7 Jul 2022


Chinese Immigration to the United States

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Academic level: College

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Pages: 10

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Chinese Americans fall under the Asian American community. According to the US Census Bureau data, Asian Americans form about five point five per cent of the total US population, with Chinese Americans representing the largest individual count. The census data records that as of 2020, three million Americans identified themselves as Chinese Americans. Of the number, New York and Los Angeles recorded the highest number of Chinese living in the towns 1 . The two towns identified that over half a million of their residents were of Chinese descendants.

The Chinese have a long and complicated history in the United States. The group first arrived in the country in the mid of the nineteenth century. The Chinese came to the United States to participate in the gold rush. The Chinese, who had heard of the availability of gold in the west, came to America to work as miners in the booming gold exploration business, farmers in the western lands, and as laundry cleaning persons for the gold miners. 

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Another reason the Chinese came to America because they were suffering from social and economic unrest that had ravaged their country for more than a decade. Therefore, before the Chinese started migrating into the USA., many had confined themselves to the great teachings of Confucius, which majored in the importance of family and respect to one’s elders 2 . Among his teachings, Confucius stated that “a thousand days at home are good; a day away from home is hard.” 

In the 19 th -century, china was experiencing new forms of social and economic strains caused by a rise in the country’s population, which had grown to over 200 million citizens. Thus, the increased number of people and reduced availability of new land to farm created a hostile situation in the country. Additionally, increased taxes by the government and land fees that farmers had to pay when they rented land from landowners forced many Chinese to abandon their usual occupations to explore better conditions in other areas of which the USA was among the areas 3

Internal rebellions created hostile living conditions as Chinese citizens had to endure the effects of war. Among these rebellions included the White Lotus rebellion from 1796- 1804, the Taiping revolution from 1851-64, the Nian rebellion of 1851-68, and the Dungan/Muslim. There are varying reasons that influenced the occurrence of the mentioned rebellions. However, the primary reasons were poverty, famine, new religions, dislike for the ruling government, and ethnic differences. Thus, the Effects of the rebellions reflected in a reduced men’s population as they were the primary laborers and warriors responsible for taking care and providing for their families. 

New forms of transportation also encouraged the Chinese to travel to America. The industrial revolution in Europe caused the invention and construction of better water vessels capable of transporting large cargo and people from China into the USA. Additionally, most Chinese ships used to travel from China to the USA were fast and more reliable as they used steam engines. Thus the vessels cut travelling time to a few months and did not need sails and specific weather conditions for them to move. By the end of the 18 th century, there was a growing demand for maps of the world’s geography. Thus, sailors were better poised to use the best routes when sailing while they were also knowledgeable to understand weather conditions that could positively or negatively affect their long journeys. 

Area of Settlement 

When the Chinese first came to the United States, many arrived to work in the booming and rapidly rising western economy. At the time, the western region of the United States was vastly undeveloped, less populated, and contributed little to the country’s economy. Thus the federal government needed to build and open up the western corridor by providing basic amenities such as food, water, and cheap transportation.

The government also intended to tap into the vast resources found in the west. Some of the resources the government intended to exploit were the vast lands covered with trees that were suitable for producing timber and fuel for the various steam engines that were popular at the time. Also, the west had extensive acres of untapped land that would be converted into farmlands to produce food. Lastly, some of the areas in the western region had vast deposits of gold and other rare minerals. An example of such and areas around California that were surrounded by gold.

Gold is a rare commodity. Thus, most Chinese who arrived in the country settled in California. The town was the headquarters of the gold rush and the largest producer and exchanger of gold in the entire western region. In addition, the booming economic prosperity of California created employment rolls which the Chinese filled as miners, laundry workers, and basic laborers. The gold rush began soon after James Marshall discovered vast deposits of gold near Sacramento in 1848. With this discovery, word of the possibility of becoming rich over a short period of taking part in the gold trade enticed both local and foreign individuals. Thus, as time went by, the Chinese filled up California and its surrounding areas, such as Deadwood.

Although after the end of the gold rush in 1950, most Chinese immigrants were left unemployed. The lack of employment opportunities forced the immigrant to take up poorly paid and inhumane jobs, which the whites had shrugged off from doing. Some of these jobs were as workers in the transcontinental railway and farmers in the vast lands of the west. This resulted in the Chinese settlement of new areas apart from those near California. Some of these areas include New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, Honolulu, Boston, and Los Angeles. The Chinese settled in this town’s most preferred living in small communities purely made up of Chinese. The form of Chinese settlement where they lived in pure Chinese communities resulted in the development of Chinatowns. The Chinatowns were made to create a favorable condition for new Chinese individuals who would enter the country without a clue of the local culture, and language

By the start of 1971, economic stagnation increased, leading to the country’s displacement and loss of jobs. The sharp decline in jobs created a situation where the native Caucasian individuals competed for jobs with the Chinese nationals. Thus, at the beginning of the1880s, the Chinese population was at an all-time high of 90,000 people. This number sparked fear and prejudice among the white ruling majority, who often discriminated against and abused the Chinese 4 . As a result, most Chinese were forced to take up low-paying and inhumane jobs that often resulted in medical complications or the demise of some Chinese individuals. Although the Chinese conceded a bigger blow after the Chinese massacre and the passage of the chinse exclusion act. The act virtually denied most Chinese from entering the country not unless they were diplomats, merchants, or students.

Distinguishing Factors

One can easily distinguish the American Chinese due to a number of factors that are somewhat unique to the population. Among these distinguishing factors is the general appearance of the Chinese. American Chinese fall under the general classification of people from Asia. Thus, Chinese people hold similar physical characteristics to most Asian people. An example of these physical characteristics is that most non-Chinese characterize the Chinese as “yellow-skinned.” Additionally, most Chinese have dark eyes, straight, black hair, flatter faces, less body hair, and facial hair.

Chinese individuals maintain a high regard for their culture. Before the immigration of Chinese into America, many of the immigrants, while living in China, were accustomed to a society that operated as a group rather than the individual way prevalent in the United States. When the Chinese first came to America, many suffered from living in the American society. As a result, many of these individuals slowly formed small Chinese groupings based on the immigrants’ area of origin or common ancestral names. The small Chinese grouping slowly developed into the modern China towns present within the major cities across the country.

The Chinese are also different regarding their view and respect for hierarchies, be it family, working, or government hierarchy. Most Chinese respect, care and follow the advice of the elderly. Additionally, the Chinese are accustomed to living in their respective social positions. Most Chinese bosses, employers, prominent figures, and government officials are more respected due to their hierarchical levels within society. This hierarchical consideration is downplayed among many Caucasian and other ethnic groups living in America, favoring a more flattened individualized form. Those high up the hierarchy are treated the same as any other individual in society. Thus the elderly is left to care for themselves, and bosses or high-ranking officials are only respected in their respective fields of operations.

Another distinguishing factor of Chinese individuals is their general way of life. A person’s general way of life includes the food they consume, their clothing, activities they take part in, and language. In addition, Chinese people are mostly brought up with a keen interest in maintaining a healthy physical appearance. Thus most Chinese are well known for taking part in martial arts such as Kung Fu and tai chi. These kinds of martial arts favor most Chinese bodies. This allows them to practice and conform to their routine meditation and emotional building preferences. Furthermore, martial arts were important for many Chinese Americans during the peak of segregation as they allowed them to defend themselves effectively in times of physical confrontation.

Language also plays a vital role in distinguishing the Chinese from other ethnic groups. When the Chinese first came to America, many lacked the prowess to speak and communicate using the prevalent language of the region, English. As a result, most preferred speaking the Chinese language, most preferably Cantonese. Although more Chinese came to America, Mandurian also became a widely spoken variant of the Chinese language. However, apart from speaking in Chinese, American Chinese, especially those born within the country, have learned to be proficient in English as that is the first language they knew.

The foods Chinese Americans prepare and consume can also be used to distinguish the group. The Chinese prefer foods that are healthier for the body. That is, the Chinese consume food that is rich in nutrients and low on fat. This preference differs from other ethnic groups like those of Caucasian origin who prefer foods that are rich in animal proteins and fats. In addition, the modes of food preparation differ as the Chinese prefer boiling, frying, roasting, and baking their foods and use other forms of cooking such as steaming, stewing, quick frying, and braising.

Despite their strong affiliation to spiritual practices, most Chinese Americans still fail to identify themselves with any religious grouping. According to Pew Research, at least fifty per cent of Chinese Americans lack a religion 5 . The research also documents that the remaining number identifies themselves as either Buddhists, Catholics, or Protestants. The non-Catholic Christians and Buddhists take the second and third positions in the research’s classification.

Integration into America

Since the Chinese first came into America as laborers and temporary workers, most natives of the country considered them low life individuals who would only stay for a few years and return to their original country. However, since the beginning of the gold rush, more and more Chinese continued to flock into the country. As a response to the increased Chinese population, the white natives started imposing taxes and enacted rules that exclude the Chinese from voting or taking part in confessions 6 .

The first discriminating rule imposed on the Chinese by the government was the Foreign Miners License Law, which saw the population suffer from a twenty dollar per month tax fee they had to pay to stay and work in the USA. The California legislature enacted the law soon after an insurgence in the Chinese population living in the area 7 . However, the miners’ law created unrest among Chinese workers as they started demanding better tac rates. In response to their cries, California enacted a new foreign miners tax law that reduced the previous tax amount to 4 dollars per month.

Other laws that discriminated against the Chinese included the criminal act, which held that no Black, Asian or Indian was permitted to testify against a white convict. This law was used in an 1854 case, People v. Hall. The case entailed three white men who murdered a Chinese. Since the law denied the Chinese from testifying in court, the three men were permitted to walk free, thus denying justice. However, the most discriminating law that affected the Chinese was the federally recognized Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which resulted in a drop in the rate of Chinese immigrants permitted to enter the country and a subsequent restriction in the ease of Chinese becoming American citizens.

The Chinese tried reducing the senseless prejudice and violence that they faced by using varying tactics. Many American Chinese in the late 19 th century and early 20 th century began assimilating the American ways of life. This came after many American-born Chinese failed to understand why they were being violated while they were American-born citizens. As a result, many Chinese hated themselves and their culture. The self-hate primary need to feel accepted by the whites became the Chinese primary obsession. Thus most of them started rejecting their cultural and linguistic heritage favoring American values, social behaviors, and religions.

Instead of deforming their Chinese values and heritage, other Chinese choose to develop a thick skin for the constant hostile conditions they faced. These people ended up establishing ruling bases in the numerous china towns available in the country. Through these towns, the Chinese began fighting discrimination through aggressive litigations and participation in the active development of projects poised to help their surrounding communities. Also, most Chinese self-taught or sent their children to Chinese schools or back in China where they learned the Chinese culture and language.

Since most Chinese felt unwelcomed in the United States, they often preferred living and maintaining an efficient lifestyle that promoted modesty in society. Furthermore, the Chinese strived to observe customs and festivals by gathering in their respective families and sending annual remittances back to their people in China. At first, the occasional gatherings increased hate amongst local white populations 8 . Although, as time passed, discrimination rates reduced. This came after the birth of new generations of Chinese who were American citizens by birth. Thus, with the new generation came a positive liking amongst whites as they grew fond of attending Chinese festivals as a form of entertainment and appreciation of the Chinese culture.

Acceptance by Native Populations

The indigenous people of America have slowly accepted the Chinese and have considered the ethnic group as part of them. Acceptance of the Chinese was publicly demonstrated by the repeal of the Chinese exclusion act in 1943. The act came after china, and the USA became allies in the second world war. In the repeal act, the United States repealed all exclusion acts and allowed foreign-born Chinese to seek naturalization.

Another way the indigenous people of America have accepted the Chinese is through the entertainment industry. Chinese films have grown to outperform many American movies. Actors such as Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee garnered a lot of love and influence through their martial arts films. These films depicted the Chinese way of living, clothing, and lifestyle. Thus, young American kids grew up loving and embracing Chinese culture, subsequently creating a loving environment that accepted and respected the Chinese ethnic group.

Clothing has also been another area where the native Americans have assimilated the ways of the Chinese people. The people are known for their silk wears which are won by the elite and powerful. Thus such wears are considered luxurious and only fit for the noble people in society. additionally, Chinese wears include varying pattern of floral decorations on their garments. This patterns complement the wear making them become attractive as such these wears have been adopted into high fashion completions and are worn by prominent actors and singers especially those from Hollywood.

Food has also been a way by which the indigenous people have accepted the Chinese. Since Chinese foods are healthy and more friendly to the body, other American ethnic groups started using their ingredients and food preparation techniques. For example, most homes did not consider steaming as a way of preparing food. Although the advantages and efficiency of steaming foods such as rice slowly took root in many American kitchens.

Chinese beverages such as tea grew in popularity in the early 1950s. Chinese tea is believed to possess medicinal properties which relieve stress and clear the mind. Hence, many restaurants, cafes, and eateries prepare and serve Chinese tea as part of their menu. Also, Chinese ingredients such as soy sauce and ginger have found their way into American kitchens. These ingredients are regularly used as spices in the preparation of soup, stews, and other delicacies.

Chinese martial arts teachings were popularized by mainstream Chinese film. As a result, many Americans became exposed to new forms of self-defense that fell far from their accustomed ways, such as boxing. Additionally, the ever-present chance of being harassed or violated created the need for racially inferior populations such as blacks and the Latino communities to conform to Chinese martial arts like Kung Fu. Learning such fighting techniques was key in fighting against oppressors and abusers who became afraid of physically confronting the Chinese as they feared being outperformed by their efficient and effective fighting ways.


Bikmen, Nida. “Still a nation of immigrants? Effects of constructions of national history on attitudes toward immigrants.”  Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy  15, no. 1 (2015): 282-302. 

Bouvier, Leon F., Dudley L. Poston Jr, and Nanbin Benjamin Zhai. “Population growth impacts of zero net international migration.”  International Migration Review  31, no. 2 (1997): 294-311. 

Jasso, Guillermina, and Mark R. Rosenzweig.  The new chosen people: Immigrants in the United States . Russell Sage Foundation, 1990. 

Jeung, Russell M., Seanan S. Fong, and Helen Jin Kim.  Family sacrifices: the worldviews and ethics of Chinese Americans . Oxford University Press, 2019. 

Kanazawa, Mark. “Immigration, exclusion, and taxation: Anti-Chinese legislation in gold rush California.”  The Journal of Economic History  65, no. 3 (2005): 779-805 

Lee, Erika.  At America’s Gates: Chinese immigration during the exclusion era, 1882-1943 . Univ of North Carolina Press, 2003. 

Martinez Jr, Ramiro. “Coming to America.”  Immigration and crime: Ethnicity, race, and violence  6 (2006): 1. 

1 Lee, At America’s Gates: Chinese immigration during the exclusion era 

2 Martinez Jr, “Coming to America” 2006, 1 

3 Kanazawa, “Immigration, exclusion, and taxation: Anti-Chinese legislation in gold rush California, 800 

4 Bikmen, “Still a nation of immigrants? Effects of constructions of national history on attitudes toward immigrants,” 285 

5 Jeung et al., Family sacrifices 

6 Bouvier et al., “Population growth,” 294

7 Jasso and Rosenzweig.  The new chosen people 

8 Bouvier et al., “Population growth,” 297

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). Chinese Immigration to the United States.


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