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History of Chinese Immigration

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Austin Ryu

Mr. Hood

AP US History/ A Set

11 December 2012

History of Chinese Immigration

“The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources--because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and people” (Lyndon B. Johnson). This means that the immigrants who come to America have changed the nation into what it is today. In the 1800s, China was torn by conflict, poverty, and famine due to the Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion. The Opium War started when the British sold the opium illegally for a higher price in China. When the British objected to the Chinese confiscating their opium supply, the British decided to use its military power to violently enforce redress. After the British defeated the Chinese and occupied Shanghai, the Opium war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking, which is considered to be an unequal treaty because Britain had no obligations in return, while the Chinese were forced to pay in silver, tea, porcelain. Hong Xiuquan, who proclaimed himself as the brother of Jesus Christ, led the Taiping Rebellion against the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty. However, The Qing government crushed the rebellion with the aid of French and British forces. As a result, 20 million people died, mainly civilians. These conflicts in southern China drove the Chinese to the states. Starting from the early 1800’s, Chinese immigrants made the difficult journey in the face of severe discrimination and economic hardship and transformed the US politically, socially, and culturally in positive ways.

In 1848, the discovery of gold in California attracted people from all over the world to America’s Pacific coast. Among them were many fortune-hungry Chinese who sailed into San Francisco in search of economic opportunities. They referred to San Francisco as Gim Saam, Gold Mountain, because of the wealth believed to exist there. When new California laws banned all Chinese from the gold fields, they stayed on to develop coastal fisheries and reclaim swamp land for farming. The Central Pacific hired Chinese workers, finding them successful in all phases of construction. The Chinese immigrants, almost 95% male, leveled roadbeds, bored tunnels, blasted mountainsides and laid track for the railroad’s completion. They agreed to lower-paying wages than other workers, and endured the rough and dangerous working conditions. Others would make food and perform menial services. They would set up makeshift restaurants, provided care for children, and laundered. Many Chinese bought their passage on credit to come to the states. In some cases, families pooled their money to send out a son. However, most travelers are desperately poor, so they obtained their passage through Chinese middlemen, who advance them to ship fare in return for the emigrants’ promise to work off their debt upon their arrival in the U.S. Many of the men sought sexual release in brothel houses. By 1870, 61% of all the Chinese women in California were prostitutes. Many of these women were lured to America under false pretenses or sold by their impoverished families. They had been deceived by the false promise of honest jobs. Even for a low grade prostitute, it was easy to make 850 dollars a year. Both the madam, a woman who runs the brothel and the pimp, an agent for prostitutes, earned profits from the prostitutes.

Since their arrival, Chinese immigrants became targets of a decade-long wave of violence and discrimination in the western world. The Naturalization Act of 1870 restricted all immigration into the U.S. to only "white persons and persons of African descent," which excludes the Chinese. The resentment against the Chinese increased from those who could not compete with them. Politicized by labor leader Denis Kearney, who was known for his nativist and racist views about Chinese immigrants, his Workingman's Party, and California Governor John Bigler, the anti-Chinese animosity had raised white awareness. The Workingman’s Party blamed Chinese laborers for its depressed wage levels. Their goal was to "rid the country of Chinese cheap labor." This sentiment had led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This act suspended further Chinese immigration and prevented the Chinese community from growing. American citizenship was denied to any Chinese immigrants already in the U.S. and the offenders were faced with imprisonment or deportation. Chinese immigrants formed their own organizations to keep businesses going. In 1892, the Geary Act was passed which extended the Chinese Exclusion Act with new demanding requirements. The new act states that the Chinese laborers travel are allowed to travel to China and reenter the United States, but all the Chinese immigrants were required to carry a resident permit. Also the Chinese immigrants were not allowed to bear witness in court and couldn’t receive bail in habeaus corpus proceedings. As a result, murders within the Chinese community were not taken seriously by the Americans. They also received punishments for not carrying the permits at all times. The punishment was a year of hard labor, followed by a deportation back to China.

As Chinese discrimination worsened during the 20th century, the Chinese decided to turn their problems to the Supreme Court. In 1905 the case United States v. Ju Toy established the Department of Commerce and Labor as the final level of appeal and due process for Chinese immigrants. Thereafter, they could appeal to Federal courts only on procedural grounds. As a result of this decision the number of Chinese immigration cases heard in Federal court diminished significantly. In 1906, a major earthquake struck San Francisco and the coast of Northern California. It also led to a devastating fire that broke out in the city, which lasted for several days. However besides the destruction of San Francisco, the earthquake and citywide fire also destroyed many immigration records. This gave a leeway for Chinese to bring others from China into US. With no records available, the Chinese already living in the U.S. could claim to have been born here, making themselves citizens. Also young Chinese males would appear claiming to be the sons of the Chinese citizens. This led to a widespread practice of claiming false "paper sons." In 1910-1940, Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay became the main "processing center" for incoming Asians, but it was a Chinese immigrant's worst nightmare. Chinese immigrants were detained and interrogated at the immigration center on the island. The majority Chinese were detained for months in a purgatory of isolation and suspense. In 1924, the Naturalization Act was passed which stated that only limited the number of immigrants were allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The purpose of this act was "to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity.”

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