The History of Chinese Americans
Chinese have been in the United States for almost two hundred years. In fact. the Chinese had business relations with Hawaii prior to relations with the mainland when Hawaii was not yet part of the United States.But United States investments controlled the capital of Hawaii at that time. In 1788,a ship sailed from Guangzhou to Hawaii. Most of the crewmen were Chinese. They were considered the pioneers of Hawaii. The Immigration Commission reported that the first Chinese arrived in the United States in 1820. eight in 1830 andseven hundred and eighty in 1850. The Chinese population gradually increased and reached 64,199 in 1870.
For many years it was common in the United States to associate Chinese Americans with restaurants and laundries. People did not realize that the Chinese had been driven into these occupations by the prejudice anddiscrimination that faced them in this country.
The First Chinese to reach the mainland United States came during the California Gold Rush of 1849. Like most of the other people there, they had come to search for gold. In that largely unoccupied land,the men staked a claim for themselves by placing markers in the ground. However. either because the Chinese were sodifferent from the others or because they worked so patiently that they sometimes succeeded in turning a seemingly worthless mining claim into a profitable one, they became che scapegoats of their envious competitors. They were harassed in many ways. Often they were prevented from working their claims; some localities even passed regulations forbidding them to own claims. The Chinese therefore started to seek out other ways of earning a living. Some of them began to do che laundry for the white miners; others set up small restaurants. (There were almost no women in California in those days,and the Chinese filled a real need by doing this“woman's work”.) Some went to work as farmhands or as fishermen.
In the early 1860's many more Chincse arrived in California.This time the men were imported as work crews to construct the first transcontinental railroad.They were sorely needed because the work was so strenuousand dangerous, and it was carried on in such a remote part of the country that the railroad company could not find other laborers for the job. As in the case of their predecessors,these Chinese were almost all males; and like them, too, they encountered a great deal of prejudice. The hostility grew especially strong afrer the railroad project was complete, and the imported laborers returned to California-thousands of them, all out of work. Because there were so many more of them this time,these Chinese drew even more attention than the earlier group did. They were so very different in every respect: in their physical appearance,including a long“pigtail”at the back of their otherwise shaved heads; in the strange, non-Western clothes they wore; in their speech (few had learned English since they planned to go back to China); and in their religion. They were contemptuously called “heathen Chinese” because there were many sacred images in their houses of worship.
When times were hard. they were blamed for working for lower wages and taking jobs away from white men. who were in many cases recent immigrants themselves. Anti-Chinese riots broke out in several cities. culminating in arson and bloodshed. Chinese were barred from using the courts and also from becoming American citizens. Californians began to demand that no more Chinese be permitted to enter their state. Finally. in 1882. they persuaded Congress to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act, which stopped the immigration of Chinese laborers. Many Chinese rerurned to their homeland, and their numbers declined sharply in the early part of this century. However. during the World War II,when China was an ally of the United States. the Exclusion laws were ended; a small number of Chinese were allowed to immigrate each year, and Chinese could become American citizens. In 1965, in a general revision of our immigration laws,may more Chinese were permitted to settle here,as discrimination against Asian immigration was abolished.