The Discords of the 1849 Chinese Immigrants in California

Pages: 17 (2842 words) Published: April 20, 2014

The Discords of the 1849 Chinese Immigrants in California

The California Gold Rush was one of most monumental events in the history of the United States. It was responsible for shaping the foundation of the modern class and social system while also creating the first big immigrant trend after the colonial period. The events which followed James W Marshall’s discovery of gold in Coloma, California during the year of 1848 were important not only because of the fact that it generated the expatriation of approximately 300,000 people (who were commonly referred to as the 49er’s to signify their arrival during 1849) to the state of California but also made San Francisco grow from a small settlement of around 200 people to a boomtown of about 36000 people by 1852 and the immigrants helped forge the modern American culture that is eminent today.1 The massive expansion of population in California also helped designate California as a state by transpiring the creation of the Compromise of 1850.2 One of the most important aspects of the Gold Rush was the immigration process and the benefits along with problems it brought. None of the development of the contemporary American culture along with the geography of the Western US could have developed to the place it is today without the colossal influx of immigrants from Asia, specifically China. While these immigrants initially planned to make their fortune in the United States and then travel back to their native country to spend their wealth, many of them were stranded in the United States because of the competitiveness of gold mining and therefore settled in California and pursued numerous careers. The Chinese were faced with stiff oppression in California because of the competitiveness of the jobs during the antebellum era and also due to the extremely different cultural traits that the two communities possessed. Eventually in 1882, President Chester Arthur prohibited the entry of any more Chinese immigrants and effectively closed the doors for any more Chinese emigrants by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act.3 Even though that the Chinese were met by stiff oppression in the 19th century in California, they managed to craft a unique community become successful by taking up jobs that Americans did not wish to do while living in extremely substandard circumstances.

An important aspect of the Chinese immigration trend in the 1800s was the way that the Chinese population viewed California and the opportunities that it provided. The Chinese immigrants did not solely choose to immigrate to the United States because of the financial prosperity that the democratic society offered, but also by the rising social and political tensions that China faced in the 1800s. The decline of imperial China caused the political structure of the government to reshape rapidly and resulted in violence and economic insecurity. The first and second opium wars devastated the people of the Qing Empire as China was regarded as an invincible power before it’s defeat. Because of the loss, many people looked to reform away from China’s traditionalist and anti-modern roots but were prosecuted by the Qing Empress, Cixi. Because of the Empress’s unwillingness to develop modern technologies and reform the Chinese’s tradition ways of life, the society atrophied during the 1800’s and was plagued by defeats with wars against other countries. The sense of nationalism faltered in China and thus many people determined to create better lives elsewhere. The news of gold in California presented a valuable opportunity for those struggling in China and is the reason why the overwhelming majority of the 1849 immigrants were Chinese. 4 The Chinese immigrants overwhelmingly chose California as their new home because of the economic opportunity that it presented itself as. However, the majority of the Chinese immigrants did not view California as a permanent home but rather as a short-term residence that would allow...

Henry Norton, The Museum of the City of San Francisco, “The Chinese”, Accessed December 24th, 2013
Library of Congress, "The Chinese In California: 1850-1925." Accessed December 24, 2013
Mohini Sridharan, Dartmouth College, “Prostitution in the Early Chinese Community”, Accessed Decemeber 23, 2013.
Out of Many, 5th Edition Volume 1, Faragher 2006
PBS, "Workers of the Central Pacific Railroad." Accessed December 24, 2013
W. J. Spillman (January 1904). "ADJUSTMENT OF THE TEXAS BOUNDARY IN 1850.". Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 7.
United States Office of the Historian, “Chinese Immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Acts”, Accessed December 24th, 2013.
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