American Legal History

The Chinese Exclusionary Act and its Effect

In the late 19th century, the face representing the visage of illegal and unwanted immigration was distinctly Chinese. The government’s stance towards Chinese immigration was initially favorable with the ratification of the Burlingame Treaty that gave the immigrants the inalienable right to change their home and allegiance. However, the United States government eventually used various federal policies to severely restrain immigrants of Chinese descent from immigrating to the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (Act of May 6, 1882, ch. 126, 22 Stat. 58) was the product of decades of progressively increased racism and hostility towards the Chinese that began during the initial migration of many Chinese Immigrants during the gold run of the mid 1800’s. The U.S. anti-Chinese laws were not the only anti-Chinese legislation in the world, Australia and Canada also had such legislation. Although the act was initially only intended to last ten years, it was eventually extended and given permanent applicability during the start of the twentieth century. The exclusion would impact Chinese immigration to the United States all the way up until the middle of World War II, when the status of China as an important ally for the United States in the Pacific Theater made such a policy untenable.

Chinese immigrants came to America in large waves during the 1848 Gold Rush in California and also in the 1860s when the need for labor was prevalent in efforts to build the transcontinental railroad.The Gold Rush that occurred in California happened during a time where many parts of China were mired in poverty. An estimated fifty four men of Chinese descent residing in California during the beginning of 1849; this number would swell to an estimated 116,000 Chinese just 27 years later. An estimated 123,000 Chinese would follow this initial wave of immigration in the 1870s, thus creating a large contingent of Chinese laborers by the inception of the Exclusionary act.

This language sounds stilted, having been copied from somewhere. It is cliché and abnormal style for you (why would you say of someone that he is "mired in poverty"?), but not actually literate ("The Gold Rush that occurred in California happened during a time where....") This isn't language you wrote to convey information you had synthesized from reading; this is language copied and pasted, in a wordy and occasionally ungrammatical pastiche, from secondary sources you link to. There's no academic offense under commission, but it's low quality work.

At first, when the gold and work was plentiful, the Chinese migrants were well tolerated and even praised. A San Franciscan paper at the time, the Alta California, would praise the Chinese laborers for traits such as “cleanliness, un obtrusiveness, and industry.”

Of what is one such condescending reference in a newspaper column evidence? If you wanted to show a change of the climate of opinion, you need more. And why should these documents, which are difficult to find, not be scanned and put at the reader's disposal? You link to pages of secondary sources cribbed from the online libraries, but you don't provide access to primary sources, which is the point of the exercise.

As competition increased however, animosity toward the Chinese on the part of natives increased. The racial tensions increased as more and more Chinese emigrated, occupied jobs, and created competition on the job market. Almost immediately after the Burlingame Treaty, there was political will to have legislation that would restrict Chinese Immigration. By 1882 the tension spilled over in the form of the Chinese Exclusion Act. It was the first American immigration law that excluded an entire immigrant group solely based on race or nationality. The nativism and hostility towards immigrant labor by American workers began in its inception as taxes and laws that inhibited Chinese success, and then culminated in restriction of immigration itself by the Exclusion act of 1882. In the media, Chinese immigrants were often depicted as subhuman, wily creatures, whose growing hoarders gave them a monopoly over certain businesses and willingness to work for low wages put white workers out of their jobs. Senator John Miller would go on to describe Chinese workers as "herding together like beasts in places where white men could not live; they clothe themselves in the cheapest raiment as they have always done in China, and subsist on cheap food imported for their use and the refuse of our markets." The attitude that the Chinese were unable to assimilate into American culture was bolstered by the hostility towards racial assimilation through interracial marriages as seen in this convention on Chinese exclusion called by the mayor of San Francisco at the time.

Here's an example of a random citation to a primary source. You show us the title page of a document, but you don't give any context or analysis. Straight from the Google search into the document, it seems, without benefit of anything further. This isn't the point of the exercise, either.

Although there was considerable resentment amongst the Chinese of this discrimination, for the most part they remained quiet. The ones that did speak up against the treatment often did so in a form of protest that emphasized their allegiance to the United States rather than their dissatisfaction with the exclusionary act’s discriminatory policy itself. In the Chinese Equal Rights League of the People’s Appeal to the Geary Registration Act of 1892, a group of 150 Chinese professionals cited that they paid their taxes and loved their government.

To illustrate some of the prevailing attitudes of the U.S. politicians that fueled the exclusion movement, we can consider the sentiments that Senator John Miller of California expressed when he posited that the choice was between exclusion or to "empty the teeming, seething slave pens of China upon the soil of California." During the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Senator Miller further elaborated on his analogy of the Chinese as a primitive people:

"One complete man, the product of free institutions and high civilization, is worth more to the world than hundreds of barbarians. Upon what other theory can we justify the almost complete extermination of the Indian, the original possessor of all these States? I believe that one such man as Newton, or Franklin, or Lincoln, glorifies the creator of the world and benefits mankind more than all the Chinese who have lived, struggled and died on the banks of the Hoang Ho." 13 Cong. Rec. 1,487

How does one quotation establish "some of the prevailing attitudes"?

The next significant legislation was the "Act to Prohibit the Coming of Chinese Persons into the United States" of May 1892 (27 Stat. 25), commonly known as the Geary Act. It allowed laborers to travel to and from China, but it created further restrictions on immigration such as the need for a certificate of reentry. This required Chinese to register and secure a certificate as proof of their right to be in the United States, thus closing the loophole that Chinese often used after the 1882 Act in which Chinese that were stopped before entry into the US claimed that they had previously resided in the US before November 17, 1880. By claiming previous residence in the US before November of 1880 under the express terms of the 1882 legislation which enacted agreements of the renegotiated Burlingame Treaty in 1880, Chinese laborers were able to circumvent the scope Exclusionary Act of 1882. Those immigrants who failed to have the required papers and/or witnesses were often subject to deportation or even imprisonment.

In 1888, Congress the Scott Act, declared that all persons of the Chinese race were prohibited from entering the United States unless they were of the exempt class with proper identification certificates (Act of September 13, 1888, ch. 1015, 25 Stat. 476) The Scott Act was significant because it prohibited the reentry of all Chinese laborers once they left the United States, regardless if they had a return certificate that was issued under the 1884 Act. Thus, the Scott Act had the effect of taking away the right of leaving and reentering the U.S. that resident Chinese laborers once had under the Burlingame Treaty.

These two paragraphs appear to be out of order, as well as being ungrammatical in spots. It's as though there had been no editing.

Along with this exclusion policy were the interrogation and screening policies of Angel Island. In these interrogations, officers often interrogated Chinese immigrant "sons"; of alleged "fathers"; that already resided in the U.S. The interrogations were often meticulously detailed, and designed to pinpoint any inconsistencies regarding the son's and fathers testimony regarding things like the lay out of their home town in China to what their house in China was made out of. In Yee Bing Quai's Interrogation, the questions ranged from what kind of feet his grandmother had (bound or unbound) to describing where his house was in the village.

This is neither an explanation of the "paper sons" situation, nor an analysis of documents. Here we have a sample of a primary source, which could have been introduced in a more complete editorial fashion if you actually found out anything about Yee Bing-Quai that wasn't apparent on the face of the interrogation record, which you barely discuss. (Nor is your discussion particularly analytically satisfying. US Consular officers in India today, reviewing visa applications in which applicants claim to have jobs in the US, often ask, for example, for photographs of the workplace, to document the worker's connection to the claimed employer. Does that show something different from the process followed in the case of Yee Bing-Quai? Or is this just how immigration bureaucracies in the US think?)

This US policy of exclusion did not abate until World War II, when China and the United States were allies in the war against the Japanese in the Pacific Theater, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the "Act to Repeal the Chinese Exclusion Acts, to Establish Quotas, and for Other Purposes" (57 Stat. 600-1). This Act would also lift the relevant restrictions on naturalization.

In the end, the exclusionary acts along with the anti-Chinese sentiment that pervaded throughout American society and politics contributed to the formation of the Chinatowns of today. Chinatowns were created out of necessity due to the language barriers that accompanied the legal barriers facing the Chinese immigrant community. These immigrants needed their own communities for a network of psychological support against the hostility, discrimination, and political exclusion that face them during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The enclaves were thus formed for both self protection and survival.

-- HoangTruong - 20 Jan 2010

This would be a minimally satisfactory introduction, if it were cleaned up and given the surface editorial attention it hasn't had. But the materials introduced should not be limited to snippets of secondary literature and one random primary source. A more balanced collection of documents that would be a starting-point for future research, and a concise bibliography of further reading would go far towards making the project shine.



Webs Webs

Attachments Attachments

  Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
pdf YeeBingQuaiInterrogationPage1.pdf props, move 5352.7 K 13 May 2010 - 02:54 HoangTruong Yee Bing Quai Interrogation Page 1
pdf YeeBingQuaiInterrogationPage13.pdf props, move 5711.3 K 13 May 2010 - 02:57 HoangTruong Yee Bing Quai Interrogation Page 6
pdf YeeBingQuaiInterrogationPage2.pdf props, move 6364.6 K 13 May 2010 - 02:56 HoangTruong Yee Bing Quai Interrogation Page 2
pdf YeeBingQuaiInterrogationPage3.pdf props, move 6652.7 K 13 May 2010 - 02:56 HoangTruong Yee Bing Quai Interrogation Page 3
pdf YeeBingQuaiInterrogationPage4.pdf props, move 5807.4 K 13 May 2010 - 02:56 HoangTruong Yee Bing Quai Interrogation Page 4
pdf YeeBingQuaiInterrogationPage5.pdf props, move 6354.2 K 13 May 2010 - 02:57 HoangTruong Yee Bing Quai Interrogation Page 5
pdf YeeBingQuaiInterrogationPage6.pdf props, move 6066.7 K 13 May 2010 - 03:12 HoangTruong  
pdf YeeBingQuaiVillageMap.pdf props, move 2224.1 K 13 May 2010 - 02:57 HoangTruong Yee Bing Quai Interrogation , Drawn Map
r4 - 07 Sep 2011 - 00:11:04 - IanSullivan
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