This Week in History: US Passes Chinese Exclusion Act

By Ned Kelly, May 7, 2019

4 0

On May 6, 1882, US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, barring “skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining” from entering the country for 10 years under penalty of imprisonment and deportation. 

While the ban was initially intended to last a decade, it effectively ended Chinese immigration for the next 60 years (legally at least – it gave rise to the first great wave of commercial human smuggling), not being repealed until 1943 and the Magnuson Act.

The first significant Chinese immigration to America had begun with the California Gold Rush of 1848-1855, and continued with large labor projects such as the building of the railroads. By 1860, Chinese people had become the largest immigrant group in California. Initially tolerated, if not well received, as gold became harder to find and competition increased, animosity toward the Chinese increased. 

READ MORE: This Day in History: Train Robbing Bandits and the Lincheng Outrage

After being forcibly driven from the mines, most Chinese people settled in enclaves in cities, many in San Francisco, and took up low paid wage labor such as restaurant and laundry work. With the post Civil War economy in decline, anti-Chinese animosity became politicized, with Chinese ‘coolies’ being blamed for depressed wage levels.

After the act was passed, any Chinese who left the US had to obtain certifications for reentry, while the Act had made Chinese immigrants permanent aliens by excluding them from US citizenship. With the Chinese migrant population predominantly made up of male adults, this left many with a dilemma – should they stay in the US alone or return to China and their families? 

Many had little chance of ever reuniting with their wives, or of starting families in their new homes, and the Chinese community was effectivley frozen in place in 1882, prevented from growing and assimilating into US society as European immigrant groups did.

Click here for more history stories.

[Cover image via Hawkins Bay Dispatch]

more news

This Week in History: China Enacts New Marriage Law

When Mao Zedong famously declared "Women hold up half the sky."

This Day in History: Aleister Crowley Summons Demon in Shanghai

In 1906, the occultist, mystic, magician and self-proclaimed Beast 666 came to Shanghai to summon his Holy Guardian Angel...

This Day in History: The Rolling Stones First-Ever China Show

Keith Richards: 'I feel like Marco Polo!'

This Day in History: The Battle of Muddy Flat

Believed to be the first time British and American forces fought as allies in a land battle.

This Day in History: The Funeral of Ruan Lingyu

The Shanghainese silent film star had taken her own life at the age of just 24.

9 Badass Women in Chinese History

Here are nine of the most fearsome and intelligent women to ever have lived.

This Day in History: Palace of Sino-Soviet Friendship Completed

The 'wedding cake' still stands today with a Soviet star atop its gilded spire.

0 User Comments

In Case You Missed It…

We're on WeChat!

Scan our QR Code at right or follow us at ThatsGuangzhou for events, guides, giveaways and much more!

7 Days in Guangzhou With thatsmags.com

Weekly updates to your email inbox every Wednesday

Subscribe

Download previous issues

Never miss an issue of That's PRD!

Visit the archives

Get the App. Your essential China city companion.