Thursday, August 20, 2009

A very brief history of Chinese Americans

I did a small research on the history of Chinese Americans during my winter semester 2009. I will attempt to encapsulate a very brief history of Chinese Americans in three paragraphs.

Ever since the Chinese immigrants have arrived on the shore of the America, they have been adapting to a whole new environment. The first group of Chinese to arrive in 1847 was students.[1] But the larger waves that arrived subsequently were unskilled laborers drawn by news of gold and the economic boom in California. In the first two decades of Chinese immigration, there were about 60,000 Chinese, among whom 50,000 were in California according to the census taken in 1870.[2]

The next decade witnessed the population increased to over 100,000 with 95 percent in the far western states.[3] The presence of the Chinese laborers drove down average wages, and they were in direct competition with unskilled laborers from the dominant white Americans. These fueled an anti-Chinese sentiment and social injustice against the Chinese immigrants. A sociologist Harry Kitano notes that “Chinese were often defenseless targets for all kinds of violence, ranging from casual abuse on city streets to mass murder.”[4]

Though the Burlingame Treaty with China in 1868 gave the Chinese immigrants certain leverage, the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882 barred the immigration of Chinese laborers for the subsequent decades. This was gradually repealed starting in 1943, and it was not until 1965 with the Immigration Act that finally abolished the quota for Chinese immigrants. The effect was immediately felt as the numbers of Asian Americans soared from 1.5 million in 1970 to 7.9 million in 1990.[5] According to Census 2000, Asian Americans now comprise 4.2% of the U.S. population or 11.9 million out of the 281 million Americans.[6]

[1] Russell Jeung, Faithful Generations: Race and New Asian American Churches (NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 18.
[2] Harry H.L. Kitano and Roger Daniels, Asian Americans: Emerging Minorities, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001), 23.
[3] Ibid., 24.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Jeung, Faithful Generations, 44.
[6] Peter Y. Hong, “Asian Americans Show Large Population Growth,” Los Angeles Times, Mar04, 2002, (Accessed Jan18, 2009)

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