“Throwing Down the Ladder by Which They Rose,” (cartoon by Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly, July 23, 1870).
With the protests going on about racism towards Asian-Americans it is time to remember a very important act that racially suppressed Asians, to be more specific Chinese people. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was written due to many different factors that are discussed within this article.
The Act itself stated that from 1882 until 1943 when the act was repealed, no person of Chinese descent or nationality was able to migrate within the United States. You would think that some of the factors have logic behind them, but most of them are just with racial intent as Chinese or even Asian people were only a part of the various cultures and races that immigrated to the United States during the 19th century.
Immigration in America
At the start of the 19th century, America was already seen as the dreamland for anyone looking to migrate to a new place. As the United States’ population was still quite low they were welcoming migrants all over the world with open arms.
The first records of large groups of Asians migrating to America were in 1848 when gold was discovered in the Sacramento Valley of California. This made many people migrate just to join the California Gold Rush. Although there was enough gold to go around for everyone, the Americans started to have some hate towards the Asian migrants that were in some cases profiting more off the Gold Rush.
Hunger forced the Chinese to immigrate
Do not imagine that most Chinese people who migrated to the United States during the 19th century did it for Gold. Due to the Opium Wars between England and China (1839- 1842) and (1856- 1860) China became a very poor country with agriculture (what held the economy of the country in place) collapsing due to these wars. This lead to national hunger and people forced to migrate in order to find work.
The bad relationship between China and England at the time also made the Americans a bit skeptical although at the end of the day the Chinese lost the Opium Wars. The trades within Hong Kong, very popular for trade at that time ended up being control by Great Britain.
In 1852, China also suffered a huge crop failure. This took place between the Opium Wars and knowing that a new war would break out soon over 20,000 Chinese immigrants went to San Fransisco looking for any sort of work.
Original Foreign Miner’s License/Tax from 1867
Most of them ended up working in coal mines and as the American workers weren’t happy that foreigners were “taking their jobs” the racist government imposed a $3 (with inflation that would be today almost $200) foreign miners tax that had to be paid each month, only by foreigners. It, later on, increased to $4.
Having their human rights taken away
By 1870, the State of California itself made over five million dollars (with inflation that would be13 billion dollars today) from Foreign Miners Tax. Not even to mention the unequal working conditions, always pushed to do the riskier jobs and discrimination they had to endure at the workplace.
Chinese Miners at Gam Saam (Gold Mountain) in California 1852 (Source: California State Library)
The worst of them all was that they had some of their human rights taken away and in some cases were treated just like African American or Native America slaves. One of the most important things that was taken away from them was the right to testify in court, making it impossible for any Chinese immigrant to seek justice in court against how they were treated at the workplace.
Even with all of this imposed on the Chinese immigrants they still didn’t have a choice as returning to China would mean returning to hunger and eventually starvation.
Introducing the Chinese Exclusion Act
By 1880, the influx of Chinese immigrants was becoming a big issue for the United States. Riots and protests all around America were taking place because unemployment was on the rise and the only people to blame was the Chinese immigrants. The government was asked to do something in order to maintain “white racial purity” within the country, although the Chinese immigrants made only .002% of the whole population in the United States.
This was seen as the last straw and therefore On the 6th of May, 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed by President Chester A. Arthur which suspended any Chinese immigrants from entering the United States for the next 10 years.
The first page of the Chinese Exclusion Act from 1882 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
With this act, the level of Chinese immigrants drastically dropped, however a congressman by the name of Thomas Geary was worried that once the act expired the Chinese immigrant population will once again rise within the U.S. Therefore he proposed the Geary Act which was signed on the 5th of May 1892 extending the previous act for another 10 years.
Besides the extension, this new act also implied that Chinese immigrants already within the United Stated had to have special documentation with them at all times. Those who were caught without documentation were deported.
After 10 more years in 1902 Chinese immigration was made permanently illegal by the U.S. government. This lead to even more discrimination towards the existing Chinese population within America, some were even pushed to the point of being forcefully deported for no legal reason.
61 years of hate find their end
It was only on December 17th, 1943 with the Magnuson Act that the Chinese were allowed to immigrate to the United States. For 61 years Chinese immigrants were not allowed entrance within the United States!
The Magnuson Act was signed in order to improve relations with China during the Second World War as both nations shared the same enemy (Japan). The act also allowed Chinese immigrants who were already settled within America to apply for citizenship.
Sadly, in the present scenery, we see that this hate towards not only Chinese but Asian minorities, in general, keeps persisting in America as Americans value their own more than citizens that come from an Asian background or even immigrants that are only in the look for a safe home and a job to feed their family.
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