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The Chinese Diaspora in the USA

Free «The Chinese Diaspora in the USA» Essay Sample


The Chinese Diaspora is growing at the incredibly fast rate. The modern immigration conditions allow both skilled and unskilled workers to receive the citizenship in the United States. The economic growth causes the generation of the new working places. However, the competition level in the fight for a better life among all US citizens including those who were not born in the USA is extremely high. Therefore, one should carefully examine the problems that Chinese immigrants faced and the known ways of their solution in order to learn some useful experience.

History of the Chinese Immigration

The Gold Rush

The first Chinese came to the USA in the XVII-XVIII centuries. However, the massive influx of the Chinese immigrants attracted by the California Gold Rush falls on the middle of the XIX century. Until 1848, there were 54 Chinese in California, and during the following decades this number rose up to 116 thousand. They spared neither efforts nor money to get to the “Gold Mountain” and having found gold there come back home being rich people (Fujii 31). Eventually, the gold reserves dwindled, and the negative attitude to the foreigners increased. Under the public pressure the Californian government adopted the Foreign Miners Tax in 1850 (Hing 21). According to the adopted law, each foreign miner had to pay $3 monthly for his professional activity. Many foreigners refused to pay taxes and left the country. The others, and the Chinese among them, stayed in California and found jobs in the various areas.

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In the early 1860s, when the Gold Rush began to decline, many Europeans left the mines, and the Chinese miners constituted two-thirds of all the workers in this sphere to the west of the Rocky Mountains. The Chinese also quarried the salt in San Francisco, borate in California, Nevada, and Oregon, coal in Washington, Utah, and Wyoming, mercury in Napa (Hing 26). The Chinese worked in the miners’ communities as maids, cooks, and laundresses. The most extensive use of the Chinese labor force was observed during the construction of the railroads. However, despite the fact that the Chinese were more diligent, disciplined, and less demanding than the Euro-Americans, their working conditions and wages were worse.

The Deterioration of the Attitudes towards the Chinese Immigrants

After the Gold Rush the number of the Chinese migrants continued to grow due to the harsh living conditions and poverty in China after the Opium Wars. The city men of the Western colonial countries and the United States were extremely interested in attracting the cheap and docile labor to the development of the newly acquired territories in the New World. The most Chinese immigrants had the only goal to earn money and return home to their families. Hence, they felt temporary residents, and this trace of mentality was peculiar for quite a long period. China remained their motherland. They came there to marry and bore children and then returned to the USA. They regularly sent money to China and lived in the autonomously operating areas, so-called Chinatowns.

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In 1870s, the sympathy with which the first Chinese were welcomed to the United States was replaced by badly hidden hatred. More and more Euro-Americans feared for their material well-being, and the racist attitudes reinforced among them. It led to the fact that Congress published the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which prohibited the Chinese who had no relatives in the USA to enter the country (Hing 27). After that, a number of laws that denied the foreign workers’ entry to the USA as well as the ones prohibiting the return of the Chinese workers who had gone home to the United States even if they had a valid exit-entry visa were adopted. Some of these laws forbade the Asian immigrants to buy or to own the land. The others denied the Chinese women to enter the country and proposed to withdraw the citizenship from the American female citizens who married the foreigner.

Chinese Immigration during the World War II

World War II was a turning point for the Chinese in America. China was the US ally in the war against Japan and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek was world-wide known. He became a symbol of the China’s participation in World War II (Tsou 1076). The Chinese who lived in the United States did not fail to use the advantage of these circumstances. Almost a quarter of the adult Chinese men in the country were called up for the military service. The positive image of China at that time influenced on the attitude to the Chinese citizens in the United States. The American literature started to praise the indomitable character and lawful behavior of the Chinese people. In 1943, under the public pressure the Congress passed the Magnuson Act (Fujii 31), which repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The Chinese citizens could take any job and buy houses outside of Chinatowns now. A lot of them received the long-awaited citizenships at the advanced age. The government accepted the War Bride Act, which allowed the Chinese who had been serving in the US Army during World War II to bring their wives and children to the country on the out-of-quota basis.

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Chinese Immigration after 1949

Communists’ victory in China in 1949 and the subsequent cooling of relations between the USA and China led to the reprisals against Americans with the Chinese origin. However, these events also brought the new development of the relations between two countries. The first Chinese immigrants were mostly uneducated representatives of the working professions with a small number of traders and businessmen among them. Those Chinese who came to the United States to study usually returned home after the graduation. After 1949, about 4,000 Chinese students who had received an excellent education in the American universities decided to stay in the United States (Fujii 32). Many representatives of the political elite of communist China tried to escape from the new regime looking for the political asylum in the USA.

Since the first half of the 50’s the Civil Rights Movement started to widen in the United States pressing on the government strongly. It led to the adoption of the laws that recognized all races being capable for the naturalization. The gender discrimination in the immigration policy was eliminated as well. In 1964, the US Congress acknowledged the racial discrimination unlawful. In 1965, Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments were adopted, according to which the close relatives of the US citizens could enter the country with the no-quota basis. During the second half of the 20th century, the entrance quota for the migrants was gradually growing and it accounted already 100,000 people per year in 2000.

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These laws made the second wave of the Chinese immigration possible. Now the majority of the Chinese immigrants are qualified workers from cities unlike peasants from the agricultural regions who entered the USA before. As a result, they find themselves in the high-tech sectors of the economy. They drive expensive cars, wear the designer business suits, and do not live in Chinatowns. Their mentality has changed as well. They came to America for forever and do not count the days before returning home. They are the third largest ethnic group of immigrants after the Filipinos and Mexicans and represent the fastest-growing minority community in the United States.

Today the Chinese Diaspora in the United States can be characterized as highly educated and rich enough: the Chinese are the most educated among all the ethnic minorities in the USA and have the highest incomes. Young Chinese people increasingly come to study in American universities. After graduation, some of them settle in the United States, adding to the ranks of the “white collars.”

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The Problems Met by the Chinese Immigrants in the USA

Historically, the US Constitution granted the citizenship right only for the European immigrants. Only two colors of the skin were envisaged: white and black. The Chinese did not fall into either of these categories at the beginning of their immigration history. Without the citizenship Chinese workers could not participate in the elections and join the public services. They had no voting right to determine their future in the country. They were forbidden to buy land and even to submit statements of claim (Li and Skop 291). As the Chinese immigrants were not allowed to testify against the American citizens, the only reasonable line of the behavior for them was to avoid open confrontations and direct rivalry with the white people.

The emergence of the Chinese low-cost unskilled labor force led to the strong competition in the labor market. Since the Chinese with their versatile and exotic culture did not plan initially to assimilate with the local population, hostility and even hatred to the Chinese immigrants appeared. The fear for their health and material well-being caused the Euro-Americans’ active opposition against the Chinese. Their racist attitude caused the corresponding prohibition actions of the government. The legal persecution of the Chinese took the form of taxes and regulations against their meager earnings, customs, and even appearance. Their children were not allowed to attend local public schools.

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In the response to the prejudged attitude and the persecution, the Chinese operated in the following ways. First, they created a separate “community within the community”, which weakly depended on the dominant culture. They were not the first who brought their traditions to America. However, the extremely high degree of the mutual support distinguished them from the huge flow of the other nationalities immigrants. They founded schools with the teaching process in the native language. The Chinese immigrants printed their newspapers and visited their own operas. Wherever possible, they tried to build the business and trade relations with each other. Groups of the traders actually organized the banks that collected money into the common pots from which anyone in the group could take the needed amount.

In addition, the Chinese created ethnic community organizations. In the ordinary Chinatown, huiguans and tongs were the dominant ones (Chinese Historical Society of America 38). The first one was based on the friendly association and the clan structure. Although the huiguans were engaged in the mutual aid and the charity, taking care about the graves in the cemetery, paying for the medical services and funerals for the poor members, they were commercially oriented. They looked after the financial disputes between their members and acted as the banks and employment agencies. Those who could not join to the huiguans joined numerous organized criminal groups. In the US, they were represented by the triads, or tongs, and street gangs. Apart from criminal activity, they used the traditional Chinese entertainments and addictions, namely gambling and opium as the sources of income.

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The associations of the “new” immigrants were mainly professional and business-oriented and operated on the wider social and geographical scale than those of the predecessors. The main characteristic of the new associations is the involvement in the transnational activities, namely regular interactions with associations in the other countries and China (Newland and Plaza 5). They cooperated more actively with the Chinese authorities at the various levels. This transnational interplay lead to the formation of the global Chinese networks, which commonly stay under the control of Beijing, and make Chinese Diaspora a crucial economic agent.

Despite the various differences between the representatives of the associations, the essential factor that influenced the integrity of the Chinese Diaspora in the United States was the religion. Religion united the immigrants in the new, usually hostile, environment and allowed them to overcome the difficulties relying on the heritage of the cultural traditions. The Chinese who entered the country during the Gold Rush were mostly uneducated peasants. Therefore, at the beginning of the American history, the traditional Chinese Buddhism was introduced mainly in its folk form (Morgan 14). At first, religious ceremonies were held in the small family temples. The first two gods’ houses were Kong Chow Temple and T’ien Noi Temple, which were built in the early 1850s in San Francisco with the assistance of Kong Chow Association and Sam Yap Association respectively (Morgan 15). Both these organizations were huiguans.

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The second Chinese method to respond to challenges was to display a stoic willingness not to retreat and to accept everything offered by the USA without any complaint and resistance. They did not show their true feelings to the strangers. The Chinese parents taught their children according to the hoi bai principle – the principle of non-intervention, the ability to avoid conflicts, staying aside. The effectiveness of such approach illustrates the Indian Diaspora in the United States. Its history started due to the abolition of the slavery in the country and the existence of cheap unskilled labor need. Since the majority of Indian nation representatives during the first wave of the immigration were male, they, in contrast to the Chinese, did not seek to return to their homeland. Most of them married the landlords’ daughters, thus spreading their culture in the surrounding society (Li and Skop 290). However, a large group of radically-minded Indians demanding their independence in the American society caused the increase of the racist attitudes among the local residents (Li and Skop 291). However, as their unions were greatly fragmented, they did not achieve a positive result.

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However, without the support of law and the local community any Chinese effort to improve their resident conditions in the United States could only lead to the hardly legal or even illegal surviving. Noticeable improvement of the immigrants’ living conditions occurred only in the 60s due to the adoption of antidiscrimination laws in the US Congress.


The history of Chinese immigration to the United States started during the Gold Rush and was caused by the difficult economic situation in China, on the one hand, and the need for a cheap labor due to the abolition of slavery in the US on the other hand. The initial good opinion about the Chinese due to their small requests, stability, and law-abiding quickly turned to the hostility and hatred. It happened because of the collision of two cultures, the huge competition in the unskilled labor market, the emergence of opium and gambling in the United States together with the Chinese immigrants, as well as the occurrence of the violent street gangs and triads, which scared the local population and were engaged in illegal activities. It caused numerous anti-Chinese laws that strongly complicated the lives of the immigrants. In order to survive in a hostile society, Chinese people united in the community organizations that settled their interaction and actively supported each other organizing the language schools, religious ceremonies, and providing the temporary shelters for just arrived. They conducted a non-intervention policy and steadfastly experienced the strokes of the fate. However, without the support of antidiscrimination laws adopted in the US Congress, any effort of Chinese people to improve their resident conditions in the United States might have been a vain attempt.

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