Angell Treaty of 1880

The Law: Agreement allowing the United States to regulate, limit, or suspend immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States

Date: Signed on November 17, 1880

Significance: By placing restrictions on the number of Chinese workers permitted to immigrate to the United States, the Angell Treaty marked a turning point in the U.S.-Chinese relationship on immigration issues that paved the way for the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which suspended Chinese immigration for ten years.

In 1880, James Burrill Angell, president of the University of Michigan, was nominated as minister to China by U.S. president Rutherford B. Hayes. Angell was confirmed by the Senate on April 9, 1880. Angell’s first task was to negotiate changes to the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 that would reduce the number of Chinese immigrants moving into the western United States. Angell and fellow members of the treaty commission to China, John F. Swift and William Henry Trescot, traveled to Peking (now Beijing), China, in June, 1880, to seek an agreement.

Using the argument that Chinese laborers did not readily assimilate into American culture, Angell and his colleagues negotiated a treaty to regulate and limit the immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States but not to prohibit it outright. The resulting AngellTreaty was signed on November 17, 1880, and proclaimed U.S. law on October 5, 1881. This treaty ended free Chinese immigration to the United States and separated U.S. trade interests from the immigration issue. It also provided an avenue for anti-Chinese lobbyists to push for an exclusion law. Most of the protections that the treaty secured for Chinese immigrants were reversed by passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Alvin K. Benson

Further Reading

Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

McClain, Charles J. In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth-Century America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Burlingame Treaty of 1868; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese Exclusion Cases; Chinese immigrants; Page Law of 1875; Taiwanese immigrants.

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Anti-Chinese movement

The Event: Era that saw widespread opposition to Chinese immigration at the local, state, and federal levels

Date: 1850’s-1940’s

Location: West Coast of the United States, primarily California

Significance: The Anti-Chinese movement developed out of anti-Chinese attitudes in the mining fields of California during the 1850’s to become a more widespread movement during the 1870’s. The movement was successful in helping to get the federal government to pass legislation restricting Chinese immigration that was enforced from the 1880’s until the 1940’s.

Anti-Chinese movement

Contemporary newspaper illustration of the anti-Chinese rioting in Denver, Colorado, in 1880. (Library of Congress)

When Chinese immigrants first arrived in the United States, they were accepted because they performed work considered undesirable by European Americans. However, as their numbers increased, strong resentment developed on theWest Coast, particularly in California. Chinese immigrants encountered prejudice and discrimination that were sometimes manifested in violence. Ultimately, the anti-Chinese movement helped foster federal legislation that severely restricted Chinese immigration for several decades.

California and the Early Movement

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 initiated the first significant wave of Chinese immigration to the United States. The state of California attempted to limit the ability of Chinese immigrants to assimilate. Miners of European descent were angered that the Chinese were gaining mining permits and finding gold that, in their minds, was rightfully theirs. The state government of California passed Foreign Miners’ License Tax laws in 1850 and 1852 that required all miners who were not U.S. citizens to pay three dollars per month in taxes (later increased to six dollars, and finally lowered to four dollars). Because Chinese workers were ineligible for U.S. citizenship, more of them had to pay this tax than members of any other immigrant group.

In 1851, John Bigler was elected governor of California on an anti-Chinese platform. Four years later, the state’s supreme court ruled that Chinese had the same limited rights as African Americans and Native Americans, meaning that they could not testify against white citizens in court. There was such a strong anti-Chinese feeling nationally that when a bill was introduced in Congress that would give Chinese Americans the right to vote, it was rejected. Many Americans who supported the anti- Chinese movement in the West regarded the Chinese as morally and intellectually inferior to all other minority groups in the region. These people consistently blamed the Chinese for the ills of the community.

As time passed, anti-Chinese sentiment gained support among the wider population. As the national economy suffered during the 1870’s, labor union leaders led the outcry against the Chinese for keeping wages low and taking potential jobs from white Americans. Labor leaders, along with politicians, used the charge that Chinese would work for lower wages as a way to win votes. Along with the economic issues, the movement focused on the cultural differences and stereotypes of the Chinese immigrants. Those opposed to Chinese immigration pointed to opium smoking, gambling, and prostitution as examples of the negative influences that Chinese immigrants had on American society. Furthermore, they looked down on the Chinese reluctance to assimilate and adopt the mainstream American way of life.

Chinese Exclusion and Violence

The anti-Chinese movement continued to grow during the 1880’s. With pressure from California, the federal government became involved as the movement gained national support. The federal government moved to stop Chinese immigration altogether. In the 1868 Burlingame Treaty with China, the U.S. government had encouraged the immigration of Chinese nationals to the United States. Just over a decade later, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended all immigration of Chinese to the United States. This act was amended in 1884 to make it more difficult for Chinese laborers working in the United States who left the country to return.

After new Chinese immigration was mostly eliminated, the anti-Chinese movement turned its attention against Chinese who were already residing in the United States. There had been scattered incidents of violence in California against Chinese during the 1870’s, but the movement became more violent throughout the West during the mid-1880’s. This tension had been growing in both the mining fields and along the railroads—two sectors of the economy that employed large numbers of Chinese workers. In 1885, large-scale violence erupted in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where white vigilantes stormed through the Chinese community, killing many people and driving away many of the rest. Additional incidents later occurred in other Chinatowns throughout the Far West.

Stricter Enforcement

After violence on the West Coast, the United States strengthened its anti-Chinese stance. First, the government approved the expulsion of Chinese laborers who owned property in the United States or had wives living in the country. In 1888, Congress passed the Scott Act, which banned both the immigration and the return of Chinese laborers to the United States. This law had the impact of refusing reentry to tens of thousands of Chinese who had temporarily left the United States. The anti-Chinese movement was successful in renewing the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1892 and establishing a permanent ban in 1902. Because of the anti-Chinese movement, Chinese immigration remained outlawed until 1943.

David R. Buck

Further Reading

Gyory, Andrew. Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Good analyis of why the federal government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

McClain, Charles J. In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth- Century America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Focusing on the San Francisco Bay Area, McClain examines Chinese efforts to mobilize against discrimination in employment, housing, and education.

Miller, Stuart Creighton. The Unwelcome Immigrant: The American Image of the Chinese, 1785-1882. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Documents American anti-Chinese feeling from the arrival of the first Chinese in the late eighteenth century to 1882, the year in which the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. Bibliographical references and index.

Sandmeyer, Elmer Clarence. The Anti-Chinese Movement in California. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1991. Considered by some historians to be the best work on the subject of anti- Chinese discrimination in California. Bibliographical references.

See also: Angell Treaty of 1880; Burlingame Treaty of 1868; California; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese Exclusion Cases; Chinese immigrants; "Mongrelization”; Nativism; San Francisco; Stereotyping.

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Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance

  • Affiliation with the AFL-CIO
  • APALA Convention

Identification: Labor-activist organization

Date: Founded on May 1, 1992

Significance: The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was formed to address the workplace and community needs of a growing Asian and Pacific Islander population in the United States.

The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) convened for the first time on May Day, 1992, in Washington, D.C. That gathering drew five hundred Asian American and Pacific Islander labor and union activists from around the United States, including hotel and restaurant workers from Honolulu, longshore laborers from Seattle, garment factory workers from New York City, nurses from San Francisco, and supermarket workers from Los Angeles. The establishment of APALA was the culmination of several decades of Asian American labor activity.

Affiliation with the AFL-CIO

After the mid-1970’s, Asian American labor organizers in California worked to strengthen unionization efforts by holding organizational meetings in the larger Asian American communities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Neighborhood-based organizations such as the Alliance of Asian Pacific Labor (AAPL) grew out of these efforts, forging stronger ties between labor and community and uniting Asian union staff members more closely with rank-and-file labor leaders. The creation of the AAPL was a successful local movement, but it soon became clear to AAPL administrators that to organize significant numbers of Asian American workers, a national organizing effort would be needed. Led by Art Takei, the AAPL solicited organizational aid from the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFLCIO).

AAPL vice president Kent Wong attended the 1989 national AFL-CIO convention in Washington, D.C., to lobby for the establishment of a national labor organization for Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland acknowledged Wong’s lobbying attempts by noting the local accomplishments of the AAPL in California and recognizing the organizing potential of the burgeoning Asian American workforce.

Two years after that AFL-CIO national convention, Kirkland appointed a national Asian Pacific American labor committee, comprising thirtyseven Asian American labor activists. The committee spent more than a year planning the founding meeting of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, finally releasing an invitation for Asian American and Pacific Islander unionists, labor activists, and workers to bridge the gap between the national labor movement and the Asian Pacific American community.

APALA Convention

More than five hundred delegates attended the May, 1992, APALA convention to adopt a constitution and set up a governmental structure with a national headquarters inWashington, D.C., and local chapters throughout the United States. Organized in this way, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance could receive recognition and legitimacy from a national administration guided by the AFL-CIO, while still using its powerful techniques of community organizing at the local level.

During the convention, APALA organizers and delegates recognized and honored Asian Pacific American labor pioneers whose achievements they believed had melded national and local unionization efforts successfully or who had made significant contributions toward heightening the recognition of Asian American laborers. Honorees included Philip Villamin Vera Cruz of the United FarmWorkers union and Ah Quon McElrath of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

APALA conventioneers looked ahead to the organization’s role in continuing such activism and achievement. They drafted a commitment document calling for empowerment of all Asian American and Pacific Islander workers through unionization on a national level, as well as the provision of national support for local unionization efforts. APALA also promoted the formation of AFL-CIO legislation that would create jobs, ensure national health insurance, reform labor law, and channel financial resources toward education and job training for Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants. Toward that end, a revision of U.S. governmental policies toward immigration was called for. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance’s commitment document supported immigration legislation that would promote family unification and provide improved access to health, education, and social services for immigrants. Finally, the document promoted national government action to prevent workplace discrimination against immigrant laborers and strongly supported vigorous prosecution for perpetrators of racially motivated crimes. APALA delegates passed several resolutions, which they forwarded to the AFL-CIO leadership. These documents decried the exploitative employment practices and civil rights violations alleged against several U.S. companies.

Convention delegates also participated in workshops that focused on facilitating multicultural harmony and solidarity, enhancing Asian American participation in unions, and advancing a national agenda to support broadly based civil rights legislation and improved immigration policies and procedures. Fromthese APALA workshops, two national campaigns were launched. The first involved working with the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute to recruit a new generation of Asian Pacific American organizers. The second campaign involved building a civil and immigration rights agenda for Asian Pacific American workers that was based on APALA’s commitment document and its convention resolutions.

Through the legislative statement of its goals and by lobbying for their societal implementation, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was the first Asian American labor organization to achieve both national and local success. Although by the time of the 1992 Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance convention Asian Americans had been engaged in various forms of unionization activity for more than 150 years, the establishment of APALA within the ranks of the AFL-CIO provided it with more powerful organizational techniques. APALA was able to unite Asian Pacific workers, simultaneously integrating them into the larger American labor movement.

Cynthia Gwynne Yaudes

Further Reading

Aguilar-San Juan, Karin, ed. The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990’s. Boston: South End Press, 1994. Explores the connection between race, identity, and empowerment within the workplace and the community. Covers Euro- American, African American, and Asian American cultures.

Espiritu, Yen Le. Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Examines the Asian American labor experience from a gendered perspective, asking how the oppression of Asian American workers has structured gender relationships among them.

Friday, Chris. Organizing Asian American Labor. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994. Analyzes the positive impact of Asian Pacific immigration upon the formation of West Coast and Pacific Northwest industries between 1870 and 1942.

Rosier, Sharolyn. "Solidarity Starts Cycle for APALA.” AFL-CIO News 37, no. 10 (May 11, 1992): 11. Summarizes the AFL-CIO conference report on the establishment of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.

Wong, Kent, ed. Voices for Justice: Asian Pacific American Organizers and the New Labor Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Collection of interviews with Asian Pacific American labor organizers and workers.

See also: Asian American literature; Asian immigrants; Chinese immigrants; Civil Rights movement; Issei; Japanese American Citizens League; Japanese immigrants; Pacific Islander immigrants.

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Bayard-Zhang Treaty of 1888

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.

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Burlingame Treaty of 1868

The Burlingame Treaty permitted almost unlimited and unrestricted immigration by Chinese to the United States.

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Burmese immigrants

Burmese immigrants are relatively recent arrivals to the United States.

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Cable Act of 1922

From the creation of the United States during the late eighteenth century, it was assumed that people would immigrate to the country. The first law setting standards and processes for immigration was passed in 1790.

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California gold rush

The California gold rush was a defining moment in the history of westward migration in the United States. It was also an important period in U.S. immigration history.

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Capitation taxes

During the 1850’s and 1860’s, the state of California singled out Chinese immigrants for capitation taxes, which were assessed on individual immigrants.

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Chae Chan Ping v. United States

In addition to recognizing the sovereign power of Congress to exclude any groups fromimmigration, the decision in this case reaffirmed congressional discretion to abrogate or modify treaties.

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Chang Chan v. Nagle

The Chang Chan ruling upheld the application of a law disallowing the entrance of some foreign wives of U.S. citizens.

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Cheung Sum Shee v. Nagle

The Cheung Sum Shee ruling held that treaty provisions guaranteeing rights for foreign citizens were legally binding unless Congress had clearly and explicitly abrogated those rights.

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Chew Heong v. United States

In the first of the Supreme Court’s Chinese exclusion cases, the Chew Heong decision affirmed that a Chinese citizen had the benefit of rights promised in treaties with China unless the treaties had been clearly and explicitly repealed by Congress.

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Chin Bak Kan v. United States

The decision demonstrated that the majority of the justices sympathized with the vigorous enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Acts and that they were not disposed to allow minor procedural defects to interfere with the deportation of persons entering the country illegally.

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American Chinatowns are viewed by some as ethnic ghettos and places of exploitation by an internal Chinese American business elite and by society as a whole.

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Chinese American Citizens Alliance

The alliance has provided a unified political voice for American-born Chinese Americans, combating discrimination in immigration, housing, education, and health care and creating social activities for the celebration of Chinese heritage.

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Chinese American press

The existence of Chineselanguage newspapers and other media gives new immigrants access to necessary information in their native language and fosters greater integration of the immigrant and ethnic communities.

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Chinese boycott of 1905

The boycott signified the emergence of modern Chinese nationalism and the importance of immigration in Sino-American relations.

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Chinese Exclusion Cases

When making decisions that dealt with the various Chinese Exclusion Acts, the Supreme Court examined the language of the legislation and attempted to discern the intent of Congress.

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Chinese family associations

Chinese family associations, or fangs, provided social and financial support to early Chinese immigrants living in hostile environments.

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Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance

The alliance successfully defeated anti-Chinese legislation in New York City during the 1930’s.

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Chinese immigrants

Significance: During the late twentieth century, Chinese became one of the fastestgrowing immigrant populations in the United States. By the early twenty-first century, they constituted the largest Asian immigrant group in the United States and could be found throughout the North American continent.

Although most immigration from China to the United States occurred during the twentieth century, the earliest identifiable Chinese immigrants arrived in America during the 1780’s. However, the discovery of gold in California in 1848 brought a large wave of Chinese. In the following three decades, about 300,000 Chinese entered the United States to work primarily as miners in gold mines, laundry and grocery operators in urban communities, farm laborers in agricultural areas, or fishermen in fishing villages in California.

Push-Pull Factors

Similar to their counterparts from other countries, early Chinese immigrants were "pushed” by forces in China and "pulled” by attractions in the United States. The "push” mainly came from natural disasters, internal upheavals, and imperialistic aggressions in China during the 1840’s and 1850’s. The "pull” resulted from the discovery of gold in California and the economic opportunities in the United States.

The decades of the 1840’s and the 1850’s in China were full of natural calamities. The major ones were the severe draught in Henan Province in 1847, the flooding of the Yangtze River in the four provinces of Hubei, Anhui, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, and the famine in Guangxi in 1849. Flood and famine in Guangdong gave way to the catastrophic Taiping Revolution (1850-1864), which devastated the land, uprooted the peasantry, and dislocated the economy and polity.

Moreover, the importation of opium deepened the social and economic crisis. As a result of the OpiumWar of 1839-1842, opium traffic practically became unrestrained. The volume of imports rose from33,000 chests in 1842 to 46,000 chests in 1848, and to 52,929 chests in 1850. The year 1848 alone witnessed the outflow of more than ten million taels of silver, which exacerbated the already grave economic dislocation and copper-silver exchange rate. The disruptive economic consequence of opium importation was further compounded by the general influx of foreign goods in the open ports. Canton was particularly hit because it had the longest history of foreign trade and the widest foreign contact. Local household industries were swept away, and the self-sufficient agrarian economy suffered. Those who were adversely affected became potential emigrants.

News of the discovery of gold in California (which the Chinese called Gam Saan, or "Gold Mountain”) spread like wildfire to every corner of the world and soon attracted thousands of gold seekers to California. Among them were 325 Chinese "forty-niners.” During the early 1850’s, the number of Chinese increased dramatically: 2,716 in 1851 and 20,026 in 1852. By 1882, when the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act ended the largescale Chinese immigration, about 300,000 Chinese were living in the continental United States.

The Chinese gold seekers, referred to by their compatriots as Gam Saan Haak ("travelers to Gold Mountain” or "Gold Mountain guests”), were mostly adult males from Guangdong Province. Gold played a significant role in the lives of the early Chinese immigrants, and the majority of these gold seekers worked in the mining areas of California. U.S. Census statistics indicate that almost all the Chinese in the continental United States lived in California in 1860. Most Chinese miners worked in placer claims. They washed the gold-bearing sand in a pan or rocker to let the heavier particles of gold settle at the bottom.

As Chinese miners became ubiquitous in the California hills, white miners felt threatened and demanded that the California legislature eliminate the competition from foreign miners. In May of 1852, the state legislature passed the Foreign Miners’ Tax, which required every foreign miner who was ineligible for citizenship to pay a monthly fee of three dollars. Chinese immigrants, the primary targets of the California law, were considered ineligible for citizenship because of a 1790 federal law that reserved naturalized citizenship to "white” persons only.

In addition to mining, the construction of the transcontinental railroad absorbed a large number of Chinese laborers, many of whom were former miners. After the end of the U.S. Civil War, the U.S. government could once again devote its attention to the construction of the transcontinental railroad. The eastern part of the railroad was contracted to the Union Pacific Railroad to build westward from the Missouri River, and the western part of the railroad to the Central Pacific Railroad Company—financed by the "Big Four,” Sacramento merchants Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and C. P. Huntington, to build eastward from Sacramento. In February, 1865, fifty Chinese workers were hired by the Central Pacific Railroad Company as an experiment. As the Chinese workers performed various tasks of blasting, driving horses, handling rock, and doing pick-and-shovel work, they proved to be effective and reliable workers, and the company began to hire more Chinese. During the peak time of the construction, the Central Pacific Railroad Company hired twelve thousand Chinese, representing 90 percent of its entire workforce.

While the majority of Chinese were digging gold and building railroads, some Chinese families fished for their livelihood in the Monterey Bay region. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 forced most Chinese railroad workers to become farm laborers in California; many others had to migrate south and east, working in southern plantations or in new booming towns on the East Coast and in the Midwest.

Mark Twain on Chinese Immigrants

During the 1860’s, Mark Twain spent five years working mostly as a journalist in Virginia City, Nevada, and San Francisco, California, where he had ample opportunities to observe many Chinese immigrants. As he shows in this passage that opens chapter 54 of his 1872 book Roughing It, he had a high regard for the work ethic and behavior of the Chinese. Elsewhere in Roughing It and other writings, he expressed his disdain for the unfair stigmatization of the Chinese and the rough treatment they endured from the Americans who regarded them as an undesirable criminal class.

Of course there was a large Chinese population in Virginia—it is the case with every town and city on the Pacific coast. They are a harmless race when white men either let them alone or treat them no worse than dogs; in fact they are almost entirely harmless anyhow, for they seldom think of resenting the vilest insults or the cruelest injuries. They are quiet, peaceable, tractable, free from drunkenness, and they are as industrious as the day is long. A disorderly Chinaman is rare, and a lazy one does not exist. So long as a Chinaman has strength to use his hands he needs no support from anybody; white men often complain of want of work, but a Chinaman offers no such complaint; he always manages to find something to do. He is a great convenience to everybody—even to the worst class of white men, for he bears the most of their sins, suffering fines for their petty thefts, imprisonment for their robberies, and death for their murders. Any white man can swear a Chinaman’s life away in the courts, but no Chinaman can testify against a white man.

Anti-Chinese Sentiments and Exclusion Laws

The anti-Chinese movement, compounded by the economic depression on the West Coast in the last decades of the nineteenth century, contributed to the redistribution of Chinese immigrants. Economic discrimination in the form of special taxes and levies targeted the Chinese. For example, California’s foreign miner taxes discouraged Chinese in particular, and an 1870 San Francisco ordinance taxed laundrymen without horses for their delivery wagon. (The Chinese did not use horses, so the law effectively discriminated against them.) Furthermore, anti-Chinese sentiment subjected immigrants and their businesses to violent physical attacks and abuse. The anti-Chinese violence generally took three forms: murder, spontaneous attacks and destruction of Chinatowns, and organized effort to drive Asians out of certain towns and cities.

The series of Chinese exclusion laws effectively banned the entry of Chinese into the United States. The passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act suspended the entry of all Chinese laborers for ten years. Merchants, diplomats, teachers, students, and travelers were exempt, but they still needed documentation. The ban was extended in 1892 and 1902, and made indefinite in 1904. The 1892 Geary Act required all Chinese laborers to register for a certificate of residence. Those who did not register could be arrested or deported. A storm of protest followed, but a test case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the constitutionality of the law.

Livelihood of Chinese Immigrants

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the laundering business had been a predominant occupation of the Chinese in the United States. After the 1870’s, prejudice against Chinese immigrants from American society effectively cut them out of the rest of the labor market. Persecuted and harassed, the Chinese could not find jobs, and they were forced to rely on their own resources. When they were excluded from the gold mines in the hills, they found an equally lucrative gold mine in the city. In setting up laundries, they did not have to seek out jobs in established industries or incur the risk of heavy capital investment. All they needed for the business were scrub boards, soap, irons, and ironing boards. They would canvass a neighborhood, seek out a low-rent location, and open up a business.

Like laundries, restaurants were one of the most important businesses for the Chinese in the United States. Initially, Chinese restaurants started as a service for the bachelor communities of Chinese immigrants in isolated ranches, logging camps, mining towns, and other areas where Chinese men and women were willing to cook. When the eating places that the Chinese had set up for themselves soon attracted a number of outsiders, the Chinese realized that restaurants were profitable business enterprises well suited to their temperament. During the 1890’s, Chinese restaurants sprouted in the United States in many places. Most small Chinese restaurants were run as husband-and-wife businesses; the husband served as cook and dishwasher in the kitchen, while the wife worked as waitress, barmaid, and cashier in the front.

The grocery business ranked as a distant third occupation for Chinese immigrants before the 1940’s, although it was one of the major enterprises of the Chinese in some southern and western states. Chinese grocery stores provided Chinese ingredients for cooking and other goods for Chinese communities. Unlike the Chinese restaurants, the Chinese grocery stores found their clientele primarily among Chinese and other Asian immigrants. The stores were mostly located in Chinatowns and Asian communities.

Postwar Chinese Immigration

Anti-Chinese sentiment abated during World War II, when China became a member of the Grand Alliance and public images of the Chinese gradually changed. A more favorable attitude in America toward China and Chinese Americans continued after the war. Facing pressures from the public and other interest groups, Congress repealed a large number of exclusion laws, which for years had denied Chinese Americans fundamental civil rights and legal protection. On December 17, 1943, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1943 (also known as the Magnuson Act), which repealed all Chinese exclusion laws that had been passed since 1882, permitted Chinese aliens in the United States to apply for naturalization, and allowed 105 Chinese to immigrate annually.

In spite of the repeal of the Chinese exclusion laws, the Chinese immigrant quota designated by the American government was quite low. This figure was one-sixth of 1 percent of the number of the Chinese in the United States in 1920 as determined by the census of that year. Nevertheless, nonquota immigrants were allowed to immigrate. More Chinese scholars came to teach in the United States— an average of about 137 each year, compared with 10 per year during the previous decade. More important, under theWar Brides Act of December 28, 1945, and the G.I. Fiancées Act of June 29, 1946, alien wives and children of veterans and American citizens were permitted to enter the United States as nonquota immigrants. During the three-year operation of theWar Brides Act, approximately 6,000 Chinese war brides were admitted. Thus, in 1947 the number of Chinese immigrants entering the United States climbed to 3,191, most of whom came on a nonquota basis.

Profile of Chinese immigrants
Country of origin People’s Republic of China
Primary language Chinese (Mandarin)
Primary regions of U.S. settlement West Coast, Hawaii
Earliest significant arrivals 1780’s
Peak immigration period Late twentieth century
Twenty-first century legal residents* 527,577 (65,947 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Many women also immigrated under other laws. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 allowed several thousand Chinese women to come to America. The former granted "displaced” Chinese students, visitors, and others who had temporary status in the United States to adjust their status to that of permanent resident. The latter act allotted three thousand visas to refugees from Asia and two thousand visas to Chinese whose passports had been issued by the Chinese Nationalist government, which lost power in mainland China in 1949. On September 22, 1959, Congress passed an act under which more Chinese on the quota waiting list obtained nonquota status. Thus, by 1960 the number of Chinese in the United States, as reported by the 1960 U.S. Census, had reached 237,292. This included 135,549 male and 101,743 female persons, of whom 60 percent were native born.

Among the women who immigrated during this period were many so-called war brides who had hurriedly married Chinese American veterans before the expiration date of the War Brides Act in 1949. In her article "The Recent Immigrant Chinese Families of the San Francisco-Oakland Area,” Rose Hum Lee describes the war bride:

The most publicized case of "getting married quick” was of the ex-soldier who enplaned to China, selected his bride, was married, and landed at the San Francisco airport the evening before his month’s leave of absence expired. His bride came later, a practice applying to many others whose admission papers could not be processed rapidly.

Whereas during the 1930’s an average of only 60 Chinese women entered the United States each year, in 1948 alone 3,317 women immigrated. During the period from 1944 to 1953, women constituted 82 percent of Chinese immigrants to America. For the first time, the number of Chinese women and families in the United States noticeably increased. The male-female ratio dropped from 2.9:1 in 1940 to 1.8:1 in 1950, and 1.3:1 in 1960.

Post-1965 Immigration

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the consequent influx of new Chinese immigrants contributed to the transformation of Chinese American society. The act abolished the 1924 quota system and set up three immigration principles of family reunification, the need for skilled workers, and the admission of refugees. According to these principles, the visas were allocated among quota immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere according to seven preferences:

  • 20 percent of total annual visas to unmarried children of citizens of the United States 
  • 20 percent to spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents 
  • 10 percent to professionals, scientists, and artists with "exceptional ability” 
  • 10 percent to married children of citizens of the United States 
  • 24 percent to siblings of citizens of the United States 
  • 10 percent to skilled and unskilled workers in occupations "for which a shortage of employable and willing persons exists in the United States” 
  • 6 percent to refugees 

The architects of the 1965 act intended to make the immigration policies appear more humanitarian and impartial to applicants on one hand and more beneficial to the United States on the other. The new law allowed 20,000 quota immigrants from every country in the Eastern Hemisphere to be admitted to the United States each year, regardless of the size of the country. It reserved 74 percent (including 20 percent in the first preference, another 20 percent in the second preference, 10 percent in the fourth preference, and 24 percent in the fifth preference) of the total 170,000 visas annually allotted for the Eastern Hemisphere for family reunification.

Immigration from China, 1850-2008

Immigration from China, 1850-2008

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008. Figures include only immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status. Immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan are not included in these figures.

The lawmakers anticipated that European immigrants would continue to be the cohort of new immigrants, since there was a very small percentage (0.5 percent of the total U.S. population during the 1960’s) of Asian Americans in the country. Two occupational preferences (preferences three and six) allowed the U.S. immigration authorities and the Department of Labor to select carefully only applicants with special training and skills who would fill the vacuum in the American job market. In the years following this act, the Chinese American population increased dramatically. In addition, the male-female ratio finally approached parity.

Changing Push-Pull Factors

The majority of new immigrants came to the United States for economic reasons. The influx of Chinese refugees from Vietnam since 1975 were lured by economic opportunities in America. In addition to laboring immigrants, a large number of professionals (the better-educated and the wealthier from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia) also arrived since 1965. These new immigrants benefited from the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which gave priority to refugees, to those who had close family members in the United States, and to applicants who had skills, education, and capital.

After the normalization of Sino-American relations in 1979, some Chinese who had family members in the United States were allowed to come to America as immigrants. Since many of them came for economic reasons and were determined to settle, they brought their families as allowed by U.S. immigration policies. Some resigned their professional jobs in China and started from scratch in the United States.

As of 2008, at least twenty-four national-origin groups had been officially tabulated into the U.S. Census. Americans of Chinese and Filipino ancestries are the largest subgroups, at more than 2 million each, followed by Indians, Koreans, Vietnamese, and Japanese, whose numbers surpass 1 million each. The nearly 2.9 million Chinese Americans tend to settle in urban areas and concentrate in the West. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, California by itself accounted for 35 percent of the 4.3 million people of Asian descent living in the United States and also had the largest number of Chinese. The state of New York accounted for 10 percent (1.2 million) of all Asians, second only to California. Chinese were also heavily concentrated in New York.

Huping Ling

Further Reading

  • Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans: An Interpretive History. Boston: Twayne, 1991. A scholarly, comprehensive survey of Americans of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and Asian Indian ancestry fromthe mid-nineteenth century to the 1980’s. 
  • Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking Press, 2003. A comprehensive account of the political, social, economic, and cultural history of Chinese Americans over a century and a half. 
  • Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850. Seattle: University of Washington, 1988. Scholarly synthesis encompassing the two pioneer Asian American groups, the Chinese and the Japanese, from 1850 to 1980. 
  • Ling, Huping. Chinese St. Louis: From Enclave to Cultural Community. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004. The first comprehensive study of an ethnic community in the Midwest, this groundbreaking work proposes a "cultural community” model to interpret the new type of ethnic community that is defined more by its cultural boundaries than by geographical ones. 
  • _______. Surviving on the Gold Mountain: Chinese American Women and Their Lives. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. The first comprehensive history of Chinese American women from the mid-nineteenth century to 1990’s. Explores topics such as causes of immigration, settlement patterns, family, work, and community. 

See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Bayard-Zhang Treaty of 1888; Burlingame Treaty of 1868; Cable Act of 1922; California gold rush; Chinese American press; Chinese boycott of 1905; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese family associations; Coolies; Geary Act of 1892; Hong Kong immigrants; Taiwanese immigrants.

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Chinese laundries

Chinese laundries developed as a major occupation for the first wave of Chinese immigrants who came to the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. Laundries opened throughout the country and became uniquely identified with this ethnic group.

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Chinese secret societies

The secret societies founded in China several centuries ago to combat unjust rulers often turned to criminality. During the mid-nineteenth century, following the discovery of gold in California, many members of these societies emigrated to the United States.

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Chinese Six Companies

Begun to promote community cooperation and to protect ethnic identity in the face of discrimination and violence against first-generation Chinese immigrants in the Chinatown district of San Francisco, the Chinese Six Companies quickly grew into a powerful national organization that worked to defend the civil and political rights of Chinese Americans in the face of increasingly anti-Chinese federal legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress between 1880 and 1920.

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Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992

The passage of this law indicated that U.S. immigration policies could be influenced by domestic political developments of other countries.


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Chy Lung v. Freeman

Based on principles of federalism, the Chy Lung decision put limitations on the extent to which the states might restrict the admission of persons into the country.


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Citizens Committee to Repeal Chinese Exclusion

Made up of a relatively small group of notable public figures, this ad hoc organization successfully leveraged its influence to persuade other organizations and members of the public to lobby Congress for the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

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Chinese coolies came to the United States both as free immigrants looking for work and as contract workers hired to build America’s first transcontinental railroad.

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Fong Yue Ting v. United States

Upholding the constitutionality of the Geary Act of 1892, the controversial Fong Yue Ting decision recognized that the U.S. Congress had almost unlimited discretion to establish all aspects of the nation’s immigration policy, including the rules and procedures for alien registration and deportation.

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Foreign miner taxes

In the absence of federal laws that discriminated against immigrants, the state of California sought to favor immigrants of European origin by enacting special taxes that targeted the state’s Mexican and Chinese miners.

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Geary Act of 1892

Enacted to reinforce and extend provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Geary Act prevented further immigration from China and required established Chinese residents of the United States to carry certificates of residence.

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GOLDEN VENTURE groundingThe Golden Venture incident raised public awareness of the fact that during the 1990’s thousands of Chinese immigrants were entering the United States without legal documentation.

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Gospel Society

Founded in San Francisco by Japanese Christian students, the Gospel Society was the first immigrant association established by Japanese in the United States. The organization played an integral part in helping many new Japanese immigrants adjust to life in America while pursuing their studies.

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Gresham-Yang Treaty of 1894

The Gresham-Yang Treaty did away with the terms of the Scott Act of 1888 and placed exclusion and registration laws passed since 1882 on a proper treaty basis.

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Hong Kong immigrants

Hong Kong immigrantsImmigrants fromthe Chinese port city of Hong Kong have differed from earlier Chinese immigrants in a variety of distinctive ways. Their arrival in the United States has drastically transformed the nature of Chinese American communities.

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The workers sent to Hawaii by the imingaisha began an era of organized Japanese economic emigration that reversed imperial Japan’s long-standing restrictions on population movement outside the country and marked the beginning of the Japanese community in the United States.

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Immigration Act of 1943

Immigration Act of 1943At the height of World War II, when the United States needed to promote goodwill with China, Congress repealed an 1882 federal immigration statute restricting all Chinese from entering the country and considerably eased the process of naturalization for those Chinese already residing in America.

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Immigration Convention of 1886

As a landmark agreement between two sovereign nations designed to protect the human rights of Japanese immigrants relocating to the kingdom of Hawaii, the Immigration Convention reflected less a lofty humanitarian imperative than a pragmatic economic necessity. . .

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In re Tiburcio Parrott

In the Parrott ruling, a U.S. district court in California prohibited the application of a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited the employment of Chinese persons in the state.

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During the mid-nineteenth century, after more than two centuries as a closed nation, Japan began permitting emigration to the United States.

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