Immigration of the Eastern Dragons

Research Paper
Immigration of the Eastern Dragons

Kok, Steven

B. Elkington
English 201

Immigration of the Eastern Dragons
The latter half of the nineteenth century was an important period in Chinese American history. The story of their migration from their homeland to America to seek riches with their combined strength, knowledge and skills changed the face of Hawaii and the American West. Unfortunately, this dynamic period also saw the rise of racism and paranoia over Chinese competition for jobs. Chinese immigration to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century was only a part of a greater exodus from Southeastern China. By this period in China, the Manchu dynasty was on the decline. Corruption and oppression were on the rise. The taxes of land rights increased causing grief and discontent among the population. While internally the lands of the eastern dragons were faced with problems, external forces also provided the same level of disturbance to the stability of this falling power. The first and second Opium war broke out which was caused by the reluctance to support opium trade by Chinese officials and the foreign powers desired to control trade ports in Guangzhou. At this time, western European countries entered the industrial age and cheap labor was needed to develop their colonies as sources of raw materials. Thus, with economic problems in China and a great need for labor abroad, about two and a half million Chinese emigrated overseas. There are five major factors that contributed to a prosperous Chinese American society in comparison to the early Chinese immigrants.
The first major factor that brings about the eventual prosperous Chinese American society is the beginning of the anti-Chinese movement during the 1850s. Chinese labor was most prevalent in work requiring physical labor and skills, so the work could be completed in a short time. These were generally menial and unpleasant occupations such as gold miners, quicksilver miners, railroad workers, farmers, fishermen and factory workers. However, the first racial discrimination against the Chinese occurred during the Gold Rush era in California, and California Governor Bigler advised the legislature suggesting “…measures must be adopted to check this tide of Asiatic immigration and prevent the exportation by them of the precious metals, which they dig up from our soil without charge” (Chen 26). As a result of it, new laws were formed, such as the Scott Act, the Abortive Treaty of 1888 and the review of the 1850 Foreign Miner’s License Tax Law, mostly aimed at harassing and depriving the Chinese of their livelihood. Nevertheless, according to Lai in his book, The Chinese of America 1785-1980, Chinese fought back to protect their people by forming groups or associations. For example, as early as the 1850s, a merchant group was established in San Francisco to deal with unlawful practices against Chinese merchants. Also, there were various occupational groups such as jewelers, cooks, barbers, lottery operators and other similar organizations to protect the economic interest of the membership (Lai 44).
In 1882, the Exclusion Act bill was passed which barred Chinese labors from immigrating for ten years. This law marked the end of a non-restrictive and free immigration policy by the United States Government, and numerous riots occurred throughout the West: “the worst violence against the Chinese during the 1880s was the massacre in a coal mining community which ended only after Chinatown had been burned and at least 28 Chinese workers had been killed”(Hoexter 121). As a result, Chinese left many rural areas for the larger cities and towns where they could afford some protection. Fortunately, throughout these troubled times the Chinese in America had staunch friends, such as Erskine Ross, who later became a federal judge and exhibited superb courage during the anti-Chinese riots in Los Angeles in 1871. His cousin W.A. Thom, Jr. tells the story; “…a mob of Americans was in possession, destroying and killing when suddenly Erskine Ross stood alone before them eyes blazing, jaw set and revolver in hand; there were no more murders that night. Ross’s determination drew kindred spirits to him and the mob dispersed” (S.W. Kung 88). There were others like Reverend Johnson of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of San Francisco, actively involved in opposing the exclusion laws. Also, Senator Charles Summer of Massachusetts and Lyman Trumbull of Illinois worked