Barth, Gunter Paul in his book "Bitter Strength: A History of the Chinese in the United States, 1850-1870" depicts the life of Chinese immigrants during the periods of 1850-1870. Barth portrays the experience that the Chinese went through at the Pearl River delta in China to get to the United States and there arrival here in California.
Beginning in the mid-19th century, Chinese immigration to America was influenced by both the "pull" of California's Gold Rush and the""push" created by China's impoverished conditions. Years of drought, floods, disease, and famine ravaged China, a country already burdened with over-population and internal instability. European and American exploits into the region further exacerbated China's economic, political, and social problems. Chinese peasants, particularly in the rural Pearl River Delta area in the southeastern province of Guangdong, were desperate for relief. They began to migrate to urban centers in search of employment and survival. When this proved insufficient, the Chinese migrated to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Region. Word soon reached China that "Gum Saan," the "Gold Mountain" as the Chinese referred to America, was a land of opportunity for those seeking a better life.
The first large number of Chinese arriving in America in the mid-1850s, like many other immigrants to the new land, found no "gold mountain" from which instant wealth could be attained. However, America's expansion to the West and the economic boom of the Gold Rush era did provide particular employment possibilities for the Chinese. They quickly became an inexpensive but formidable work force for the construction of the western portion of the transcontinental railroad system. They also played an important role in the development of the agricultural, fishing, and even manufacturing industries of the Western States. The first to come were not immigrants; however, they were sojourner who expected to return to their homeland when their fortunes were made. Their unique attitude and goal set them apart from other immigrant groups. "The system of controls ensured sojourners' work in mining companies and railroad construction crews. Regimented labor guaranteed the merchant-creditors a constant return on their investment in the indentured emigrants. The sojourners' domiant concern in their new environment was survival, not liberty. "Bitter strength," the literal translation of the Chinese term "k'uli" for these laborers, suggests the dimensions of the sojourners' experience." (Barth 3)
Barth point of view is very broad, which I think is very good for a book like this. Barth writes very well and is an easy reading. He points out his entire references well and shows great knowledge of what he writes about in his book. Yet, Barth's concept of America is all wrong. Barth interprets history according to an ideological outline and America must fit in some idealized political framework. As a result, his view of "America" and...