Chinese American Transnationalism: The Flow of People, Resources, and Ideas between China and America during the Exclusion Era

By Sucheng Chan | Go to book overview

6
Republicanism, Confucianism,
Christianity, and Capitalism in
American Chinese Ideology

SHEHONG CHEN

THIS CHAPTER INVESTIGATES how Chinese immigrants in the United States (hereafter called American Chinese to differentiate them from U.S.-born Chinese Americans) envisioned a modern China and reacted to developments in their homeland during the first three decades of the twentieth century.1 In that period, educated Chinese debated about which model of political modernization China should adopt as it changed fundamentally from a monarchy to a republic. Chinese in the United States participated in these debates and contributed to the changes. What visions of a modern China did American Chinese come up with? What changes in China did they support or oppose? How did their experiences in the United States or their exposure to American values and ideologies affect their perspectives and actions?


U.S. IMMIGRATION LAWS, CHINA'S MODERNIZATION,
AND AMERICAN CHINESE VISIONS

Large-scale Chinese migration to the United States started at the end of the 1840s. Widespread economic dislocation, caused mainly by Western expansionism, pushed people out, while the discovery of gold in California lured them across the Pacific Ocean. Most Chinese who came to the United States in the nineteenth century were searching for economic betterment. The United States, which they called “Gold Mountain,” was especially attractive because going there offered a chance to get rich. The desire to get rich was an important way in which Chinese immigrant communities in the United States differed from traditional Chinese society, where merchants or businessmen had alow status and those who traded with foreigners were regarded as treacherous and deserving of heavy punishment. In contrast, in American Chinese communities, merchants were not only admired but also shared the highest social status with Confucian scholars.

Anti-Chinese immigration legislation and practices also helped shape the character of the American Chinese population, in which merchants

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