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6.2: Chinese Immigration

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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Beginning around 1850, thousands of Chinese immigrants came to the West Coast of the United States to mine for gold and work building America’s transcontinental railroad. But over the next few decades, attitudes toward the Chinese soured. They were not allowed to give testimony in court or become naturalized citizens, and the state of California passed a law against interracial marriage. The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in 1882, specifically prohibited Chinese immigration. As you read the documents below, try to understand why the American Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.

“The Chinese Must Go”

Source: The page below comes from a play called “The Chinese Must Go:” A Farce in Four Acts by Henry Grimm, published in San Francisco, 1879. In just the first page, you will be able to see many of the common stereotypes of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. (Figure below).


The Chinese Must Go



SCENE--A Kitchen; Sam Gin washing dishes; Ah Coy smoking his opium pipe.

Ah Coy. I telly you, white man big fools; eaty too muchee, drinky too muchee, and talkee too muchee.

Sam Gin. White man catchee plenty money; Chinaman catchee little money.

Ah Coy. By and by white man catchee no money; Chinaman catchee heap money; Chinaman workee cheap, plenty work; white man workee dear, no work--sabee?

Sam Gin. He heep sabee.

Ah Coy. Chinaman plenty work, plenty money, plenty to eat. White man no work, no money, die--sabee?

Sam Gin. Me heep sabee.

Ah Coy. White man damn fools; keep wifee and children--cost plenty money; Chinaman no wife, no children, save plenty money. By and by, no more white workingman in California; all Chinaman--sabee?

(Enter Frank Blaine.)

Frank B. Damn such luck; can't borrow a cent to save my life. Money is getting as scarce as flies about Christmas. I must have some. Losing three games of billiards, one after the other, with this flat-footed Jack Flint is a shame. (To Ah Coy.) Why don't you work?

Ah Coy. Your mother no payee me last month; no payee, no workee--sabee?

Frank B. How much does she owe you?

Ah Coy. Six dollars.

Frank B. All right, John; I get it for you. (Aside.) If I squeeze the six dollars out of the old man that Chinaman has to pay me commission, that's business (pulling Sam Gin by the queue). Exit.

Sam Gin. Damn hoodlum. What for you foolee me all the time?


  1. If this document were your ONLY piece of evidence, how would you answer the question: ‘Why did Americans pass the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act?’

The Chinese Question – Nast

Source: The cartoon was drawn by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly, a Northern magazine. In this cartoon, we see Columbia, the feminine symbol of the United States, protecting a Chinese man against a gang of Irish and German thugs. At the bottom it says “Hands off-Gentlemen! America means fair play for all men.”(Figure below).

“Hands off-Gentlemen! America means fair play for all men.”


  1. If this document were your ONLY piece of evidence, how would you answer the question: ‘Why did Americans pass the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act?’

Workingmen of San Francisco

Source: “An Address From the Workingmen of San Francisco to Their Brothers Throughout the Pacific Coast.” An excerpt from a speech to the workingmen of San Francisco on August 16, 1888.

We have met here in San Francisco to-night to raise our voice to you in warning of a great danger that seems to us imminent, and threatens our almost utter destruction as a prosperous community; and we beg of each and every citizen of the State, without distinction of political party, depending on their own labor for the support of themselves and families, to hear us and to take time to examine with the utmost care the reasons and the facts we will give for believing a great danger to be now confronting us....

The danger is, that while we have been sleeping in fancied security, believing that the tide of Mongolian immigration to our State had been checked and was in a fair way to be entirely stopped, our opponents, the pro-China wealthy men of the land, have been wide-awake and have succeeded in reviving the importation of this servile slave-labor to almost its former proportions. So that, now, hundreds and thousands of Mongolians are every week flocking into our State....

To-day every avenue to labor, of every sort, is crowded with Chinese slave labor worse than it was eight years ago. The boot, shoe, and cigar industries are almost entirely in their hands. In the manufacture of men’s overalls and women’s and children’s underwear they run over three thousand sewing machines night and day. They monopolize nearly all the farming done to supply the market with all sorts of vegetables. This state of things brings about a terrible competition between our own people, who must live, if they live at all, in accord with American civilization, and the labor of a people, who live like what in fact they are, degraded serfs under masters who hold them in slavery. We should all understand that this state of things cannot be much longer endured.


  1. If this document were your ONLY piece of evidence, how would you answer the question: ‘Why did Americans pass the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act?’

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