Chinese Immigration into the United States:

From Railroad Worker to Businessman

Table of Contents

Body…………………………………………………………………………………………………..pages 3-7

Important Laws and Decisions………………………………………………pages 8-10

References………………………………………………………………………………………page 11

Immigration into the United States by persons from foreign nations is not as it used to be. The immigration system which exists today has evolved from many regulations, restrictions and quotas. The Chinese people came from their country in the mid 1860?s mostly as rail workers. Today most come as businessmen and students.

The first documented immigration of a Chinese person into the United States was in 1848. At the time there was a weak economy in China and that, coupled with news of the gold rush in California, brought the first wave of Chinese to the United States. Most came to Los Angeles and San Fransisco, where today two of the most famous China towns exist. It was not until 1864 that a steady flow of Chinese immigrants would come to U.S. shores.

The Central Pacific Railroad in 1864 went to the Chinese providence of Kwantung and recruited thousands of Chinese workers (M.C.A.H.LA: 4) Historian John Eldrige said ?Without the Chinese, there?s no way the railroad would have been built on time.? Working on the railroad was a hard and laborious job. The average Chinese laborer worked 6 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day, and was paid about $35.00 a month. Since the Chinese didn?t eat the meat and potatoes the other rail workers ate they had to have their vegetables

and fish special ordered. For that they would pay $1.00 a month (Portillo:176). They would only drink tea which was made with boiled water, this allowed them to stay healthy and unaffected by the dirty cold water that the other rail workers drank. On an average day the Chinese workers would lay, on flat ground, about a mile of track. Their best day was in Utah as they neared Promontory Point, on that day 10 miles of track was laid.

With all the influx of Chinese to the United States some people started to fear them. In October of 1871, a mob of about 500 locals murdered 19 Chinese in racial violence. This was labeled the Chinese Massacre and today it ?remains one of the most serious incident[s] of racial violence that has ever occurred in Los Angeles and the American West? (M.C.A.H.LA: 1) An economic recession blamed on the Chinese allowed for the start of many laws aimed specifically against the Chinese. The first of which was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Now, before this law, America had a treaty with China called the Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868 which stated, in a nutshell, that American and Chinese citizens traveling or moving from either country to the other should have the same rights and freedoms as the citizens of the country into which they are traveling or moving to. This treaty was forgotten and the Chinese

Exclusion act took over (There is a list of laws and court decisions affecting the Chinese, which the author has compiled, included in this report). The effects of the Exclusion Act are very noticeable as immigration of Chinese people into the United states dropped from 130,000 in the 1870?s to about 10,000 in the 1890?s as is seen on Fig. 1.

In 1910 Angel Island opened off the coast of San Fransisco to serve as a immigration station for the processing of all Asian persons seeking entrance into the United States. Angel island is to the west coast as Ellis Island is to the east coast. On the Island many barracks were built in which many ?immigrants were confined for a period from two weeks to as long as two years.? (Husing-Wong: 2) This station was in operation until the a fire in 1940 destroyed the administration building. The Chinese Exclusion act was repealed in 1943 as China became the Ally of the United States in World War II. At that time a quota system was established which allowed for the Chinese to enter the country based on a percentage of Chinese already living here.

Many Chinese Americans went to fight in World War II, and after the war was finished the Chinese population in the United states jumped because more Chinese women were allowed to enter the

country as a result of the War Brides Act of 1945 and the fiancees act of 1946. Many Chinese also benefited from the passage of the G.I. Bill because they could attend school and join other Americans in the main stream of the work force.

Today the Chinese are located in the states of California, New York, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, and Ohio. In fact, Monterey Park, California, in 1986 was recognized as the ?First Suburban China Town? by the Museum of Chinese American History in Los Angeles. (M.C.A.H.LA: 9) The Chinese population in the United States according to the 1990 Census was over 1.7 million (see fig. 4), but there are some disturbing facts however according to Cyverasia Inc. Today 60.4% of Chinese do not speak English very well, and 40.3% are linguistically isolated. Altogether, 69.3% of Chinese were foreign born. Before 1975, 18.5% of the Chinese were foreign born. Between 1975 to 1979, 11.4% were foreign born. From 1980 to 1990, 39.4% were foreign born (asiacentral: 1). In order for the new Chinese immigrants to assimilate into the United States they must learn English.

The Chinese culture has instilled in the Chinese a tremendous work ethic. This work ethic was so impressive that Governor Leland Stanford of California, left permanent jobs to over 100 Chinese

workers in his will. This is a significant area of their culture. An undoubtable contribution to our ?American Culture: has to be the Chinese cuisine. How many times have you heard someone say ?dinner at my place? I?ll order Chinese.?

Today immigration into the United States by Chinese persons has changed dramatically from the 1800?s . Most Chinese immigrants today are professionals and students who are coming to the United States to contribute what they have learned or to learn so that they can contribute to this Country and to the world.

Important Laws and Decisions in Chinese American History


People v. Hall rules that Chinese cannot give testimony in court.


California passes a police tax of $2.50 a month on every Chinese


Burlingame-Seward Treaty gives identical rights to U.S. and Chinese citizens migrating, traveling and living in both countries.


California passes a law against the importation of Chinese, Japanese, and ?Mongolian? woman for the purpose of prostitution.


treaty between U.S. and China allowing the U.S. to limit but ?not absolutely prohibit? Chinese immigration.


Chinese exclusion act extremely limits Chinese immigration into the U.S.


Yick Wo v. Hopkins is the first discrimination case in Chinese American history. The City of San Fransisco arrested and held Mr. Wo for violating a city ordinance pertaining to the operation of laundries in wooden buildings.


Scott Act made it unlawful for any Chinese laborer to leave the United States and return.


Geary Act extended the exclusion act and all laws prohibiting or regulating Chinese immigration for 10 years. Also required resident laborers to obtain a resident certificate.


United States v. Wong Kim Ark- Mr. Ark was an American born person of Chinese descent who left the country and was prohibited from reentering because he was Chinese. The supreme court ruled in his favor because it was proven that he was a citizen under the 14th amendment.


the Chinese exclusion act of 1882 was extended for another 10 years.


The Chinese exclusion act of 1882 was extended indefinitely.


The Chinese exclusion act was repealed and the quota system was established.


Passage of the War Brides act increases the number of Chinese woman


Passage of the Fiancees act increases the number of Chinese woman


Immigration act of 1965 increased the number of Asian immigrants to more than half of the total influx


Saal, Mark ?The Forgotten no more.?, 1996. Ogden Standard-Examiner: May 10, 1

?Chinese American Demographics?, 1997. Cyversia, Inc.

?Welcome to Chinese American History?


?Chinese Americans in Los Angeles: A brief History and Timeline?, 1997-1998. Museum of Chinese American History in Los Angeles.

Husing, Alicia and Wong, Mel ?A Historical Perspective Of Chinese?, 1997

Barken, Elliot R. ?immigration?, 1991. World Book Encyclopedia I: (Vol. 10) 81-87

Dernberger, Robert F., Diamond, Norma, et al ?china?, 1991. World Book Encyclopedia C-Ch: (vol. 3) 474-507