Academic journal article American Studies International

The Sino-American Alliance during World War II and the Lifting of the Chinese Exclusion Acts

Academic journal article American Studies International

The Sino-American Alliance during World War II and the Lifting of the Chinese Exclusion Acts

Article excerpt

Nearly sixty years ago, Henry R. Luce envisioned that the twentieth century was "America's first century as a dominant power in the world."(1) His famous vision of "The American Century" showed America's commitment to exert upon the whole world the full impact of American influence. At century's end, it seems appropriate to assess how the United States attempted to exert its influence, particularly to spread American-style freedom and democracy in its foreign policy and to evaluate its relations with East Asia, particularly with China over the last one hundred years. To begin thinking about America's engagement with China historically, World War II provided a special stage for an American image of an American-oriented China. Because of the war, the United States came to embrace a vision of a "strong" and "independent" China emerging in postwar Asia. How did this new vision emerge in the American imagination, and how did it affect America's East Asian policy?

This essay examines how the United States transformed its China policy to promote China as an "equal state" in international relations during World War II. In particular, it focuses on the repeal of racially discriminatory legislation against the Chinese in 1943. By examining the process of repeal, we can see that the abolition of the discriminatory laws against the Chinese not only marked a historic turning point in America's China policy in wartime, but also had a great impact on the transformation of America's East Asian policy in the postwar period.

Formation of Chinese Exclusion Policy

The first Asian immigrants to enter the United States were Chinese, lured to California by the Gold Rush of 1848. By 1850 there were over 20,000 Chinese immigrants in the United States, most of them in California. Railroad construction in the United States during the 1860s further accelerated the influx of Chinese laborers. There were 63,199 Chinese in the United States in 1870. Ten years later there were 105,465 Chinese in America, over ninety percent of who settled on the Pacific Coast.(2)

As the number of Chinese increased, however, Caucasian workers in California began to resent Chinese laborers. The Chinese were considered "culturally and racially inferior" and a threat to wage levels and working conditions. By the mid-1870s, the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the growth of the white labor force in the West, and the nationwide economic depression all encouraged white working men to turn against the Chinese. With the development of anti-Chinese sentiment in the Pacific states, especially in California, on May 6, 1882, the U.S. Congress enacted a bill prohibiting Chinese immigrants from entering the United States.(3)

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first racially restrictive immigration law in American history.(4) The emergence of this discriminatory legislation initiated a gradual process of immigration restriction based on race. The enactment of this legislation marked the end of the free immigration era in American history. This discriminatory law not only had long-term repercussions for America's relations with China, but also affected overall immigration policy and internal politics. On the other hand, it can also be considered as merely the first step in the growth of anti-Asiatic legislation. Following enactment of this law, Asian immigration became a constant target of American nativism and racism. Subsequently, the Immigration Act of 1924 stopped the flow of immigrants from Asia into the United States.

Emergence of the Sino-American Alliance

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked on Pearl Harbor. That sudden attack led directly to a reversal of America's anti-Chinese immigration policy. The day after the attack, the United States together with China declared war on Japan, and the two countries became allies immediately. The special wartime alliance between China and the United States initiated a far-reaching transformation in America's East Asian policy, especially its China policy. …

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