Skip to main content
Select Source:

Chinese Exclusion Acts

Chinese Exclusion Acts

Diana H. Yoon and Gabriel J. Chin


Excerpt from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Whereas, in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof: Therefore

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that ... until the expiration of ten years next after the passage of this act, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States be, and the same is hereby, suspended; and during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come, or, having so come, ... to remain within the United States.


From the time they first migrated to the United States, Asians were a special concern of federal immigration policy. In 1862 Congress intervened in the importation of "coolie" labor, unskilled workers usually from the Far East who were paid low wages. Congress began direct regulation of immigration with the Page Law of 1875, which was designed, legislators claimed, to curtail the immigration of women from "any Oriental country" for the purpose of prostitution. That statute in fact operated to exclude most Asian women.

The demand for restriction of Asian immigration was still not fully satisfied. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act (22 Stat. 58) to prohibit the immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years. Enacted in response to a national anti-Chinese campaign, the law was the first of a series of restrictions on Chinese immigration. Because the term "laborer" was understood to include those trained to perform skilled labor, most potential immigrants were barred from entering the country. Although naturalization was already restricted to whites and those of African birth or descent, the Chinese Exclusion Act also specifically prohibited the naturalization of Chinese.

The 1882 act led to restrictions on other Asian immigrants. The policy of Asian exclusion, the only explicitly race-based distinction in American immigration law, culminated in the Immigration Act of 1917 (39 Stat. 874), which created the "Asiatic Barred Zone" from which immigration was generally prohibited, and the Immigration Act of 1924 (43 Stat. 153), which banned immigrants of Japanese racial ancestry and other Asians not already prohibited. The 1924 law also established a quota system designed to discriminate against African and southern and eastern European immigrants, although it categorized these people based on their place of birth rather than on their race, as was the case with Asians.

FROM CALIFORNIA TO NATIONAL POLITICS: ECONOMICS AND RACE

Chinese immigration became a national issue by the 1860s. The strongest currents of anti-Chinese sentiment mobilized in California, where the discovery of gold and demands for labor had attracted a visible population of Chinese workers. The 1870 census reported that more than 99 percent of Chinese residing in the U.S. lived in the West. This migration had been made possible by the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 (16 Stat. 739), which established full diplomatic relations and free immigration between China and the United States.

Although historians have debated the primary cause of the exclusion laws, most point to the influence of the white labor movement in pushing for restrictive legislation. White Californians who claimed to be threatened by the "yellow peril" voiced demands to end Chinese immigration. Meanwhile, workers in the East called for an end to imported contract labor. Many viewed this type of labor as repugnant to individual freedom as well as harmful to the interests of white American workers. In response, Congress enacted labor laws aimed at preventing the importation of labor through overseas contracts, a practice blamed for the economic depression in the labor market. Hostility toward Chinese laborers intensified during periods of economic depression, with racial and cultural prejudice accompanying arguments about undesirable labor competition. No numerical limits were placed on immigration in this period, and Chinese immigrants represented a small proportion of all immigration. Nonetheless, economic depression and rising class conflict created opportunities for politicians to attack Chinese workers and push immigration restriction as a national issue in their election campaigns.

CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT OF 1882

Initial efforts to curb Chinese labor immigration faced a legal obstacle: the Burlingame Treaty's provisions for free immigration between the United States and China. This was to change in 1880. Persuaded by anti-Chinese forces, American immigration commissioners renegotiated the treaty in pursuit of the twin goals of immigration restriction and advantageous trade relations. Congress, having secured the power to regulate Chinese immigration, passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The debates in Congress reflected blatant racism and a discriminatory prejudice not only against the Chinese but against African Americans and Indians as well. As one senator argued, "the Caucasian race has a right, considering its superiority of intellectual force and mental vigor, to look down upon every other branch of the human family ... We are the superior race today."

Under the act, Chinese laborers already residing in the U.S. were allowed to leave and return by obtaining a reentry certificate from the collector of customs. This provision was challenged in Chew Heong v. United States (1884), when immigration officials excluded former residents who could not obtain the required certificates because they were abroad when the act was passed. The Supreme Court ruled that a Chinese person could reenter without a certificate if he was a lawful resident at the time of the Burlingame Treaty revisions.

Subsequent legislation effectively nullified Chew Heong. The 1888 Scott Act (25 Stat. 476) prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the country, including those with valid return certificates. This legislation was found constitutional in Chae Chan Ping v. United States (known as the Chinese Exclusion Case, 1889). Chae Chan Ping had left for a trip to China in 1887 with a valid return certificate. The Scott Act, however, was passed while he was at sea, and he was denied entry upon landing. He argued that the Scott Act violated his right to reenter the United States.

The Supreme Court, however, declared that Congress, in exercising its sovereignty, could exclude noncitizens to protect the nation from dangerous foreigners. In the Court's view, exclusion of Chinese might be necessary for "the preservation of our civilization." Congress, by exercising its "plenary power" to regulate immigration, could determine whether a noncitizen could continue to live in the United States.

As a result of the Scott Act, an estimated 20,000 reentry certificates were voided and many individuals were barred from returning to their families and property. In subsequent years the Court's ruling had a tremendous influence on the development of American immigration law. Courts continue to give great deference to congressional determinations of who may and may not enter the United States.

Under immigration restrictions, women were defined by the status of their male spouses. As a result, spouses of laborers were categorically excluded from entering the country and women who were U.S. citizens married to Asians in the United States could lose their citizenship.

GEARY ACT

Passed in 1892 the Geary Act (27 Stat. 25) had three provisions: It (1) extended the ban on Chinese immigration for ten years; (2) created a presumption that persons of Chinese descent were residing in the United States unlawfully, thereby forcing any Chinese found in the country to prove his or her right to be here; and (3) required laborers to obtain a certificate confirming their legal status. In Fong Yue Ting v. United States (1893), the Court upheld the certificate requirement. Other noncitizens were not required to obtain a certificate. In 1902 and again in 1904, Congress extended these restrictions indefinitely.

CONSEQUENCES

Although most American immigrant populations increased over time the Chinese population in the U.S., as a result of the anti-Chinese laws, decreased from 100,000 in 1882 to about 85,000 in 1920. These figures also reflect the drastic imbalance in the ratio of Chinese males to females, as well as laws of various states that prevented family formation in early Chinese American communities.

The ban on Chinese immigration and naturalization was lifted in 1943, when Congress repealed the Chinese exclusion laws. Subsequently, the laws affecting those of other Asian racial groups were gradually relaxed. Naturalization (the process by which immigrants become U.S. citizens) was made entirely race-neutral in 1952. After a century of laws designed to restrict Asian immigration, the 1965 amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act eliminated the remaining racial classifications from the law, and since then Asians have immigrated to the United States in significant numbers.

See also: IMMIGRATION AND NATIONALITY ACT; IMMIGRATION REFORM AND CONTROL ACT OF 1986.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Chan, Sucheng, ed. Entry Denied: Exclusion and the Chinese Community in America, 18821943. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.

Chin, Gabriel J. "The Civil Rights Revolution Comes to Immigration Law: A New Look at the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965." North Carolina Law Review 75 (1996): 273345.

Gyory, Andrew. Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Hill, Bill Ong. Making and Remaking Asian America Through Immigration Policy, 18501990. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Chinese Exclusion Acts." Major Acts of Congress. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Chinese Exclusion Acts." Major Acts of Congress. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chinese-exclusion-acts

"Chinese Exclusion Acts." Major Acts of Congress. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chinese-exclusion-acts

Chinese Exclusion Act

CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT


When gold was discovered in California in 1848, few laborers were available for the new mining industry and many looked to China as a ready source of workers. Inexpensive transportation across the Pacific Ocean, acceptance of low wages, willingness to tackle dangerous jobs, and a strong work ethic made the Chinese attractive to mine operators. Brokers paid passage expenses for the Chinese laborers' transportation and the laborers repaid them from their earnings. In 1852 alone more than 20,000 Chinese arrived in California almost exclusively from the Guangdong province of southern China (including the city of Canton.) Within a few years of the gold discovery, the Chinese population was an important part of California's labor force. On their own initiative, the Chinese reworked the spoils left by earlier mining operations, recovering previously overlooked gold .

Other work became available in the ensuing years, including construction of the transcontinental railroad and increased employment in agriculture and manufacturing. By the 1880s approximately 100,000 Chinese were in the United States, more than 90 percent of them males. The vast majority sent their wages home regularly, maintaining a goal of eventually returning to their homeland and families.

As the white population grew in the West, particularly after completion of the railroad, competition for jobs increased and hostility from whites mounted. A downturn in the economy during the early 1870s led to declining wages; persecution of the Chinese escalated. New trade unions devised tags for goods to identify those made by white laborers and those made by Chinese. Violence directed towards Chinese also increased; nineteen Chinese were killed in a mob incident in Los Angeles in 1871 and more were killed in 1877 during a San Francisco riot. Later in 1877, San Francisco businessman Denis Kearney (who was himself an immigrant from Ireland) formed the Workingman's Party of California which spearheaded the anti-Chinese movement.

Although Chinese comprised far less than one percent of the U.S. population, politicians reacted to voter demands by joining those who blamed the immigrants for economic ills. Seeking to restrict further competition from Chinese workers, Congress passed the Fifteen Passenger Act limiting Chinese immigration in 1879. However, President Rutherford B. Hayes (18771881) vetoed the bill claiming it violated the 1868 Burlingame Treaty with China. The following year the United States negotiated a new treaty with China, permitting immigration restrictions for laborers but exempting foreign travelers, students, teachers, and merchants.

With the new treaty in place, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspending Chinese labor immigration for ten years and making Chinese immigrants ineligible for U.S. citizenship. The act was the first major law restricting immigration of a specific nationality into the United States. Chinese in the United States unsuccessfully challenged the new law as discriminatory. Persecution continued and 28 Chinese mine workers, refusing to join a strike, were killed in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in September of 1885. Congress extended the Exclusion Act in 1892 for another ten years, and in 1902 made the exclusion indefinite following a new, more restrictive treaty with China in 1894. In 1904 China refused to renew the 1894 treaty. Continuing immigration restrictions by the United States led to a boycott of U.S. goods in China in 1905.

The series of exclusion acts proved very effective in limiting immigration. The Chinese population substantially declined. The immigration acts were supplemented with other laws restricting the work activity of Chinese living in the country. In 1913 California passed a law prohibiting Chinese from owning land. Chinese people still entered the country but in smaller numbers, often using fraudulent papers to pose as merchants. Another "loophole" allowed Chinese-born children of U.S. citizens to gain entrance and citizenship. From 1910 to 1940, San Francisco's Angel Island was a point of entry where U.S. immigration officials examined "papers" of tens of thousands of Chinese trying to enter the country, much as Ellis Island in New York City served to process European immigrants.

The Chinese population quietly persevered through generations of persecution and consistently avoided conflict. Socioeconomic effects of the persecution included formation of self-contained communities, insulated from the dominant white Western society. "Chinatowns" grew within several large cities of the West and the Chinese established their own schools, printed their own newspapers, and formed their own banks. But the overall effectiveness of the Exclusion Acts led to later efforts to restrict immigration of other groups as well, including East Indians, Japanese, and Middle Easterners.

World War II (19391945) was a key catalyst in changing sixty years of discriminatory U.S. policies against the Chinese. China was an ally of the United States throughout the war. China's leader, General Chiang Kai-shek (18871975), was highly respected and the United States supported Chiang in his fight against internal (Mao Zedong and the Communists) and external (Japan) threats. This closer relationship helped change U.S. policy at home regarding Chinese-Americans.

Higher paying industrial employment opened up to the Chinese-Americans, whose population numbered 60,000 in the 1930s. With anti-Chinese sentiment dissipating, Congress repealed the Exclusion Act in 1943. It was immediately replaced with strict quotas limiting Chinese immigration in favor of Europeans, but these quotas were repealed in 1965 as the status of Chinese-Americans continued to improve. By 1970 most working Chinese-Americans held white-collar jobs and were well integrated into the U.S. economy.

Topic overview

At least a thousand (Chinese) perished in building the (Central Pacific) roadbed. . . . But they worked so hard and so well that hundreds more were hired. In 1869 a group of Chinese and Irish workers laid a record ten miles of track in just under 12 hours, though the Chinese and their sacrifice were barely mentioned in the flossy speeches that year when the historic meeting of the rails was celebrated.

donald d. jackson, smithsonian, february 1991

See also: Ellis Island, Immigration, Transcontinental Railroad



FURTHER READING

Chan, Sucheng, ed. Entry Denied: Exclusion and the Chinese Community in America, 18821943. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.

Gyory, Andrew. Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

McKee, Delber L. Chinese Exclusion Versus the Open Door Policy, 19001906: Clashes Over China Policy in the Roosevelt Era. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977.

Takaki, Ronald T. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. Boston: Little Brown, 1989.

Wong, K. Scott, and Sucheng Chan, eds. Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identities During the Exclusion Era. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Chinese Exclusion Act." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Chinese Exclusion Act." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chinese-exclusion-act

"Chinese Exclusion Act." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chinese-exclusion-act

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT OF 1882

Passed by U.S. Congress in 1882 and signed into law by President chester a. arthur, the Chinese Exclusion Act (22 Stat. 58) created a ten-year moratorium on the immigration of Chinese laborers into the United States. The Act represents the first law ever passed by Congress that denied entry to the United States on the basis of race or ethnicity. Congress indefinitely extended the act in 1902 and made it permanent in 1904. However, it was repealed in its entirety in 1943, when China became an important ally to the United States against Japan. However, its residual effect on Chinese-American relations continued far beyond.

Anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States began during the 1850s' Gold Rush, which eclipsed a period of great poverty in China. Chinese laborers flocked to California, where they soon became an exploited workforce because even the meager wages they earned in California represented far more than they could have earned in their homeland. By the 1870s, clear resentment existed among American miners, who felt their own wages were being held down by the industrious Chinese. U.S. miners also felt that the laborers were sending too much gold back to China, believing the natural resource should stay within the United States. Moreover, the Chinese were beginning to prosper in the laundry business, particularly in overcrowded San Francisco, where Victorian tastes and cultures approved of such domestic indulgences. Mounting political pressure resulted in heated debate, and final passage of the act occurred on May 6, 1882.

Under the provisions of the act, immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States was suspended for ten years. Chinese laborers already in the country were permitted to remain, even following temporary absences, but were barred from naturalization. Illegal immigrants were to be deported. Non-labor Chinese students, teachers, merchants, or those "proceeding to the United States from curiosity" were permitted entry. The act expressly defined "Chinese laborers" as "both skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining." Additional provisions of the act levied heavy fines on those who would bring in or "aid and abet" any Chinese person unlawfully within the United States.

Under the Geary Act (making the act permanent), other provisions were added to require Chinese residents in the United States to register and obtain a certificate of residence. This act required that they be photographed and submit photograph copies with local police. Moreover, they had to carry identification with them at all times. The federal government paid for all related costs associated with compliance.

Following an influx of general post-war immigrants during the 1920s, Congress began to implement quotas and requirements pertaining to national origin. By 1943, Congress repealed all exclusion acts, instead leaving in place a yearly limit of 105 Chinese. Further, Congress gave foreign-born Chinese naturalization rights of citizenship. The so-called origin system (with several subsequent modifications) continued to control immigration until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Amendment Acts of 1965, Pub. L. No. 89–836, 79 Stat, 911.

further readings

American Federation of Labor. 1902. Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion. Meat v. Rice. American Manhood against Asiatic Coolieism, Which Shall Survive? Senate Document No. 137, 57th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

"Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882." Excerpted from Teaching with Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives. Available online at <www.ourdocuments.gov> (accessed June 2, 2003.)

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. 22 Stat. 58. Available online at <www-marine.Stanford.edu/HMSweb/cea.htm> (accessed June 2, 2003).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chinese-exclusion-act-1882

"Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chinese-exclusion-act-1882

Chinese Exclusion Act

CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT

CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT. Passed in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years. The law, which repudiated the 1868 Burlingame Treaty promising free immigration between the United States and China, was one in the succession of laws produced by a national anti-Chinese movement. Limited federal intervention began as early as the 1862 regulation of "coolies"; the Page Law of 1875 purported to prevent the entry of "Oriental" prostitutes but precluded the immigration of most Asian women.

Laws following the 1882 exclusion legislation tightened the restrictions. The Scott Act of 1888 excluded all Chinese laborers, even those holding U.S. government certificates assuring their right to return. The original act's ban was extended in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. The government broadened exclusion to other Asians; by 1924, all Asian racial groups were restricted. The 1882 act also foreshadowed other discriminatory legislation, such as the national origins quota laws that discriminated against African and southern and eastern European immigrants from 1921 to 1965.

As America's first race-based immigration restrictions, the anti-Chinese laws caused the decrease of the Chinese-American population from 105,465 in 1880 to 61,639 in 1920. Chinese were again allowed to immigrate in 1943. The last vestiges of the Asian exclusion laws were repealed in 1965, when racial classifications were removed from the law.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gyory, Andrew. Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Hing, Bill Ong. Making and Remaking Asian America through Immigration Policy, 1850–1990. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993.

Gabriel J.Chin

DianaYoon

See alsoAsian Americans ; Chinese Americans ; Immigration Restriction .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Chinese Exclusion Act." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Chinese Exclusion Act." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/chinese-exclusion-act

"Chinese Exclusion Act." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/chinese-exclusion-act