CHINESE GO ABROAD IN THE 19TH CENTURY
Anti-Chinese American publication
Beginning in the mid-1800s and continuing to the early-1900s, large numbers of Chinese, mostly from the Guangdong Province around Canton, emigrated to the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia. They were lured to these far away places by stories of gold and opportunities and were prodded out of China by war, famine, chaos and poverty. Most of the Chinese found in Chinatowns today around the world still speak Cantonese.
Fujian Province was another source of overseas Chinese. So many people left Fujian for Southeast Asia during the late 18th century and early 19th century that the Manchu court issued an imperial edict in 1718 recalling all Chinese to the mainland. A 1728 proclamation declared that anyone who didn't return and was captured would be executed. Scholars attribute the mass exodus to a population explosion in the coastal cities of Fujian and prosperity and contacts generated by foreign trade.
Many of the rich Chinese that now control the economies in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and other places in Asia are descendants of illiterate, landless peasants. The rich landowners and educated Mandarins stayed in China.
Foreigners in China: Tales of Old Shanghai earnshaw.com/shanghai-ed ;19th Century Tea Trade in China Harvard Business School ; Early Chinese Emmigrants to America: Brown Quarterly brownvboard.org ; Central Pacific Railroad Museum cprr.org/Museum ; Chinese Americans Wikipedia Wikipedia .
Famines and Other Revolts in China
A three year drought from 1876 to 1879 in central China resulted in a famine that affected 70 million Chinese and left perhaps nine million dead. According to some reports people turned to slavery, murder and cannibalism to survive and children were sold in the markets as food. There were so many bodies that huge graves, known as "10,000-man holes," were dug. As a result of the secretive nature of the Manchu dynasty no one in West knew of the disaster until a year after it was over.
Other revolts included the Nian Rebellion, in which bands known as Nian rebel in northern China fought bravely until they were repressed in 1869; and Muslim rebellion against discrimination in western China that was brought under control in 1875.
The ensuing Nien Rebellion took the imperial government in Beijing more than a decade to put down and played a role in weakening the Qing dynasty, as did the Taiping Rebellion. It was caused in part by a large wave of female infanticide which resulted in so many men across China being unable to find wives they organized into armed bands.
Chinese Go to America
1785: The arrival of three Chinese seamen in Baltimore marks the first record of Chinese in the United States. [Source: Museum of Chinese in America **]
According to the Chinese Historical Society of America: “From sailors in the young nation's early China trade, to accomplished athlete-scholars at Yale, Chinese people have been part of life in the U.S. before the nation even reached its tenth year. In San Francisco, Mayor John W. Geary held a public ceremony in 1850 to formally welcome Chinese immigrants. By 1852, Chinese Californians comprised 20 percent of the state's newly arrived population, and join that year's Fourth of July parade in San Francisco "on horseback and in carriages, dressed in colorful silk and satin that dazzled the spectators."
The emigration of Chinese to the United States began in 1847 when three Chinese arrived in San Francisco. Word spread of opportunities in America. Four years later 27,000 Chinese from Taishan, a rural area south of Canton, were working in California as laborers in gold mines, workers in cigar factories and washing clothes.
1906: Paper sons: San Francisco earthquake and fires destroyed municipal records, opening the way for the immigration of Chinese “paper sons.”
Chinese that came to the United States helped tame the frontier by building railroads and doing other kinds of heavy manual labor. Many of them sailed to California in the late 1840s and early 1850s under the "credit ticket" system in which brokers provided them with passage in return for a share of their future earnings. More than 20,000 Chinese arrived in 1852 alone. Nearly all of them were men with their belongings on shoulder poles. Most originated from a few countries on the Pearl River Delta near Guangzhou.
The Chinese specialized in mining placer sites that had been abandoned as played out. They lived off rice and dried fish which they supplied themselves, amused themselves with gambling, opium and Chinese slave girls, and sent much of the earnings to their families in China. Sometimes married men came to the United States and went 50 years without seeing their wives.
Timeline of Chinese Workers in the United States
1848: The Gold Rush in California marks the beginning of large-scale immigration from China. [Source: Museum of Chinese in America **]
1852: The mutiny of Chinese workers being shipped to San Francisco aboard the vessel Robert Browne draws attention to the “coolie trade.” The term coolie was applied to workers from Asia, especially those who were sent abroad to most of the Americas, to Oceania and the Pacific Islands, and to Africa (especially South Africa and isles like Mauritius and Réunion). **
1863: Transcontinental Railroad: Chinese workers helped build the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad, which was completed in 1869. **
1868: Burlingame Treaty: The Burlingame Treaty of 1868: between United States and China, seeks to protect Chinese visiting or living in the US as citizens of the “most favored nation” while expanding American trade in China. **
Equal Protection Principle: In Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a law, fair on paper, may be ruled unconstitutional because it is applied in an unfair manner. **
Chinese Workers in the United States
Many of workers in the mid-1860s that built the Central Pacific, the western section of America's first transcontinental railroad, were Cantonese. They worked in crews of 12 to 20 from sunrise to sunset, six days a week, for between $25 and $35 a month. [Source: Donald Dale Jackson, Smithsonian magazine]
Railroad companies originally had not wanted to hire the Chinese but a labor shortage gave them little choice. In the end the companies were quite satisfied with the Chinese. They worked hard (in 1869, a team of Chinese and Irish workers laid a record of 10 miles of track in less than 12 hours) for wages a third lower than those given to white workers and endured harsh conditions without complaining.
More than a thousand Chinese workers died from dynamite blasts, avalanches, disease, heat stroke and overwork. One of their most dangerous jobs was blasting a route through the Sierra Nevada above the American River. Chinese workers performing this task were lowered down granite cliffs in wicker baskets. They drilled holes in the solid rock, placed sticks of dynamite in the holes, lit them and were pulled up, ideally before the dynamite went off. The expression a Chinaman's chance is believed to have had its origin with this job.
In the 1870s, three quarters of wool mill workers and 90 percent of the cigar makers in San Francisco were Chinese immigrants. They also worked in mines, and dug irrigation canals in the Salinas and San Joaquin valleys. By the turn of the century most Chinese immigrants had given up mining and taken up agriculture, an in the delta area between San Francisco and Sacramento where a maze of levees were built by Chinese laborers.
Excluded from many lines of work, many Chinese opened up laundries, a business that didn't exist in their homeland. The first Chinese laundry opened in 1870. In 1885, there were over a thousand of them. In 1920, a third of all Chinese workers in the United States worked in laundries.
Strikes by Chinese Workers in the U.S.
1867: Railroad Workers Strike: Five thousand Chinese railroad workers go on strike for higher wages and a shorter workday. The strike fails. [Source: Museum of Chinese in America **]
1887: Chinese Shoemakers Strike: Three hundred Chinese initiates a work stoppage in many Chinese-run firms seeking a daily pay raise of $1:15 to $1:40 full wages without being compelled to pay board to their employers and, in some cases, cessation of the practice of fining workers for failing to meet the daily production quota, an end to night work, and the right to work in production groups composed of fellows from their own clan, village, or region. **
1938: Ladies' Garment Workers' Union: Longest strike in the history of San Francisco Chinatown, 108 Chinese women garment workers organized against unfair labor practices at Joe Shoong’s National Dollar Stores sewing factory, forming the Chinese Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and going on strike fifteen weeks. It was at that time the longest strike in the history of San Francisco Chinatown. Their hard-won victory was due as much to their determination to win as to the economic and political circumstances of the depression that nurtured their union activism. **
Discrimination and Prejudice Towards Chinese in the United States
Chinese were the objects of many forms of discrimination. Laws were passed that prohibited them from carrying shoulder poles on the street, and prevented them from owning land and testifying against whites in court cases. Chinese families were required to pay special taxes; their children were prevented from attending American schools. Chinese were denied American citizenship on the grounds that American constitution guaranteed it only to whites and blacks.
Despite the fact that Chinese were being brought in to do work that white people refused to do, there was a great deal of hostility toward the Chinese for stealing jobs from American workers by working for such low wages. European-Americans who had ventured West and were unable to fulfill their dreams took out their frustrations against the Chinese.
Americans regarded Chinese as "shifty-eyed, pig-tailed Chinamen of the Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan movies," wrote Denise Chong in her book "The Concubine's Children", "Chinatowns were denounced as dirty and disease ridden, as centers of crime and gambling. Vancouver's was depicted in local newspaper cartoons as a congestion of rooming houses, of unmarked doorways to a labyrinth where lascivious Chinamen smoked opium, lay with Chinese prostitutes, fed on rats and enslaved white girls. No one saw the contrasting truth, that there were, among the bachelors, a few upstanding families living there."
To escape the oppressive atmosphere in the west, many Chinese headed east on the railroad to New York, where they heard people were more tolerate. These people established what became Chinatown. At first they worked in cigar factories and lived in dormitories.
Anti-Chinese Riots and Violence
In the western states of the United States thousands of Chinese were driven out of their hometowns or killed. Vigilante groups massacred Chinese at mining camps and entire Chinese communities were expelled from Seattle and Tacoma. Anti-Chinese riots left 19 Chinese dead in Los Angeles in 1871 and 28 Chinese dead in Wyoming in 1885. In Truckee California, vigilantes set fire to two cabins and shot the occupants as they fled.
1850: First Anti-Chinese Riot, The first anti-Chinese riot occurs in Tuolumne County, California.
1885: Rock Springs Massacre: In a massacre in Rock Springs, Wyoming, twenty-eight Chinese are shot dead while Chinese homes and possessions are destroyed. **
1982: The Murder of Vincent Chin: The murder of Vincent Chin sparked national awareness of anti-Asian violence in America. His murderers, two men distraught by the decline of the Detroit auto industry, did not spend a single day in prison for their crime. **
Book: "Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans" by Jean Pfaelzer (Random House, 2007)
U.S. Laws That Discriminate Against Chinese
1850: Statute Prohibiting the Testimony of Chinese Americans, In the United States, statutes prohibiting the testimony of Africans and Native Americans in cases involving Europeans Americans are applied to the Chinese. **
1869: Fung Tang Testifies in Congress: Fung Tang testifies in Congress to protest that the Chinese were singled out for taxation, barred from public schools and hospitals, and from testifying in courts of law. **
1888: The Scott Act: The Scott Act prohibits the re-entry of 20:000 Chinese workers who temporarily left the United States to China. **
1888: Hawaii Limits Immigration: The King and Legislature of the Hawaiian Kingdom passes this Act that Chinese are no longer permitted to land in Hawaii unless they acquire a permit that has been granted, signed, and sealed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. These permits are only given to non-laborers. **
According to the Chinese Historical Society of America: New discriminatory laws were adopted in the early 20th century federal Exclusion of all people of Asian descent, state laws that barred people of Asian descent from owning land, and the creation of national origin quota laws that discriminated against immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and Africa. One 1924 provision removed a woman's U.S. citizenship if she married a non-citizen. A 1932 act reformed the law only for women not of Chinese descent.”
1906: San Francisco Board of Education votes to exclude Japanese, Korean, and Chinese children from public school., San Francisco Board of Education votes to exclude Japanese, Korean, and Chinese children from public school. Children, who are to be sent to Oriental Public School, are kept home by their parents. **
1913: The California Alien Land Acts prohibited Chinese and Japanese from owning land. Other states passed similar laws. Alien Land Laws are still on the books but not enforced in Florida and New Mexico.
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
In 1882, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning Chinese immigration for 10 years and made it all but impossible for Chinese to move to the United States unless they fit into categories such as merchants, teachers or students. Chinese filed more than 7,000 lawsuits against the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The Chinese Exclusion Acts laws were not repealed until 1943, when China became ally of the United States in the war against Japan.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first U.S. restriction on immigration based on race and nationality. According to the Chinese Historical Society of America: “In 1882 Congress passed the nation's first major immigration legislation — a law to prevent people of Chinese descent from entering the United States...Governor George C. Perkins declared Saturday, March 4, 1882 a legal holiday to allow "one universal demonstration" to support passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Saturdays remain part of the standard, six-day work week for decades to come. The next day, the San Francisco Chronicle reported "Nearly all trade was suspended in this city yesterday to enable the business class to give the day to the grand anti-coolie demonstration. … no sound of party politics [was] heard anywhere. An army of 100,000 foreign armed invaders could not have caused a more complete unanimity of feeling and action..."[Source: Chinese Historical Society of America |||]
U.S. authorities detained people of Chinese descent as they came through the port of San Francisco. The Exclusion Act provided narrowly defined exemptions for ministers, diplomats, teachers, students, merchants, and those passing through the country in travel, who need supporting documents and testimony of "at least one credible white witness." Returning citizens of Chinese American descent risked deportation or indefinite detention. Many travelers found that filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus was the only way to end the detention and have a judgment reached on their case. In 1902 the Exclusion Act was extended indefinitely. A new detention and processing facility to aid implementation of the Exclusion Act was built on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. |||
In 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed and Chinese in the United States were given the right to become naturalized citizens. While restoring the right to become naturalized citizens to people of Chinese descent, the 1943 act continued the laws that identified a person by their ancestry, rather than by their actual nationality, and limited the number of people of Chinese descent who may immigrate to 105 per year. Other provisions that specifically discriminated against people of Chinese descent continued. The year after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the first civil rights law since 1875, the Immigration and Nationality Act finally set an end to the Exclusion Act, which was finally fully repealed in 1968. |||
1892: The Geary Act: The Geary Act required all Chinese residents of the United States to carry a resident permit-America's first internal passport. Failure to carry the permit at all times was punishable by deportation or a year at hard labor. In addition, Chinese were not allowed to bear witness in court, and could not receive bail in habeas corpus proceedings. The Geary Act of 1892 required Chinese immigrants to carry identity cards proving they were in the country legally. Without the cards they faced deportation. The Chinese referred to act as the “Dog Tag law” and refused to go along with it. [Source: Museum of Chinese in America **]
1892: Fong Yue-Ting v. United States: Chinese all across America stage acts of civil disobedience in protest against the Geary Act. On September 22: 1892: more than 1,000 U.S. citizens joined with 200 Chinese merchants and laborers at Cooper Union in Manhattan to protest the Geary Act. In Fong Yue-Ting v. United States, the Chinese community raises money to test the constitutionality of the Geary Act. **
In 1897, former Pennsylvania Mayor Terence V. Powderly ordered the Knights of Labor's Chinese chapters to disband, stating he had "gone on record as not only opposing Chinese labor but also declaring that Chinese and Japanese were unfit to reside in the United States. Powderly went on to serve as U.S. Commissioner General of Immigration in 1897. |||
1898: Wong Kim Ark v. United States: In "Wong Kim Ark v. United States," the U.S. Supreme Court concedes that a child of Chinese descent born in the United States is an American citizen. According to the Chinese Historical Society of America: “Exclusionists again attempted to challenge the citizenship status of Chinese Americans. Officials detained native San Franciscan Wong Kim Ark as he returned from a trip to China. He filed a writ of habeas corpus alleging unlawful detention. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1898 affirmed his birthright citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment.[Source: Chinese Historical Society of America |||]
Immigration Laws That Discriminated Against Chinese
1910: Angel Island Immigration Station opens in San Francisco Bay: Angel Island Immigration Station opens in San Francisco Bay. Although it was billed as the "Ellis Island of the West," within the Immigration Service it was known as "The Guardian of the Western Gate" and was designed control the flow of Chinese into the country, who were officially not welcome with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. [Source: Museum of Chinese in America **]
Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917: which added to the number of undesirables banned from entering the country, including but not limited to, “idiots,” “feeble-minded persons,” “epileptics,” “insane persons,” alcoholics, “professional beggars,” all persons “mentally or physically defective,” polygamists, and anarchists. Furthermore, it barred all immigrants over the age of sixteen who were illiterate. **
1922: Cable Act: The Cable Act decrees that any American woman who married “an alien ineligible for citizenship” would cease to be a citizen of the United States. **
1924: Immigration Act of 1924: Chinese American Citizens Alliance and Chinese Chamber of Commerce challenged the Immigration Act of 1924: leading to the Supreme Court decision that wives of merchants, teachers, students, and tourists were eligible for admission. **
1924: Johnson-Reed Immigration Act: Johnson-Reed Immigration Act was passed to prevent “Chinese women, wives, and prostitutes” from immigrating to the US. **
1924: National Origins Act: National Origins Act set immigration quotas at 2% of the 1890 population figures, favoring northern European immigrants. **
1956: Chinese Confession Program: The Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) created the Chinese Confession Program, which offered legalized status in exchange for confession of illegal entry into the country. The program results in nearly 14:000 confessions, which allow the INS to bar future immigration. **
1965: Immigration and Naturalization Act, Immigration and Naturalization Act abolished restrictive quotas based on race and nationality, leading a significant increase in the Chinese American population, which nearly doubled between 1960 and 1970. **
Life for Chinese Living Abroad
Many Chinese who lived outside of China formed societies within societies and retained an intense loyalty "to family, village and the clan," and were generally more interested in events in China than the were in what was going on in the countries where they lived. Descendants of Chinese who arrived abroad generations ago still send large amounts of money back home and remain attached to their home villages.
Chinese living outside of China endured discrimination without complaining, partly out of fear that they would only make the situation worse if they rocked the boat. They attended their own schools, read their own newspapers, attended their own operas and set up their own banks. They formed community associations called Tongs and tried, when ever possible, to trade with each other
Advances by Chinese Americans
1875: Bing Cherry: Ah Bing, a Chinese farmer in Milwaukee, Oregon developed a variety of cherry known for its sweet fruit — the popular Bing Cherry. [Source: Museum of Chinese in America **]
1883: Wong Chin Foo: Lecturer, activist and journalist Wong Chin Foo begins a weekly bilingual newspaper, The Chinese-American. He is an outspoken critic of stereotypes held by Americans of China and Chinese Americans. **
1909: Oakland's Fung Joe Guey made the first successful flight of a heavier-than-air motor-driven airplane on the West Coast, flying a big bi-plane a half-mile some 15-feet above a grassy knoll at Piedmont Heights. **
1911: Lue Gim Gong developed an orange that is both sweet and frost-resistant. The variety, now known as “Valencia,” was awarded the Silver Wilder Medal by the American Pomological Society in 1911. **
Early Chinese American Businesses
1907: The Canton Bank of San Francisco became the first Chinese American banking institution. It quickly became the preferred bank for nearly one hundred thousand Chinese throughout the U.S. and Mexico. [Source: Museum of Chinese in America **]
1924: The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance was founded in New York City in response to discriminatory regulations imposed on the hand laundry industry. In 1933: the New York City Council, at the behest of white laundry operators, passed an ordinance that required one-person laundries to pay a $25 annual fee and to post a $1000 bond. This ordinance was clearly aimed at the 3:500 Chinese laundry establishments in New York. **
1938: Charlie Low's Forbidden City Nightclub gained an international reputation as the nation's premiere all-Chinese nightclub showcasing Chinese American performers in All-American production numbers soon after it opened in San Francisco. Forbidden City was frequently compared to the Cotton Club of Harlem, which featured America's finest black entertainers. While it was not the first or only such club, it was the best known, and it became the model for the nightclub in the C.Y. Lee book and Broadway musical, The Flower Drum Song. **
Starting Asian American Studies Programs at U.S. Universities
1968: San Francisco State College Strike: Chinese Americans joined other students in planning and executing the San Francisco State College Strike, the nation’s longest student strike, which led to the establishment of the first School of Ethnic Studies in the United States. [Source: Museum of Chinese in America **]
1986: Ivy League Asian American Studies Program was established at Cornell University: The first Ivy League Asian American Studies program was established at Cornell University, with $100:000 budget and staff of three. **
1993: University of California - Asian American studies program: After a 36-day hunger strike in May, Asian American students at University of California get the administration to agree to establish an Asian American studies program. **
Image Sources: Wkimedia Commons, Tales of Shanghai, University of Washington
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2022