Chinese Immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Acts

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Throughout the mid-to-late 1800’s, Chinese workers initially migrated to America for work in the gold mines, but eventually expanded to working agricultural jobs, factory jobs (especially in the garment industry), along with building railroads in the American west. Just like the millions of of the European workers who immigrated to America, these Chinese immigrants sought a more stable life by pursuing the opportunities that America promised. But the Chinese “American Dream” carried dark consequences. As the number of Chinese laborers increased, so did the fury and strength of anti-Chinese sentiment among non-Chinese workers in the American economy.

American aggression toward Chinese immigrants arose from economic and cultural tensions, along with ethnic discrimination. Non-Chinese laborers often required much higher wages to support their families in the United States than that of Chinese immigrants – who would work for lower wages because of their financial debt situation. These non-Chinese workers began to resent Chinese workers because they felt that they were getting “squeezed” out of their jobs. As Chinese moved in their own neighborhoods, accounts surfaced about how these “Chinatowns” were places where large numbers of Chinese men assembled to solicit prostitutes, smoke opium, or gamble. Non-Chinese Americans advocated that admitting large numbers of Chinese immigrants into the U.S. lowered the cultural and moral standards of American society.

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, in an attempt to suppress the indignations that the American workers were voicing. The Act put on hold the immigration of Chinese laborers (skilled or unskilled) for a period of 10 years. The Act mandated that all Chinese traveling in or out of the U.S. must carry a certificate identifying their business in America (i.e., laborer, diplomat, scholar, or merchant).

This was this first time in America’s history that such broad restrictions were placed on immigration. Following the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 along with the addition of several harsher acts to follow, the affects on the Chinese were obviously apparent. All existing Chinese communities were severely restricted – they could not expand, thus limiting their ability to assimilate. Chinese experienced relentless discrimination from fellow residents while many were indiscriminately beaten due to their race.

The political landscape of the 1880’s is curiously similar to today’s anti-immigrant hysteria. Trump began his presidential campaign by saying that Mexico was sending rapists, drug dealers and criminals to the U.S. Other conservative political figures have raised the old criticism that certain immigrants are unassimilable along with other factless claims that immigrants are “stealing our jobs”. Eerie similarities exist between Trump’s Travel Ban (which bars people largely from Muslim countries from entering the U.S.) and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Isn’t it amazing how history seems to repeat itself – especially in the land of the free.


Cite this paper

Chinese Immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Acts. (2021, Mar 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/chinese-immigration-and-the-chinese-exclusion-acts/

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