Chinese Exclusion Acts

Chinese exclusion

Chinese exclusion, policy of prohibiting immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States; initiated in 1882. From the time of the U.S. acquisition of California (1848) there had been a large influx of Chinese laborers to the Pacific coast. They were encouraged to emigrate because of the need for cheap labor, and were employed largely in the building of transcontinental railroads. By 1867 there were some 50,000 Chinese in California, most of them manual laborers. Their numbers continued to increase after the conclusion in 1868 of the Burlingame Treaty with China, which guaranteed the right of Chinese immigration; it did not, however, grant the right of naturalization. In the following decades a great deal of anti-Chinese sentiment arose in California, partly because the growing American labor force had to compete with cheap Chinese labor and partly because many Americans were opposed to further immigration by what they considered to be an inferior people. In 1877 anti-Chinese riots occurred in San Francisco, and in the three decades that followed further riots, roundups, and violent expulsions of Chinese immigrants occurred in communities throughout the West.

Legislative efforts were made to ban Chinese immigration, and in 1879 Congress passed a bill to that effect. It was vetoed, however, by President Hayes on the grounds that it violated the Burlingame Treaty. In 1880 a new treaty with China was concluded; it allowed the United States to regulate, limit, or suspend the entry of Chinese labor, but not to prohibit it. In 1882, however, the Chinese Exclusion Act banned immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years. As was the case with previous discriminatory acts, this legislation was met by protests from Chinese residents, and for the next decade more than 7,000 lawsuits were filed, the majority of which were won by the Chinese litigants. Some of the later acts (1888 and 1892, which required that Chinese immigrants carry an identity card or face deportation) were flat violations of the 1880 treaty. A new treaty was signed in 1894 by which China agreed to the exclusion of Chinese laborers for 10 years. When that period expired, Congress continued the exclusion unilaterally until the immigration law of 1924 excluded, in effect, all Asians. In 1943 the acts were repealed when a law was signed setting an annual immigration quota of 105 and extending citizenship privileges to Chinese immigrants. The quota was abolished in 1965.

See R. D. McKenzie, Oriental Exclusion (1928); S. C. Miller, The Unwelcome Immigrant (1969); B. L. Sung, The Story of the Chinese in America (1971); J. Pfaelzer, Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans (2007).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943
Erika Lee.
University of North Carolina Press, 2003
Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act
Andrew Gyory.
University of North Carolina Press, 1998
Entry Denied: Exclusion and the Chinese Community in America, 1882-1943
Sucheng Chan.
Temple University Press, 1991
Chinese American Transnationalism: The Flow of People, Resources, and Ideas between China and America during the Exclusion Era
Sucheng Chan.
Temple University Press, 2006
Collisions at the Intersection of Gender, Race, and Class: Enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Laws
Calavita, Kitty.
Law & Society Review, Vol. 40, No. 2, June 2006
Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identities during the Exclusion Era
K. Scott Wong; Sucheng Chan.
Temple University Press, 1998
The Sino-American Alliance during World War II and the Lifting of the Chinese Exclusion Acts
Ma, Xiaohua.
American Studies International, Vol. 38, No. 2, June 2000
Laws Harsh as Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law
Lucy E. Salyer.
University of North Carolina Press, 1995
Asian Americans and Congress: A Documentary History
Hyung-Chan Kim.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "The Chinese Exclusion Laws: Congress and the Politics of Unbridled Passion"
The Columbia Guide to Asian American History
Gary Y. Okihiro.
Columbia University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Anti-Chinese Movement"
A Legal History of Asian Americans, 1790-1990
Hyung-Chan Kim.
Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "The Regulation Period (1882-1920)" and Chap. 6 "The Restriction and Exclusion Period (1921-1952)"
Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America
Daniel J. Tichenor.
Princeton University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Four "Chinese Exclusion and Precocious State-Building in the Nineteenth-Century American Polity"
Making and Remaking Asian America through Immigration Policy, 1850-1990
Bill Ong Hing.
Stanford University Press, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. One "Two Contrasting Schemes: Understanding Immigration Policies Affecting Asians before and after 1965" and Chap. Two "The Communities' Responses: Asian America prior to 1965"
Asian Americans and the Supreme Court: A Documentary History
Hyung-Chan Kim.
Greenwood Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Deportation and Expulsion"
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