Modern US History

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Category: Andrew Strudwick

Introduction to a Historical Exhibition on Chinese Immigration in the United States

Chinese immigrants had an extremely difficult time immigrating to the United States. As many Chinese left China in search of a better life in America, they created a culture and lifestyle that we see today in Chinese American communities. The Chinese faced many hardships when immigrating to America including discrimination, low paying jobs and often missing family members who were unable to migrate to the U.S. Legislatively, very little was done to protect the rights of these immigrants. In fact, there was a lot of legislature which took away rights from Chinese immigrants. This museum exhibition will dive into the story of Chinese immigrants’ journeys to the United States and what kind of life they were able to have in America. Focusing on the time period where Chinese were legally excluded from the United States, this exhibition will explore how Chinese immigrants were able to build such strong communities while American legislature was keeping many new Chinese from entering the U.S. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the eventual repeal of the act in 1943, Chinese migrants began to create their own culture and way of living.

Angel Island was the immigration checkpoint which was much like Ellis Island in New York, however it was on the west coast. Almost all the Chinese immigrants that attempted to enter America were subject to checks at Angel Island. Often being mistreated, Chinese and other mostly Asian immigrants quickly found out that the United States might not be able to provide the freedom they were searching for.

In the 1870s, the United States saw a large influx of Chinese immigrants. Many American workers on the west coast attributed their decreased wages to the Chinese immigrants entering the workforce. In order to placate worker demands, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which barred any Chinese from immigrating into the United States. The exclusion of Chinese immigrants over a 60-year time period meant that they had a very different experience than immigrants from other countries. Many Chinese immigrants were forced to immigrate into the United States illegally, some even darkened their skin in order to appear non-Chinese. Chinatowns are in most United States cities today and still hold some of the most authentic parts of Chinese culture that was brought to America originally. The history and culture of these Chinatowns was directly influenced by how Chinese immigrants were treated by the US government and American people. Originally, very few women emigrated from China. Many of these women planned to reunite with their husband in America after he was able to settle. However, after the Chinese exclusion act was passed, these women and families of men who already immigrated to the US had no ability to reunite in America. This gender disparity led to Chinatowns being almost completely all male. Chinatowns became known as “bachelor societies.”

Most of the Chinese that immigrated to the United States came by steamship via the Pacific Ocean. Most of the Chinese immigrants ended up in northern parts of California where the gold mining and railroad industry grew rapidly. Large amounts of Chinese immigrants began to work in these industries. Working conditions were very harsh and many immigrants were discriminated against by their employers. Many Americans on the west coast saw the Chinese as “barbaric” due to the style of writing the Chinese language uses. All the way until World War II, when China and the United States became allies, Chinese immigrants in America were looked down upon and portrayed in films and media as inferior and dirty. After the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act there was a positive change for Chinese immigrants and Asian immigrants in general in terms of treatment from Americans.

Throughout the United States history over the past century, there have been immigrants arriving on the borders of the U.S. from almost every country in the world. However, due to the size and population of China, there was a relatively large number of Chinese immigrants that arrived on the shores of California. The large influx of Chinese immigrants has meant that the culture created by Chinese immigrants has had a significant sphere of influence on American History. For example, the stereotypes associated with Asian people in the United States mainly comes from the racist stereotypes that were created to bash Chinese immigrants and claim the Chinese were unfit to be in the U.S. The large Asian population in California is due to Chinese and Japanese immigration of the 19th century. Even the ideas that shape the American people’s opinion on Chinese food has been altered because of a negative Chinese immigrant agenda. This perception of Chinese immigrants in America has also shaped the way the United Sates has dealt with China from a foreign policy perspective. The way the American people and government treated Chinese immigrants has a direct affect on American history as it relates to American born Chinese people’s lives and US-Chinese relations.

Angel Island and Early Immigration

Poems at the Island

These poems were written by Chinese immigrants when they were being held at Angel Island. The treatment of the Chinese immigrants at Angel Island was notoriously poor. From these poems, there is a clear sense of sadness from the immigrants. These poems became a symbol of Chinese immigration into the United States as many of the Chinese at Angel Island wrote these poems in wood carvings. When analyzing the poems, it creates a true sense of empathy for those who were imprisoned at Angel Island before being sent back to China. The poem written by the Taoist from the town of Iron especially interesting. This Taoist man uses 4 characters in each line, and in the Chinese language 4 characters together often convey hidden meanings like idioms in English. Commonly used 4 character phrases are called Chengyu (成语). Because of this use of the Chinese language, it is evident that this man was well educated. However, due to the inability for Americans to understand even a small portion of the Chinese language, this man was treated like a criminal.

What Chinese were immigrating?

This source shows a table of the number of Chinese immigrants who came to the US between 1868 and 1876. The number of Chinese immigrants increased by almost double over the period. This source gives an exact look on how many Chinese immigrants were coming to America. The number doesn’t seem like a lot compared to other countries large number of immigrants coming to America at this time, but it still is a significant amount of people. This shows me that many Chinese immigrants began to come to America before the beginning of the 20th century. This table also shows the disparity between the amount of male and female Chinese immigrants who came to America. Almost all the immigrants were men which led to early Chinatown being known as a “Bachelor’s Society” From the table it is also clear that the original influx of Chinese immigrants into the United States was without children. Not only did the men leave behind their wives, they also left behind they children in order to find new opportunities in America.

The Voyage

This source is an illustration of a ship which was holding many Chinese immigrants. It partially illustrates the conditions that the immigrants faced on the ship. It also illustrates how many immigrants that would be housed on a typical ship. From the illustration the ship seems to not be specifically made for transporting people, as it has a cannon directly in the middle of the picture. The conditions on the voyage over the pacific were not very good for most of the immigrants. In the illustration it shows many immigrants huddled around one bowl of what looks like soup, all sharing the soup. The earl waves of Chinese immigration were very large in numbers. The United States government originally pushed for more Chinese immigrants to enter the country to help with the growth of the railroad industry. After the economic downturns of the 1870s however, the idea that immigrants were coming to America and stealing American people’s jobs became increasingly popular. There was a specific outcry against Chinese immigrants because they would “work harder and longer hours for cheaper than any American would.”


Chinese Exclusion

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

The increased negative sentiment towards Chinese immigrants continued until Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This act shows that America would go as far as to legally ban an immigrant group that was perceived so negatively by white Americans at the time. The act also influences racist views towards Asians in America for the entire 20th century. This act was to exclude Chinese people from being able to immigrate into the United States. Up to 1882 the number of Chinese immigrants coming to the US was rising every year. The act was originally meant to exclude Chinese immigrants for 10 years, but in 1892 it was extended for another 10 years. The exclusion was made permanent in 1902. This obviously meant the number of Chinese immigrating to the US began to decrease. It was not until 1943, when China and the United states were allies in World War II, did the exclusion of Chinese immigrants coming to the US finally stop.

Uncle Sam kicks out the Chinamen

This cartoon illustration was actually a laundry advertisement. The advertisement uses Uncle Sam, representing America, holding a proclamation which is meant to represent the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The cartoon shows Uncle Sam kicking a Chinese immigrant man, representing the United States government excluding Chinese from entering the United States. This cartoon uses the anti-Chinese sentiment to advertise laundry detergent by making the point that the Chinese are dirty and this detergent, with Uncle Sam can clean them.

Illegal Immigration

This telegraph addresses an issue where a Chinese man darkened his skin in order to look black. The man did this in order to be able to immigrate into the United States. This shows the lengths that some Chinese immigrants were still going to in order to enter the US during a time of Chinese exclusion. During the time of exclusion, it was very difficult for any Chinese immigrant that attempted to enter the United States. Many Chinese immigrants would need special permission or have an American testify for them in order to enter the United States. Even though the Chinese knew they were not necessarily welcome in the United States, many immigrants still felt the opportunities that were available in America were too valuable not to try to immigrate into the US. This heavy desire of immigrants to enter the United States and create a better life for themselves created situations such as the one noted in the telegram above.

Societal Exclusion

It has been asserted that in our form of government we have no policy as to the future, and only deal with questions as events force them upon us. Chinese immigration is largely a question of the future; this society, therefore, performs an important duty at this time in directing attention to it; for the day is not remote when the Chinese population in this country, if continued, will have become established as one of our institutions.

An unusually favorable opportunity having been afforded me for the investigation of this subject in California, I am led to present the results of my observations there, both in respect to the facts elicited and the conclusions arrived at regarding the same.

The term, “Chinese Question,” is in itself an error. It, in fact, applies only to that class of Chinese immigrants who are objected to, notably by the people of the Pacific States. This class is made up exclusively of common laborers or coolies, as they are known in India, China, and Japan and constituting, especially in China the third and lowest class of its society. The madarin or office-holder, and the merchant, constituting the other classes. The “Coolie Question,” therefore, seems to be the more appropriate title.

This immigration has existed nominally For about thirty years, but in reality somewhat less. At first the arrivals were few in number, but, on the average, have since gradually increased, although eighteen hundred and fifty-two shows the largest of any year, being something over twenty thousand. The census of eighteen hundred and seventy indicates the total Chinese population in this country as sixty-three thousand two hundred and fifty-four, against thirty-four thousand-nine hundred and thirty-three in eighteen hundred and sixty. This statement is probably below the correct figures, which is to be explained by reason of these coolies having no permanent residences, their desire to avoid taxes, and their general aversion to communicate any information respecting themselves. The Treasury statistics show arrivals up to eighteen hundred and seventy-five of one hundred and sixty thousand nine hundred and seventy-nine, or forty-one thousand three hundred and ninety-seven for the decade from eighteen hundred and fifty to eighteen hundred and sixty-one, and sixty-eight thousand and fifty-nine for that from eighteen hundred and sixty to eighteen hundred and seventy-one. For the years eighteen hundred and seventy-one, eighteen hundred and seventy-two, eighteen hundred and seventy-three and eighteen hundred and seventy-four the arrivals were fifty-one thousand four hundred and seventy-seven; in eighteen hundred and seventy-five their number was nineteen thousand and thirty-three, but in eighteen hundred and seventy-six, owing to the April disturbance in California, immigration fell off to sixteen thousand eight hundred and seventy-nine. For the quarter of eighteen hundred and seventy-seven, ending March thirty-first, the number, for same reason, was only nine hundred and sixty-five; but for the quarter ending June thirty-first it rose to six thousand six hundred and ninety-one, making the total immigration, according to Treasury statistics, two hundred and four thousand five hundred and forty-seven. There is a strong reflux as well as this influx; but nothing reliable is preserved by the government in regard to its extent, nor is the exhibit of arrivals deemed entirely accurate. The records of the Chinese six companies in San Francisco, in instances, exceed the arrivals noted by the Custom House, and these companies’ records do not include all arrivals. This discrepancy may be in part accounted for by the restrictions which the passenger laws impose upon shipowners. The total Chinese population of California at present is fairly estimated at from one hundred and fifty thousand to two hundred thousand, and in San Francisco, fluctuating from thirty to sixty thousand, according to the season for labor in the country. These coolies are chiefly males, between the ages of twenty and forty years. The coolie women arriving in this country are for the most part prostitutes and number about four thousand. The “Page Bill,” so-called, prohibiting the importation of women for immoral purposes, passed by the forty-third Congress, together with the adverse sentiment of the Chinese merchants in this country, substantially preclude further arrivals of this class. During the year ending June thirty-first, eighteen hundred and seventy-six, only two hundred and fifty-nine females were landed, and since that time their coming has practically ceased. There are now here about one hundred respectable Chinese families, all of whom belong to the merchant class, and the children in the country number from three to four thousand, of which above two thousand are in San Francisco.

These statistics plainly indicate the nature and extent of the great wave of coolie immigration which is with so great confidence predicted. China is the most densely settled country on the globe, and with its outlying and tributary provinces, comprises something over five hundred million population, or about one-third of the world’s mankind. It is largely over-populated, especially with the labor element, and, considering the shortness of the time its ports have been open, its people have proved themselves the most migratory of any nation. They are already to be found in the nearly every country on the earth, and in this country have pitched a residence in every considerable town. Their passage to this country varies in expense per capita from twelve to forty dollars. They follow the great lines of travel, thus making their way to our eastern seaboard as fast as means and opportunities permit. New York City now contains about two thousand coolies, while opium dens and a joss house already mark the eastward march of their peculiar civilization. In the Pacific States, Australia, Luzon, Java, Straits Settlements, Borneo, Peru, Cuba, and British Guiana, the coolie face and dress have become as familiar as those of the white laborer. From their Asiatic hive they still come pouring forth, and, it is fair to presume will increase in volume as the advantages offered by the outside world in wages and liberal government become better known, accelerated, too, by the famines, internal wars, and pestilence, which so frequently devastate their own country.

The term “coolie,” however, does not imply a condition of servitude, as various public accounts, including the platforms of both political parties in eighteen hundred and seventy-six, would indicate This popular error arose from the traffic formerly carried on by the Portuguese from the Ports of Macao and Swatow with Peru and Cuba, which had all the worst features of the African slave trade. Coolie women are, it is true’ bought and sold for purposes of prostitution, but the men are free, and their immigration entirely voluntary. All Chinese bound for this country take passage at the English Port of Hongkong, and come from the districts adjacent to Kwontong (or Canton). All accounts of contracts binding these coolies to conditions of servitude are incorrect, as to either the American or English immigrants, nor are they at this day permitted anywhere, though some irritation continues between the Spanish and Chinese Governments by reason of the treatment of coolies in Spanish Colonies, whose contract services have not yet expired, or are perhaps forcibly continued.

The position of the Chinese six companies alluded to has been misunderstood to be that of contractors for coolie labor. They possess some of the features of employment agencies, as known in our large cities, but nothing worse. They advance no money to immigrants, and usually have no act or part in their coming here. They are organized in accordance with the various dialects spoken by these immigrants, and their offices are places for the registering of new arrivals, especially those desiring work. Besides this, they act as arbitrators between white employers and coolies, and between the coolies themselves. It is not shown that they usurp any of the functions of government, and there is reason to believe they are, in their way, as proper and beneficial as any of our employment agencies or boards of exchange, to which they bear much resemblance.

It does not simplify the question or render it less serious to know that the coolie comes to our shores voluntarily. As a slave, or one held under conditions of servitude, he would be subject to ordinary methods of legislation, and public sentiment would scarcely be divided respecting him, but, as now presented, he becomes a question of desirability, and the proper course at issue to prevent his further introduction becomes a very serious problem.


As suggested, he comes here as a laborer. He personifies the character in its absolutely menial aspect–what the operation of fifty centuries of paganism, poverty, and oppression have made him–a mere animal machine, performing the duties in his accepted sphere punctually and patiently, but utterly incapable of any improvement and in this aspect of the question the most serious phase of the problem is presented.

The qualities of coolie labor mentioned, and the fact that it can be secured in any desired amount, and discharged without controversy, renders it especially attractive to capitalists and contractors. African slave labor presented to some extent the same features, but in a marked degree coolie labor is cheaper, and therefore competitive with white labor.

In China his wages are from six to twenty cents per day, or from three to five dollars per month’ when work can be procured, which is not always the case. In California wages of all kinds have been somewhat fluctuating but as compared with white labor, coolie labor has averaged for the past few years about as follows:

Domestics                    10 per cent. less.
Hostlers and gardeners   30 to 50 per cent. less.
Farm hands               20 to 30 per cent. less.
Common laborers          50 to 60 per cent. less.
Artizans                       50 per cent. less.
Laundrymen, etc                50 per cent. less.

Coolies seem adapted to all kinds of manual work, except that requiring unusual strength, such as foundrymen, etc., and their service bears a favorable comparison with white labor. It has maintained its relative cheapness, however, by reason of a public sentiment opposed to it, and, in some degree, through the ignorance of the coolies themselves, with its comparative value

If wages are to be regulated by habits of rising, our rates paid coolies are as much above his wants as they are below those of white laborers, and thus, while offering an inducement for immigration which is irresistible, they may yet be very much reduced and still supply the coolie’s wants, which are of the simplest kind. He has evidently reached the minimum at which existence may be maintained, and he desires little more.

His food is usually a little rice sometimes, as in India, mixed with; curry, in this country occasionally with a piece of pork or fish, the; whole not costing over from twenty-five cents to fifty cents per week; besides, it is not exaggerated that he will feed upon the meanest kind of food, including vermin.

His dress, now so well known, consists of the cheapest quality, without undergarments or any of the accessories which we consider quite indispensable to a complete raiment. His rent is barely nominal. He occupies a small room in common with twenty to fifty others, platforms being raised so as to economize space to the fullest extent. Coolie lodgings literally resemble a box filled with herrings. A separate room for cooking or other purposes, as with whites, is quite unknown. He has no other expenses unless he indulges in the national vice of gambling, or that product of British beneficence, opium smoking. He has, therefore, little waste and luxuries which with us have become recognized necessities, he entirely ignores including his native tea. It is impossible that the white laborer can exist in presence of these conditions. Not only substantial food, comfortable clothing, and decent household accommodations are necessary to him, but his family must be supported in a respectable manner, and schooling and religious training be provided for his children. These latter have become essential and are the glory of our race and nation. The white laborer could not succeed if he would attempt competition with the coolie, and will always be driven from his presence, as cheap currency displaces the better for while it is true that wages are relatively highest on the Pacific Coast, the coolie reduces wages and competes everywhere. White labor will not submit to the degradation of a rivaly with such a competitor, but will either assert its power through the government or be driven from the presence of the coolie altogether. The rule of demand regulating supply may be true of coolie labor alone, but with its numbers, habits, and restricted expenses the rule will not apply to white labor at the same time.

Recent disturbances in regard to labor show the importance of this aspect of the question, and irresistibly awaken the conviction that cheap labor is not desirable in this country, and whatever folly there may be in the idea of establishing a minimum of wages by the government, it may properly withdraw encouragement from cheap labor even at the expense of dividends on diluted capital, as represented in watered stock. We require liberal wages to meet high tariffs, high taxes, and heavy charges of transportation. Coolie labor means to white labor starvation, alms-houses, prisons filled, and, lastly, capital wasting itself. Liberal wages and white labor mean prosperity for all classes and progress in the ways of Christian civilization. Ail fancied advantages which have followed the introduction of coolies in this country disappear before the prospects to which their future in this country would invite us.


The coolie deserves the most serious consideration, and a more extended one than these limits admit. He invites the same antagonism of race which even DOW wars for supremacy on the banks of the Danube, as it has for centuries past, and which manifests itself wherever they come in contact. The Mongol entertains a feeling of profound contempt for other civilizations. Founded as our society is upon the Christian religion, he for that reason alone thoroughly rejects it. His belief, not always well understood, has become fixed with his general character. Missionary enterprise scarce retains a footing, either in China or on the Pacific Coast, and some denominations have practically abandoned their efforts in both places, while others wait for the slow development of the Chinese intellect in the ways of English art, science, and literature before attempting to divert it from its peculiar materialism. The recent investigation of the Congressional Committee, in California, failed to disclose more than a dozen apparently reliable conversions. A few attend the mission schools, but merely to gain a knowledge of our language, and thereby increase their wages. A republican or even liberal government of any form is to them quite incomprehensible. Government to their minds is a despotic power, in which they have no lot or part, except unqualified obedience. If sufficiently intelligent, they point to the duration, the extent, and the achievements of the Celestial Empire, and contrast them with our own country of a hundred years only of existence. Their superstitions, prejudices, and opinions have become as fixed as their habits of life, and their observations only disclose the apparent defects, contradictions, and inconsistencies in our government and religion, which to their minds is radical evidence of their general character.

A writer in the June number of Blackwood’s Magazine, in speaking of the savages of interior Africa, describes the Chinaman, by comparison: “He approaches the Chinaman, but he has more affection and sentiment. He has not that hardness of nature which gives such a metallic sound to the Chinese voice, and that square skulled immobility, which prevents the Chinaman, even under the most favorable circumstances, from amalgamating with other races, or departing from the lines of his own stereotyped civilization.”

If he seems to conform to our ways it is only to get a better foothold for money-making. He professes friendship, of which sentiment he has not the remotest conception. He is cruel and unrelenting, only waiting the opportunity in which he may safely strike the object of his spite, cupidity or superstition.

As illustrating Chinese character, we remember with what professions of peace and good-will they ordered the Burlingame Treaty, and yet scarce were the signatures dry upon the paper before occurred the horrible massacre of foreigners at Tien-tsin, June twenty-first eighteen hundred and seventy. As we find described, “The [trench Consul and foreign merchants, their wives, daughters, and children the Catholic priests and the Sisters of Mercy, and about one hundred orphan children were cruelly murdered. These children had been gathered by the Sisters from the by-ways of the town, where they had been left to die by their mothers. The coolies set fire to the building occupied by the Sisters, whom they dragged into the streets. There they were stripped naked, outraged, exposed to the public gaze, their eyes plucked out, their breasts cut off, then ripped open, tore out their hearts, and deliberately cut them in pieces, and divided the fragments among the infuriated mob.” Capable of such deeds, can the injection of such a race into our body politic be viewed by any thinking American without anxiety and alarm?

Nor does the peculiar development of the coolies encourage hope for the future. Thousands of years ago they reached the highest;attainment of their capacity, and bear, as before suggested, the stamp; of “finished.” These remarks do not always apply to the Chinese of higher caste, who display mental and physical evidence of the infusion of Tartar blood. The coolie, however, is not only finished but typifies that effete and senile civilization, which fringes the oldest, and in some respects, the greatest empire the world ever saw In morals the coolie sinks in comparison with any civilized race upon the earth’s surface. The Rev. Otis Gibson, formerly a missionary of the Methodist denomination in China, now engaged in a similar work in San Francisco, and usually a warm defender of the Chinese says of this class that “They have no morals at all. The woman are in slavery, harder and more miserable than existed among the white races. As long as they are fit to earn money they are kept; but as soon as they give out they are turned out to die.” It has been stated how the importation of coolie prostitutes has been checked, but the testimony shows their character at home, where they are mortgaged, hired, bought, and sold, like other chattels, and not only they, but to great extent all women of this lower order of society, where the horrible crime of female infanticide is still practised. Concubinage is a recognized institution from highest to lowest. There are phases of coolie immorality which cannot be mentioned to ears polite, and the Committee of Investigation was obliged to repress testimony, in this respect, as too revolting to be recorded. They are almost universally addicted to gambling, and the use of opium has become a national habit, which, though of comparatively recent introduction, has already made terrific inroads upon that people.

The people on the Pacific Coast describe the coolie as devoid of conscience. He has evidently never made sufficient use of one to cause it to be a prominent element of his character, or, at least, he manifests it after a different manner from ourselves. He has no respect for our form of oath; and no other form has been devised which reaches his mythical conscience, or makes him tell the truth, further than he regards it for his interest so to do. This was quite the uniform testimony; and Police Judge Louderback, a man of great moderation and excellent judgment, testified that, in his opinion, in respect “to honesty and reliability, the Chinese (meaning coolies) were the lowest in the scale of humanity.”

Their personal habits have been already partially described as disgustingly filthy. Nothing can exceed the noisome odors which exale from their proximity and that such is a national characteristic is borne out by all travelers in China, from Abbe Huc to the present day. Their presence in a particular quarter of a Caucasian city or town will deplete it in a short time of its white population, so that, not only by the cheapness of their labor, but by the offensiveness of their personal habits, they drive the white laborer before them. The ordinary punishment by imprisonment in jail has little or no restraining effect upon them. They are there better fed, better housed and clothed than in their own country, and it is doubtful whether, but for the wholesome influence of Chinese merchants, our prisons would not soon be filled with coolies eager for incarceration, The torture, pillory, and decapitation, the latter generally following the former, are the only forms of punishment known in their own country, and we have not, in their case, improved upon them, unless the very questionable device of cutting off the queue may be called an improvement. This badge, originally imposed upon them by their Tartar conquerors, has become a necessary evidence of their respectability, and its divesture is regarded as a personal disgrace. In the presence of such a population, we are prepared to believe that white immigration is retreating. Archbishop Alemany, of San Francisco in a recent circular, characterized by greet moderation,says: “No portion of our republic has suffered more than the people of California from the flood of Asiatic immigration, supplementing gradually all kinds of labor and trades, and practically exiling from their homes and country thousands of laborers and tradesmen.” Such is the judgment on the Pacific Coast, and it is presumed to be correct, considering the many inducements which are otherwise offered the emigrant in that remarkable section, and unless soon checked, the country at large will have to meet the conditions imposed by the presence of these alien people–alien in habits, alien in morals, alien in education, alien in aspirations, and almost every characteristic which goes to make up our enterprising, progressive, law-respecting, God-fearing people. All over this broad land the coolie is soon to find his residence. It is incorrect that, as a class, they will not remain. They emigrate as our men of forty-nine went to California, as almost always men emigrate to better their condition, and remain if they like the country.

Mr. Nordhoff says the coolie is inevitable, which is true if we are to silently watch the country’s overflow with his kind; and if he has come to stay, it means that the white laborer must depart

But that we are bound to receive this alien influx is, I fancy, a piece of sentimentalism, which will not be accepted. Our social nature repels the idea, and our political system revolts at the reception of such a strange, unamalgamating, unassimilating, unnatural clement. Of different planes, possessing widely divergent characteristics, we but invite the irrepressible conflict of races by recognizing for the time the equality of this Asiatic invasion. We boast that the Anglo-Saxon conquers or absorbs, but never recognizes equality in other races, but we cannot overlook the fact that the Chinese nation has lasted from the dawn of centuries–that its government and people have witnessed the birth, decay, and dissolution of the greatest empires and republics that have existed and that they now confront us upon the shores of the Pacific with a host which, by force of numbers a]one, is able to convert this broad land into a Chinese Colony, and the Valley of the Mississippi a new battle field of the races.


To accord the coolies only an inferior social position conflicts both with their and our own ideas; and since we have recognized the political equality of the negro, we e are, by that, if for no other reason, well nigh estopped from denying the same privileges to the yellow Man. Just now, however, by our laws, citizenship is denied him.

The laws of the United States do not admit of the naturalization of Mongolians. A brief allusion to the Statutes will relieve this branch of the subject of some obscurity. By the Act of eighteen hundred and four, naturalization was confine] to aliens–being free white persons–and so the law stood until eighteen hundred and seventy-one when it was amended by adding “aliens of African nativity an] persons of African descent.” Upon the adoption of the Revised Statutes in eighteen hundred and seventy-three, the words “aliens being free white persons,” were altogether omitted, and thereby it was claimed that naturalization was restricted to aliens of African nativity or descent. This omission of free white persons is alleged to have been a clerical error, but a construction became necessary which allowed the naturalization of all aliens, including persons of African nativity and descent, and so as to give the statute a restrictive sense, Congress, in eighteen hundred and seventy-five, and for the purpose it is said of excluding Mongolians, restored the omitted words, so that now our naturalization laws apply to aliens being free white persons and aliens of African nativity, and to persons of African descent. Citizenship can therefore only benefit Chinese actually born in this country. A few hundred children have been born here, but that small number will eventually form the nucleus for a sentiment in favor of Mongol naturalization, and the absurdity of existing laws may be some day proved by the immigration of Mongols born in African colonies, who, thereby, being person of African nativity, will be entitled to American citizenship.

The assertion that Chinese will not bring their families families is abundantly refuted in the exceptions which already exist, and also is an error, the further statement, that they do not desire citizenship l In conversation with their more intelligent people distinctly l stated their desire to become citizens, which has doubtless been increased by observing the influence which their natural enemy, the “hoodlum,” possesses, and as a protection from his indignities. Chinese are, moreover, subjected to all the taxation of whites, and instances taxes discriminating against them. To be sure their able property, especially real estate, is comparatively small, but we must recognize the principle which extends the privilege of suffrage to all who bear taxation, unless we propose to erect a caste in our midst; indeed the arguments are so strong in favor of citizenship, if we allow unrestricted immigration that common justice, even if discussing the partisan seeking mere party ends, will succeed in making our naturalization laws, at least, as liberal toward the Chinaman as the wild African fresh from his native Jungles. It is true that ethnologists declare that a brain capacity of less than eighty-five inches is unfit for free government, which is considerably above that of the coolie as it is below the Caucasian, but, whatever its merits, the statement will scarce stand in the way of either the demands of a justice recognized in the case of the negro or where party advantages demand the concession. These coolies are, as mentioned, generally made up of males of voting age. Their number is already sufficient, if voters acting together, to now control the politics of the Pacific States, and there is good reason to believe that they would thus act, and under direction of their head men.

The inference would seem, therefore, irresistible that the coolie, if permitted to immigrate here, must be received as an equal factor in our social policy and system, including the elective franchise or else we must turn back the hands on the dial plate and re-establish a caste approaching servitude. The latter, I believe, utterly inadmissible? as, I believe, the former fraught with devils to our race and civilization, the like of which have not been chronicled in all the broad pages of the history of man.

The Essential Documents of American History was compiled by Norman P. Desmarais and James H. McGovern of Providence College.

Also Naval Limitation Treaty


By Meade, Edward

A message to the Social Science Association of America in 1877, Edward Meade expresses his opposition to Chinese immigration into the United States. He uses ethnic and economic grounds to defend his opinion that Chinese immigrants should not be allowed to enter the US. As supposed highly educated individuals reaffirmed the United States stance that Chinese people were inferior on many grounds, the overall societal opinion of Chinese immigrants became increasingly negative. This lead to many different stereotypes that are still prevalent today when talking about Asians in America. People in America began to believe that Chinese restaurants were bad because the Chinese use too much MSG in their food. Americans began to stereotype and say that Chinese food gives you headaches. Most of this stereotype against Chinese food came from racist views towards Chinese people and not due to poor food quality at Chinese restaurants.

Lives in America

The Original Chinatown

This photo shows the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown. This street is specifically known as a “Gambler’s Alley.” There was a lot of gambling done in China towns across America, as most of the immigrants were men. There are no women to be seen in this picture which again shows the bachelor’s society that China towns were known for. This photo is taken from when Chinese immigrants first settled in America. The lives of the Chinese immigrants were initially very hard, the vast majority of the immigrants were men so most of them had families that were left behind in China. Some immigrants began new lives and started new families in America, while others continued to write home to their Chinese wives hoping to be reunited with them in the future.

Map of Chinatown (1885) Click to see more detailed image

This map of Chinatown in 1885 shows how fast Chinatown in San Francisco grew, as well as the culture that seemed hidden inside the Chinatown walls. This map shows a detailed outline of every building and its use in Chinatown. There is a color coordination which designates buildings which were used as opium dens or prostitution houses. Because of the heavy anti-Chinese sentiment just before the beginning of the 20th century, Chinese immigrants often had to seclude themselves in Chinatown to protect their own well-being. This meant that China towns in California and eventually across the United States developed very close communities which is still seen in today’s China towns.

Mining and Railroad Work

This image depicts Chinese immigrant workers beginning to work on the production of the railroads. The railroad industry began to boom in the late 1800s and as more and more wealth began to spread through America, the western frontier needed railroads. Chinese immigrants were known to work on the railroads in very tough conditions, they worked long hours and often did not get paid as much as the white American worker. From the picture above it is important to note that the workers seem to be in the beginning stages of building the railroad, but the railroad seems to be on a mountainous region of Northern California. Building railroads on terrain like mountains is extremely difficult and dangerous.

This illustration shows Chinese immigrant workers mining for gold. There are a few men in the back doing the actual mining while two other workers sift through dirt collected to find small particles of gold. The men all have similar appearance and are wearing traditional Chinese farming clothing. During the late 1800s, Chinese male immigrants almost all had the same hairstyle. This hairstyle is quite iconic in that the Qing Dynasty required all of the Han Chinese to wear this style of hair. This ponytail like style also created stereotypes which were used to depict Chinese immigrants in political cartoons. Over time Chinese immigrants developed their own style and many Chinese began to have more western hairstyles or their own individual hairstyle.

Everyday Life

This image above shows a Chinese New Year celebration in the streets of San Fancisco’s Chinatown in the 1920s. A man dressed up as a dragon dances around as the people of Chinatown watch closely. The change between the population of Chinatown in the late 1800s to the 1920s is quite substantial. In this photo, there are many women and most of the men are now dressed in more western style clothing than they were in 1880. This celebration shows the iconic dragon dance that is still widely practiced across China and China towns in the United States.

This illustrations shows Chinese men at an opium den in San Francisco. In history, Opium as a drug and the opium trade is often associated with the region of Canton and Hong Kong. Opium was a significant part of the lives of Chinese people and especially the people from the Canton region where the drug was widely used. This culture was brought over from Canton and opium dens were seen all over China towns in California. This shows that although the majority of Chinese immigrants struggled, the wealthy Chinese that were able to immigrate successfully to America were able to bring this wealth over the pacific with them.

Chinese American Association

A certificate of membership for a Chinese American Association in San Francisco. This shows how the immigrants came together and formed organizations which still exist today for Chinese Americans. It gives an idea of how Chinese culture was brought over and continued in America by the Chinese immigrants. What is very important to note is the names of the Chinese immigrants. In the certificate above, the Chinese man’s name is Poon Yin Kin, this is a Cantonese name. In fact, almost all of the Chinese immigrants that were arriving in America at the time were from the Canton region of China. Canton is where modern day Guangzhou is located, in the most southeast part of China. It is also interesting to note that most of the stereotypes that came from Americans hearing the Chinese language is actually from Cantonese. There is still an misconception today that Chinese still speak Cantonese even though Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese sound quite different when heard closely.


End of Chinese Exclusion in America

Magnuson Act of 1943

This act repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Because the United States and China became allies in World War II, the US government moved to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act. This allowed many families who were separated from the exclusion act to meet again. This new chapter in the history of Chinese immigrants is particularly interesting because of the political shifts that were happening in China during the 1940s. As China began to transition into the Communist state it is today, the culture of the Cantonese people and traditional Chinese customs began to fade. However, some of the most well preserved Cantonese culture outside of Hong Kong can be seen in today’s China towns across the US. When taking a walk through San Francisco’s Chinatown, there will be almost no Mandarin being spoke, virtually everyone will be speaking Cantonese. This creates an interesting dynamic between the old Cantonese culture and the modern Chinese culture. It also mean the Chinese culture that America sees from Chinese immigrants is very far from the culture China now has inside its borders. This needs to be recognized when falsely comparing Chinese Americans to Chinese nationals today.


Primary Sources:

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