passed on May 6, 1882, following revisions made in 1880 to the Burlingame Treaty of 1868. Those revisions allowed the U.S. to suspend immigration, and Congress subsequently acted quickly to implement the suspension of Chinese immigration, a ban that was intended to last 10 years.
People of the West Coast attributed declining wages and economic troubles to the hated Chinese workers. To appease them, Congress passed this, halting Chinese immigration into America.
The reason behind the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was to prevent an excess of cheap labor. However, the act froze the population of the Chinese community leaving its already unproportional sex ratio highly imbalanced.
Chae Chan Ping v. US
The 1888 Scott Act prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the country, including those with valid return certificates. This legislation was found constitutional in Chae Chan Ping v. United States (known as the Chinese Exclusion Case, 1889). Chae Chan Ping had left for a trip to China in 1887 with a valid return certificate. The Scott Act, however, was passed while he was at sea, and he was denied entry upon landing. He argued that the Scott Act violated his right to reenter the United States.
The Supreme Court, however, declared that Congress, in exercising its sovereignty, could exclude noncitizens to protect the nation from dangerous foreigners.
Paper Sons
see San Francisco Earthquake
San Francisco Earthquake
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake allowed a critical change to Chinese immigration patterns. The practice known as “Paper Sons” and “Paper Daughters” was allegedly introduced. Chinese would declare themselves to be United States citizens whose records were lost in the earthquake.
Confession Program
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Angel Island
The immigration station on the west coast where Asian immigrants, mostly Chinese gained admission to the U.S. at San Francisco Bay. Between 1910 and 1940 50k Chinese immigrants entered through Angel Island. Questioning and conditions at Angel Island were much harsher than Ellis Island in New York.
Magnuson Act of 1943
Repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The Magnuson Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943, was immigration legislation proposed by U.S. Representative (later Senator) Warren G. Magnuson of Washington and signed into law on December 17, 1943 in the United States. It allowed Chinese immigration for the first time since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and permitted Chinese nationals already residing in the country to become naturalized citizens. This marked the first time since the Naturalization Act of 1790 that any Asians were permitted to be naturalized.
“Model Minority”
A group that, despite past prejudice and discrimination, succeeds economically, socially and educationally without resorting to political or violent confrontations with Whites. A stereotype that characterizes all Asians and Asian Americans as hardworking and serious.

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