Famine and political instability in the 1850’s made it difficult for Chinese citizens. Adding to this burden was the Chinese tradition Chineseof men taking care of their extended families.

Gold had been discovered in California and reports of easy wealth reached China. So, thousands of men made arrangements to come to California. The plan was to work the gold fields, accumulate a sizeable wealth, and return to China. But, in order to get passage, they borrowed from wealthy Chinese or Anglos. Thus becoming indentured to them until the passage had been paid off. Unfortunately, the Chinese were paid just enough to keep their hopes alive, but not enough to pay off their debt.

By 1880 over 100,000 Chinese lived in the United States, with most of them in California. Laws prevented Chinese from owning mines. So those Chinese who were free found a variety of ways to earn a living. Groups of them would go to abandoned claims and work the slag piles left behind by gold miners…and many became wealthy this way.

Others opened laundries and restaurants, considered “women’s work” by most Anglo men.
With the Chinese being treated with a growing resentment, the government responded by limiting Chinese immigration with the Chinese Exclusion Act. But, only laborers were excluded. Professionals and merchants who supported our trade with China were allowed in. Six years later, on March 12, 1888, the Chinese government officially supported the principals of the Exclusion Act by not allowing any laborers to immigrate to the United States.

It’s interesting to note that the Chinese Exclusion Act remained the law of the land until 1943 when China became our ally during World War II.

Filed under: Old West History

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