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[TIMELINE] Anti-Chinese Legislation Between 1850 to 1890

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  • madchinaman
    Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan: Affidavit and Flyers from the Chinese Boycott Case http://archives.gov/digital_classroom/lessons/chinese_boycott_case/ch
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2005
      Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan:
      Affidavit and Flyers from the Chinese Boycott Case

      Although a very small number of Chinese immigrants came to the
      United States prior to 1850, it wasn't until news of the gold
      strikes in California reached China that large numbers of Chinese
      men, eager to earn money, sailed for "Gum San," or the "gold
      mountain." Western encroachment and civil unrest had led to
      inflation, starvation, and loss of land in southern China. Many
      young men emigrated to the United States as a last hope for their
      families. Among their occupations were mining, building the Central
      Pacific Railroad, laundering, cooking, farming, and, if successful,
      operating restaurants and becoming merchants.

      Chinese men had been trapped as "coolies" or contract laborers bound
      for South America, Southeast Asia, and the West Indies for years
      before California became the more popular destination. A wage of
      $1.00 per day could assist an entire family at home in China.
      Husbands left wives and children, and parents sent their sons. As a
      result, early Chinese communities in the United States were
      comprised almost entirely of bachelors.

      In 1850, approximately 450 Chinese men entered California; in 1852,
      2,716 more arrived; and in 1852, 20,000 Chinese men crossed from
      China to the Pacific Northwest. By 1880, the ratio of male to female
      Chinese immigrants was approximately 20:1. They lived and worked in
      Chinatowns, in groups according to their district or region and

      The early Chinese immigrants were begrudgingly accepted by Americans
      and were not the immediate targets of animosity or violence.
      However, taxes aimed at foreigners made earning wages difficult.
      California passed the foreign mine tax in the 1850s, which directly
      affected the majority of the Chinese immigrants who were working in
      the mines. In addition, they were required to pay an alien poll tax
      of $2.50 per month until 1862, when it was declared unconstitutional.

      Additional discriminatory legislation the Chinese faced during the
      latter half of the 19th century pertained to segregated schools,
      lodging ordinances, laundry licensing fees, prohibition of
      intermarriage with whites, and bans from sections of cities.

      In 1854, a California judge's ruling barred Chinese immigrants from
      testifying in court after the testimonies of Chinese witnesses
      resulted in the murder conviction of a white man.

      The judge reversed the verdict citing the Criminal Act of 1850,
      which had previously prohibited blacks, mulattos, and Indians from
      testifying for or against a w hite man.

      By 1855 Chinese merchants began organizing to protest these and
      other discriminatory acts. Eventually this organization became known
      as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, or the Chinese
      Six Companies. The Chinese Six Companies settled arguments within
      their own community, negotiated between the Chinese people and the
      federal and state governments, and hired lawyers to challenge unfair
      practices in court.

      The main sources of anti-Chinese sentiment during this time were
      workers' groups who described the influx of Asian workers to the
      United States as "yellow peril." In addition to widespread
      intolerance for people of color, many labor groups held that cheap
      immigrant labor would lower wages for American workers.

      In the 1870s, the Anti-Coolies Association and the Supreme Order of
      the Caucasians ran boycotts of Chinese businesses and laborers and
      caused riots in Chinatowns across the West. Many immigrants returned
      to China, while others fled to San Francisco, home to the largest
      Chinese community and Chinatown in the United States.

      Fueling the anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States was the
      widespread economic depression of the 1870s. It was believed that
      overcapitalizing of railroads contributed to the Panic of 1873, and
      as a result the railroads, big businesses, and the Chinese laborers
      became targets. The public, upset with big business excesses and
      rampant unemployment, supported early labor organizations such as
      the Workingman's Party led by Denis Kearney, himself an Irish
      immigrant. Their particular scapegoat was the Chinese immigrant. In
      1877, the Workingman's Party led several violent demonstrations in
      San Francisco alone.

      Some courts did oppose attempts to harass and discriminate against
      the Chinese. In one San Francisco case, a judge denounced a ruling
      by the Board of Supervisors that required male prisoners' hair to be
      cut within one inch, unofficially referred to as the "Queue
      Ordinance." The judge described it as spiteful legislation intended
      to discourage immigration. He ruled that such a hair-cutting law
      purposely aimed at the Chinese, which was not enforced against any
      other prisoners, violated the Civil Rights Act of 1870, the 14th
      Amendment, and the Burlingame Treaty.

      However, local courts could not prohibit federal legislation such as
      the Chinese Exclusion Act, which, when passed in 1882, became the
      most devastating of all anti-Chinese legislation. It barred Chinese
      from entering the United States for 10 years, allowing only Chinese
      merchants, teachers, students, or travelers in, and only under
      strict regulations. It also required Chinese already residing in the
      United States to have a permit to reenter the country, and it
      granted all Chinese permanent alien status; this meant they could
      not become citizens. The Chinese Exclusion Act was extended two
      times, once in 1892 for an additional 10 years, and again in 1902
      for an indefinite time period. It was finally repealed in 1943.

      As Chinese workers who remained in the United States migrated
      eastward for work, discriminatory legislation and a poor economic
      climate accompanied them. Thus, they continued to be scapegoats for
      anti-immigrant labor organizations. The featured documents, an
      affidavit by two Chinese merchants in Butte, Montana, and the
      corresponding trade union flyers calling for a boycott of Chinese
      businesses in Butte, are evidence of the existence of this activity
      outside of California.

      In 1884, labor unions in Butte ordered Chinese immigrants to leave
      town, with no results. In 1891-92 and again in late 1896 during
      another nationwide depression, the labor unions boycotted Chinese-
      owned businesses as well as businesses employing Chinese, blaming
      the immigrants for the adverse economic climate. Union flyers
      promoting the boycott, several of which are featured as document 1,
      were one means of notifying members and encouraging the general
      public not to patronize these establishments.

      While many Chinese fled Butte, some merchants retaliated in federal
      court. In Hum Lay, et al. v. Baldwin, also known as the Chinese
      Boycott Case, an injunction to stop the boycott was sought by
      Chinese merchants. The court paperwork lists 132 Chinese names. The
      affidavit of Huie Pock and Quon Loy, testimony in this case, is the
      second featured document. The case was heard in the Circuit Court of
      the United States, Ninth Circuit, District of Montana, and contrary
      to the prevailing public attitude of the time, the court ruled in
      favor of the Chinese plaintiffs. The defendants were "enjoined and
      refrained from further combining or conspiring to injure or destroy
      the business of the said complainants or any of them and from
      threatening, coercing or injuring any person or persons becoming or
      intending to become patrons of said complainants." The Chinese also
      recovered costs of $1750.05 from the defendants for fees and
      expenses. The relief sought was injunctive, which is an equitable
      remedy, so the court "sitting in equity" rather than "at law"
      provided relief in the form of prohibiting (enjoining) certain
      behavior (injunction) or causing the defendant to perform certain
      actions (specific performance) rather than money damages. In other
      words, the federal court listened to the grievances of a hated
      minority and ruled based on fairness rather than race. The union was
      ordered to stop their activities.


      Daley, W. The Chinese Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 1987.

      Yu, C. Y. Who are the Chinese Americans? In Gall, S. & Natividad,
      I., eds. Reference Library of Asian America, Vol. 1, pp. 41-62.
      Detroit: Gale Research, Thompson Publishing, 1996.
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