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Immigration Of The Eastern Dragons Essay, Research Paper

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 hard in Congress to remove discriminating legislation against the Chinese. About two decades after the Exclusion Act was passed, the social profile of the Chinese communities and Chinatown in the West and mid West changed through the increasing number of Chinese going into business.

Chinatown is a center of social and business activity within a non-Chinese community. Most Chinatowns were located near railway stations and docks because the early Chinese wished ready access to visit relatives and friends. Moreover, just like other immigrants who came to the United States, the Chinese established Chinatowns not only for self-protection but also for companionship. Self-protection appeared to be vital, since a few years after their arrival the anti-Chinese movement spread throughout the West. In addition, the Chinese found it almost impossible in those days to obtain lodgings outside Chinatown. Explanation given by Lai mentions that the exclusion act cut short the influx of alien immigrants into America and second generation Chinese, whose numbers were few, grew gradually but steadily over the years. These second generations born and reared on American soil learned and adopted many cultural value characteristics of the larger society. Since the traditional Chinatown organization only catered to the needs of adult males, many of Chinatown?s children and youths were naturally attracted to Americanized youths and church related organizations (Lai 56). It is through this way, Chinatown children were introduced to American culture. By the early twentieth century, American middle-class values and ideals were replacing the more traditional beliefs among American-born Chinese. The changing attitudes among Chinese Americans affected the status of their women. No longer confined to the home, many started working outside jobs to help support their family income. According to Chen in his book, The Chinese in America, some of these Chinese women were able to achieve their goals such as Faith Sai So Leung, the first modern-trained Chinese woman dentist. In 1912 Tye Leung became the first Chinese American civil servant, working as an assistant to the matrons and interpreter at the Angel Island Immigration station, and Doly Gee became manager of the French American Bank which later changed its name to the Bank of America in 1923? (Chen, 34).

From the turn of the twentieth century up until World War II Japan threatened China?s sovereignty. Therefore, this political threat united the Chinese Americans among different ethnic groups such as Hakka, Cantonese, Sze Yup and etc: ?As Japan launched an undeclared war against China in 1937, Chinese American communities intensified their support for their motherland?(Lai 67). The Second World War was the turning point for the Chinese in their major participation in American society which later turned out to be a blessing in disguise for future Chinese American society. During wartime, manpower shortage was obvious and this opened doors to job opportunities that had been previously closed to Chinese: ?Many are found working in shipyards and other war industries or served in the merchant marine, while others filled technical professional and white collar positions. About 12,000 Chinese were drafted or enlisted in the Armed Forces. After the war they used the veteran benefits to further their education in colleges and technical schools? (Lai 69). The war also turned out to be an important factor in the repeal of the Exclusion Acts. China was an American ally against the Japanese in the Pacific. Furthermore, as a morale booster and as an attempt to counter Japanese anti-white propaganda in Asia, Congress finally voted in 1943 to end Chinese exclusion.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Chinese Americans had a wider choice of occupations to choose from. Gradually, many Chinese moved out of the Chinatowns and dispersed among the general population in America. There were a large number of Chinese Americans entering government service because they sought job security and equal employment opportunities, but as discrimination decreased, more of them sought after jobs in the private sector. According to Chen, in order for Chinese to ensure economic advances, many Chinese Americans sought after higher education which resulted a high percentage of educated Chinese Americans. By 1970, a quarter of the Chinese American men had college degrees, the highest of any ethnic group and twice the United States average. After World War II, most Chinese ventured into grocery stores and restaurant businesses. By the mid-twentieth century, there were about 2,000 Chinese-owned grocery stores. Later, a survey done by the U.S. Dept of Commerce in 1972 found that ?Chinese American enterprises ranked second to those of Japanese Americans among minority owned business with 13,070 firms. However they were first in total gross receipts contributing to $1,186,907,000?(Lai 78). Obviously, the present progress of the Chinese American economy advancement was much better off compared to the early Chinese immigrants.

In conclusion, the journey of fortune-seeking early Chinese emigrants paved the way for the existing prosperous Chinese American Society. Factors contributed to the present Chinese Americans social and economic status was a legacy in itself. The pain and hardship faced by pioneers Chinese, whom they triumphantly endure, helped create a prosperous Chinese American society today. Furthermore, the process of Americanization also will continue as Chinese Americans participate more and more in the mainstream of American society. But whether they are recent immigrants or Americanized Chinese, they are all Chinese Americans, one of the many groups that make up a pluralistic American society. A pioneer Chinese American figure Dr. Ng Poon Chew leaves these last words before his death in 1931: ?You have far more than your forefathers had; you have more luxuries; you have more comforts; but has your real happiness increased in keeping with the increase of material accumulations??reflect upon the character and value of the life lived?

Chen, Jack. The Chinese of America. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980

Hoexter, Corinne K. From Canton to California: the epic of Chinese Immigration. New York: Four Winds Press ,1976

Lai, Him Mak, Joe Huang and Don Wong. The Chinese of America 1785-1980: an illustrated history and catalog of the exhibition. San Francisco: Chines Culture Foundation, 1980

S.W. Kung. Chinese in American Life. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962

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