Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Chinese-Americans in the U.S., 1848-1979

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

Chinese-Americans in the U.S., 1848-1979

Article excerpt


Attracted by gold rush, many immigrants from China began to enter the U.S to seek fortune in 1848. However, they received miserable treatment and experienced deep prejudices from native-born American whites. The anti-Chinese sentiment among the whites reached climax when the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted in 1882. Further Chinese immigration was thus barred. In order to shun from outside hostility, the Chinese retreated to inner-city regions and developed the Chinatowns. Like most immigrants, Chinese-American parents also faced the problem of educating their children and helping them to adjust to the new culture while still keeping them clinging to their traditional Chinese culture. But the young generation was different from their parental generation. They wanted to get integrated into the host society and were more inclined to have their voices heard. In the 1970s, they launched the Yellow Power Movement to fight for equal rights.

Key words: Immigrant; Anti-Chinese; Chinatown; Yellow power


In 1848, tidings that gold was discovered in California spread quickly and prospectors overseas began to flood to California. Many Chinese came to America, lured by good fortunes or "gold" out there. "As gold fever traveled eastward, overland migration to California skyrocketed, from 400 in 1848 to 44,000 in 1850.... The Chinese were the largest group to come from overseas." (Danzer, Klor de Alva, Krieger, Wilson & Woloch, 2003, p. 298299) Most of them were young, healthy, unmarried men who hoped to make money and then return to their native country; and they are called "birds of passage" (Danzer et al, 2003, p. 460) that only lived temporarily in America. Between 1850 and 1880, about 200,000 Chinese arrived in America; by 1870, 40,000 came to California and constituted about 1/4 of the state's labor force (Henretta, Brody, Dumenil & Ware, 2003; Jones, Wood, Borstelmann, May & Ruiz, 2003).


After the Burlingame Treaty was signed in 1868, the annual number of Chinese arrivals doubled and could reach as many as about 10,000, and the Treaty well served its purpose "which was to provide cheap labor for railroad construction crews" (Carnes & Garraty, 2006, p. 482). The Treaty formally established friendly ties between the U.S. and China, and at the same time China was granted most favored nation status. The Burlingame Treaty was supposed to provide "citizens of the United States in China of every religious persuasion and Chinese subjects in the United States shall enjoy entire liberty of conscience and shall be exempt from all disability or persecution on account of their religious faith or worship in either country" (Retrieved 15 July, 2012 from But the treaty did not stop discrimination against the Chinese.

Migrant Workers

"From 1850 to 1871, the federal government made huge grants to the railroads" (Danzer et al, 2003, p. 420). In the 1860s, the two railroad companies - Union Pacific and the Central Pacific - began a race against each other to construct rail tracks. Many Chinese were shipped to America by railroad agents who went to China to recruit laborers with the promise of good fortune in America. The Chinese laborers were mainly employed by Central Pacific Railroads. They slaved hard but were treated miserably. They worked far much longer but earned significantly less than whites, and they had to supply their own food while whites enjoyed free meals. The worst is that many laborers lost their lives and were found dead "clutching their shovels or picks" (Danzer et al, 2003, p. 443). In 1869, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads met in Utah, and Chinese immigrants helped complete America's first transcontinental railroad. Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific Railroad said, "Without them (Chinese workers), it would be impossible to complete the western portion of this great national highway" (Carnes & Garraty, 2006, p. …

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