Brief History of Chinese American Immigration

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  • Topic: Chinese American, United States, Chinese Exclusion Act
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Brief History of Chinese American Immigration
      Majority of the Chinese immigrants were farmers, peasants, or craftmen. As a result of the Opium War between Britain and China; China suffered greatly economically due to Britain defeating China. Subsequently, the defeat brought forth not only political unrest, but also, internal rebellions. Chinese immigrants hand come to learn of America’s gold rush. Many dreamed of being able to quickly gain wealth in an effort to support their poor families back in China.

The first immigrants who began arriving from China in 1848 were males. For quite some time very few Chinese women came to the United States due to the fact the Chinese women where physically unable to do the same work as men. As a result of the lack of women prostitution became part of norm for many Chinese men. Well over 90 percent of the immigrants f that era were not only from Canton in South China but from a very few counties centered on the Pearl River Delta there. (Daniels 241) They spoke the language of Cantonese and journeyed to the United States by boat. Most Chinese were “sojourners” (Takaki 129), only intended to stay for a temporary period; in the end, however, many did stay for the rest of their lives. (M4.W3.2205.W2013 77) Every Chinese who came to the United States arrived at Angel Island located in San Franscio, California.


By 1868 the Burlingame Treaty was signed. This treaty between China, Britain and the United States entailed that neither nation state would place an cap one the number of immigrates entering its boarders. Each nation would be completely open and cooperative with an unlimited immigration from the other country. In addition, the treaty captioned that each nations citizens would be able to travel into and reside freely without problems. The treaty also maintained the United States would not concern itself with internal Chinese affairs. It’s through this treaty the influx of Chinese immigrants came to an all time high. Through the treaty the United States received a very inexpensive labor source.  


Because all Chinese immigrants arrived in San Francisco they made the city home away from home and as a result created the United States first Chinatown. Chinatown was a sector in the city of San Francisco in which the vast majority of Chinese lived. Chinatown in San Francisco retained much of the Chinese culture in China. They were overcrowded slum areas, but as such were not too different from other immigrant enclaves except that the well-to-do urban Chinese lived there too. (Daniels 242) The Chinatown bestowed many shops, organizations, and social entertainment in which the Chinese were accustom to. Chinatown was a place in which many Chinese found not only familiar, but also safe.


 In 1848 the gold rush began when gold was found at John Sutter’s sawmill located in what is now California. The gold rush drew in many people from all over the globe, but it also drew in Chinese as well. Motivated with thoughts of being able to build wealth quickly and the ability to support their families in China, Chinese immigration was the new found hope for many Chinese seeking a better life. Because of the gold rush, by 1850, “32 percent of the population of California was foreign-born,” compared to about 10% for the rest of the nation (M4.W3.2205.W2013 73)

 After 1849, Chinese began by working the gold mines of California, later moving to service work (laundries, most notably), but Chinese immigrants also helped build the railroads, most importantly they were integral in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad (completed in 1869). (M4.W3.2205.W2013 56) Chinese laborers could assist with bridging San Francisco to all of the Atlantic states. By doing so policymaker Aaron H. Palmer felt this in turn would take the commerce of the Pacific to another level.  

Chinese immigrants suffered immensely at the hands of...
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