Bayard-Zhang Treaty of 1888

The Treaty: Unratified treaty between the United States and China that was designed to resolve certain immigration issues involving the two nations
Date: Signed in March, 1888
Significance: The Bayard-Zhang Treaty attempted to prohibit all new Chinese immigration for twenty years and limit the right to return of Chinese workers who had temporarily left the United States for home visits in China. However, despite the severity of the treaty’s immigration restrictions, they would prove more moderate than those of some later legislation.
Provisions of the Bayard-ZhangTreaty of 1888 were instituted by the U.S. government despite widespread public protests in rural China and the Qing government’s refusal to agree to the treaty’s restrictive terms. As early as 1868, the United States and China had agreed upon unrestricted Chinese immigration. However, this agreement, formally termed the Burlingame Treaty, was not ratified in its entirety by representatives of both countries, but portions of the agreement were nonetheless implemented.
Tens of thousands of Chinese laborers, overwhelmingly young adult males, immigrated to the United States during the decades before and after the U.S. Civil War. They worked on massive railroad construction projects in theWest and in largescale mining operations to supply the coal to run the railroads. So many Chinese immigrated and were so poorly integrated into American society that the first restriction on Chinese immigration for both males and females was passed under the Page Law of 1875. The act passed as a direct result of an 1875 decision by the Union Pacific Railroad to use Chinese laborers as strikebreakers in coal mines around Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, the site of later anti-Chinese violence. Despite the fact that the Page Law violated the spirit and terms of the unratified treaty of 1868, it was only the first of increasingly restrictive treaties sought by the U.S. government, including the Bayard-Zhang Treaty.
Beginning in 1885, rising anti-Chinese sentiment resulted in widespread violence against Chinese laborers throughout parts of the West. The U.S. economy was depressed, and unemployment was high and rising. Despite the fact that many of the railroads paid all workers according to the same pay scale, many English-speaking miners and railroad workers felt that the presence of a large pool of Chinese replacement workers artificially suppressed wages. In Rock Springs, Chinese miners outnumbered English-speaking miners by a margin of two to one.
The local affiliate of the Knights of Labor was vehemently opposed to so many Chinese miners and urged English-speaking miners to demand that the railroad fire the Chinese and have them expelled from the country. Relations reached a flash point on September 2, 1885, when the English-speaking miners demanded that the Chinese miners join them to strike for higher wages. The Chinese miners refused. Later that day, English-speaking miners descended on the Chinese miners’ camp and burned it to the ground. Many Chinese miners were attacked. Twenty-eight Chinese miners were murdered, and $150,000 worth of Chinese-owned property was damaged. The U.S. government sent federal troops to restore order as local law enforcement either refrained from taking action or joined the rioting. Eventually, the U.S. government paid the Chinese government some monies as compensation for the deaths and destruction of property, but neither individual Chinese miners nor their families received compensation.
As news of anti-Chinese violence spread to other towns in the West, other Chinese communities were attacked and the Chinese population was threatened with death or expulsion. In March, 1886, mobs attacked the Chinese community in Seattle. All the Chinese who were caught were taken to the port to be forcibly put aboard a ship sailing for San Francisco. Again, federal troops were necessary to restore order, and martial law was declared. Tacoma, Washington, also faced the same threat to public order, necessitating deployment of additional federal troops. Mortified by its inability to protect Chinese persons and property, the U.S. government asked the Chinese government to agree to the terms of the Bayard-Zhang Treaty. These terms included a twenty-year ban on all new Chinese immigration to the United States and severe restrictions on the return to the United States of Chinese immigrants who had temporarily left America.
The year 1888 was an election year in the United States. The race was very tight between Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland and Republican challenger and eventual winner Benjamin Harrison. The economy was the most important campaign issue. Neither candidate gave any credence to protecting Chinese rights. Congress did not allow time for negotiations to permit the ratification of the Bayard-Zhang Treaty. Instead, it passed the Scott Act of 1888 that banned all further Chinese immigration and excluded any Chinese from returning to the United States. Opponents of the Scott Act argued in court that the act was unconstitutional, as it contradicted previous immigration arrangements. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that immigration issues were a matter of national defense. Congress was authorized to pass whatever legislation it considered necessary to protect U.S. security interests. The Scott Act restrictions were expanded by the Geary Act of 1892, which prohibited all Chinese immigration for an additional ten years and required all Chinese in the United States to carry residency permits at all times or face immediate deportation.
Victoria Erhart

Further reading
  • Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking Press, 2003. Examines U.S.-Chinese immigration relations using many Chinese sources.
  • Lee, Erika. At America’s Gate: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Concentrates on immigration policies and their effects on both Chinese immigrants and American immigration officials charged with enforcing discriminatory laws.
  • McClain, Charles J. In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth-Century America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Overview of Chinese immigrant history and experience. Extensive treatment of the legal history of Chinese immigration.
  • Pfaelzer, Jean. Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. Uses many nineteenth century sources, including letters and newspaper accounts.
  • Sandmeyer, Elmer. The Anti-Chinese Movement in California. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1991. Covers California labor legislation and its impact on Chinese immigrants.
See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Asian immigrants; Asiatic Exclusion League; Burlingame Treaty of 1868; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese immigrants; Coolies; Page Law of 1875; Railroads.

Add comments

A–Z index