Chinese Immigration History

Chinese migration

All of us are probably immigrants in the places we live today. Our ancestors had their places of origin before they were forced to move by natural calamities or various circumstances in life. People still migrate even now, though the rate, at which they do it, is low compared to the ancient days. This essay summarizes how ancestors moved from their places of origin, the problems they faced while migrating and how the host communities received them on arrival.

My Chinese ancestors immigrated from two provinces in China namely; Fukien and Kwangtung. They settled in various areas of the world especially the US. A group known as the Pioneer Family arrived in the US in 1840. The primary reason for the arrival in the US was the fact that the country needed cheap labor that came as a result of gold discovery in California.  Gold discovery saw over 225,000 Chinese migrate into the US within a period of three decades.  90% of this population consisted of males only. They outnumbered their female counterparts by a ratio of 15:1.The main factors that pushed these ancestors to move were overcrowding, warfare and drought. There was something unique about the Chinese immigrants compared to others. People believed that the Chinese had come to California as sojourners, accumulating wealth then going back to their place of origin and afterwards living a better life than what they had left (Wong).

Within a short period, attitudes of racism started developing among people. The general population accused Chinese of being deceitful, dangerous, criminal, and inferior in moral and mental aspects. As a result, racist legislation had to be passed in order to stop the Chinese from immigrating into the US. A $50 head tax was imposed on every Chinese person who arrived by ship in 1982. This trend had continued for around 20 years before it was abolished and declared unlawful. In 1858, an act that prevented further migration of the Chinese into the States was passed by the California legislation. However, Leland Stanford, the California governor, warned the community against racial discrimination. However, nothing changed and instead the Chinese were accused of not adapting to the host’s habits in terms of education system and dressing modes and still worshipping their idol gods (Wong).

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In mid-1960s, the US government passed a reform policy that allowed the highly skilled Chinese individuals to move from their land into the US. Through this, China was able to improve its diplomatic relations with the US, which enhanced fast urbanization and mass migration from all over the world into the US. By then, China had been one of the poorest countries in the world. This situation lasted for a long time as the gap between the rich and the poor continued to widen while levels of education remained inconsistent (Wong)

During that time, most of the US population was mostly engaged in farming. People entirely depended on the land. The cost of buying land varied depending on the area. Western lands were productive, but the cost of transporting agricultural goods through Appalachian Mountains was higher than the production cost. However, after a long struggle, manufacturing industries started producing grains and meat.. By the year 1860, the government had already spent $54 to ensure improvement in transportation. It is during this time that the Chinese ancestors were used as cheap labor force for the Americans (Wallis).

Economic status in America was hit financially in the late 1800s. The States reacted to the crisis. Many banking and transportation projects got abandoned. This financial depression led to the closure of transportation projects in some states. Economic development shifted to the state local government in the 19th century. All debts by the state government had been used in construction of railroads, banks and roads. American government struggled to improve economic development by changing the state level (Wallis).

At first, the reception of the Chinese by the US hosts was hostile. They arrived at a time when the European Americans were establishing riches on their land.  Most Chinese therefore became victims of class exploitation and racial discrimination. Although some US members welcomed them well, most of them viewed the Chinese as labor competitors and cultural threats.  China was considered a backward country with poor people who did not fit in the Americans’ class. They were set aside due to racial discrimination and were considered equal to Africans, Mexicans and American Indians. These were seen as inferior races compared to the Americans (“Early Chinese Immigrants”).

In terms of economic location in the US, some of the Chinese were gold miners. They had been working in the mines to earn a living until some hostile miners started physical war in order to expel Chinese miners from those mines.  A few of those mine fields imposed special taxes so as to make it difficult for the Chinese to survive. However, the Chinese took matters in their hands and took over the gold mines that had been abandoned by the whites. Their hard labor saw them reap tremendous profits for mining co-operations. This action improved the economy as they supplied goods and services to the miners, which led to the immense growth of the Chinese camps. Apart from mining, the Chinese ancestors involved themselves in expanding railroad that considerably developed in the mid-nineteenth century. American entrepreneurs pushed for a transcontinental railroad that was to link up Asia and the riches in the western part of the country. The government provided the railroad workers with enough resources to construct it. However, the construction and development of the railroad was slow until they hired the Chinese laborers who proved to be very efficient in the work.  This labor was also used to lay telegraphs and tracks in the Western states. Chinese farmers were still used to establishing California as the nation’s primary agricultural state around the 1860s to early 1900s. They were used to reclaim swamp lands along River Delta hence increasing the land value substantially. They also dealt with fishing whereby they caught various kinds of fish, and then dried and sold it locally (“Early Chinese Immigrants”).

Due to their hardworking nature, an act that prohibited the entry of the Chinese into the US for ten years was passed. This law also barred the Chinese from becoming naturalized US citizens for the same period of ten years. The Chinese were tolerated as long as they provided labor to enhance development and improvement of infrastructure in the American West. According to those policies, racist attitudes barred the Chinese from owning lands and settling down, intermarrying, becoming naturalized citizens and associating with the communities around. However, the Chinese opted to remain in the US and were not moved. During this time, most of them moved to Midwestern, Eastern and Southern states where their presence was tolerated. As time went by, the Chinese communities sprang everywhere to serve their political, social and economic needs.  They at least started shopping for Chinese foods, socialize well with kinsmen, look for employment, go to Chinese operas, observe customs and holidays, and protect themselves from racial discrimination. Secret societies that dealt with gambling, prostitution and drugs also erupted. Stiff competition to fight against these evil activities always led to assassinations and wars referred to as tong wars. Chinese sought ways of pulling together in starting businesses, finding ways of boycotting and striking the judicial system in order to defend their rights. All this was done in an effort of fighting against racial discrimination.  These efforts led to a significant contribution in molding the American constitution. They expanded racial fairness here hence lowering discrimination (“Early Chinese Immigrants”).

The US Supreme Court declared native citizenship to all people and equal protection of the citizens regardless of their races. The Chinese immigrants left a few documents and records about their poor experiences in early days when they arrived in America. Although most of them were illiterate, there were those who were a bit learned. Due to their continuous struggle against discrimination and the mentality that they were in America only for a short while, they had little energy and time for their stressful experiences during that time. Only a few written records, diaries and other materials survived either in China or the United States for reference (“Early Chinese Immigrants”).

The history of my ancestors’ immigration from their native land had various outcomes, for instance, a change in language. While my ancestors could speak fluent Chinese, my speech has been affected by the American English. I have adopted the American accent and can only speak a little Chinese. This change occurred as my ancestors had to interact and socialize with the Americans. Since the American population was obviously larger than the Chinese, they had to learn the American English. The more years passed and the more generations continued to be born in America, the more the original Chinese continued to get diluted. It is possible that the future generations will not know even a word in Chinese.

The change in cultural practices had to be changed. As I read through the history, my ancestors used to worship idols. However, with time they got assimilated and got into the American ways of worship that include Christianity and Islam. The worship of idols is not as common as it was in the past especially among the Chinese.

The system of education here in America is different from that of the Chinese that live in China today. It means, if my ancestors had not immigrated to America, they would probably be using the education system they had in the past. However, this tendency also changed as Chinese children attended American schools after migration. The ancestors had to adapt to the host’s lifestyle in order to survive. It is owing this assimilation that we study in the same institutions with Americans and other immigrants who came to America. As much as the assimilation into American’s lifestyle is gradual, some aspects like skin color might take longer time to change. However, through intermarriage this aspect may also change as years go by.

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