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Attitude Towards Chinese People in the USA

Numerous Chinese laborers came to the US during the California Gold Rush of 1848–1855. They proved to be industrious people, and it is hard to find any vivid examples of animosity towards them during that period. Surface gold could be easily found in sparsely populated distant areas of California back in those days. Thousands of Chinese continued to arrive and took jobs in mining and construction. However, a few years after the Gold Rush, attitudes towards them started to change dramatically, as they were increasingly seen by many locals as rivals. The Chinese were banned from mining, which used to be a rather lucrative activity, and were forced to leave for urban areas where they had to settle in poor neighborhoods and take low-wage jobs. Therefore, plenty of new issues arose, as the Chinese now had to interact with the predominantly Christian population. Moreover, “their visible differences made them easy targets for discrimination” (Shi, 657). In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese exclusion act, which banned both skilled and unskilled Chinese workers from coming to the US through 1892 (Chinese Exclusion Act 1882). Moreover, the act was then extended, and the last barriers preventing Chinese immigration were lifted only 60 years later. The Chinese Exclusion Act was based on the 1875 Page Act which was aimed at Chinese women.

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The nation was undergoing a large number of changes in the second half of the 19th century, which led to tensions between different ethnic and economic groups. Nativists believed that the growing flow of migrants from Eastern Europe, Southern Europe and Asia poses a direct threat to the American way of life, American political and social institutions. The soaring urban population especially intensified the friction between different nationalities and races. Furthermore, migrants from Western Europe still had much better chances to be integrated in the American society and finally attain citizenship than people from other regions (Dillingham Commission Reports, 1910-1911). The ability to speak English was, arguably, central to the ability to naturalize. Thus, people who spoke Germanic languages had a great competitive edge. At the same time, numerous other migrant groups who could not learn English fast looked different and had traditions that seemed unusual to locals had to rapidly adapt to a completely new environment, which could be a tough transition, especially for those young people who came to the US alone.

Scientific advances of the late 19th century also contributed to the growing number of theories meant to explain and justify the high position of Protestant Europeans in the social and economic hierarchy. For instance, despite Darwin’s dismissal of Social Darwinism, his exclusively biological theory was widely used by various social groups to promote the superiority of “the Anglo-Teutonic conceptions of law, order, and government” (Shi, 657).

The Chinese Exclusion Act remains a unique example of a federal law that virtually banned the immigration of a specific ethnic group to the US. “American democracy is fundamentally the outcome of the experiences of the American people in dealing with the West” (Frederick Jackson Turner, 1890s-1920s). However, the basis for a new extraordinary type of immigration ban emerged in the West, where people seemed to have enough resources and experience to live peacefully by creating sustainable communities free from extreme wealth inequality, prejudices and racism.


Chinese Exclusion Act 1882 (website). 2020.

Dillingham Commission Reports, 1910-1911 (website).

Excerpts from writings of Frederick Jackson Turner, 1890s-1920s (website).

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Shi, David E. 2018. America: The Essential Learning Edition – Combined Volume 2nd Edition. W.W. Norton Inc.

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