Chinese Immigration in the Western United States: The First 100 Years
Chinese Americans played a significant role in the development of the United States. Though they were key in helping build the infrastructure of the Western U.S. , Chinese Americans were subjected to discriminatory laws, social ostracism, and violence. Despite continued hardships, mistreatment and having their hard work overlooked, the Chinese have persevered and continue to make great contributions in all facets of American life.
It is debated on when the first Chinese immigrants arrived in the U.S. , but it is agreed that the majority of Chinese immigrants began to arrive here after the 1948 California Gold Rush. Around that time, China had just been in heated battle with Great Britain during the first Opium War. This conflict was over trade relations between China's Qing Dynasty and the British Empire and lasted from 18391842. The Chinese government tried several times to prohibit the trade in opium, but the British knew how lucrative the trade was and were against China's ban. The conflict was won by the British and ended with treaties in 1842 and 1843. These treaties saw the defeated Chinese paying a twenty one million dollar "restitution" to the British, the seizure of five ports for British trade and residence, and the right of British citizens in China to be tried in British courts. Hong Kong came under British rule after these treaties. The conflict ruined China's already weakened economy, continued to fuel widespread opium addiction, and lead to several peasant revolts. The largest of these revolts wound up spiraling out of control and developing into the Taiping Rebellion. The Taiping Rebellion turned into a civil war that lasted from 1850 to 1871. Many citizens blamed the Manchus (Qing Dynasty) for allowing China to be taken over by foreign powers. This war claimed over twenty million lives. The terrible decline in the quality of life for the Chinese during these times heavily contributed to the increased immigration to the U.S.
By 1851, roughly 25,000 Chinese were living and working in California. These initial immigrants were mostly from the Pearl River Delta of the Guangdong Province in southeastern China. The news of the gold rush did not only attract hopeful prospectors. Many of the postgold rush immigrants were skilled craftsmen, artists, merchants, fishermen, hotel and restaurant owners, and students. This first wave of immigrants were widely accepted by the Americans for their wealth, hard work, dependability, and entrepreneurial spirit. However, his did not mean that Americans saw the Chinese as equals.
Despite their initial acceptance, as their numbers grew, they were made to live in Chinatowns, segregated from the general populous. Chinese Americans were prohibited from working for federal, state, and local governments, and from educating their children in public schools. Chinese who sought to make their fortune by searching for gold were...