Chinese Migration History In California

Are you interested in finding out more about the Chinese migration to the U.S? Do you want to acquaint yourself with their initial tribulations in California? Read on to find out more about this …

From the mid 19th century one can historically trace a significant influx of Chinese people in the state of California. The discovery of Gold in California played a significant role behind this migration. Gold was found near the American River in early 1848. The news of gold discovery spread like wild fire all round the world due to the traders who roamed all around in ships. The first to learn about this discovery were the residents of the Kwantung province in China. China was going through a tumultuous phase at that time with flood, famines and administrative instability. This severe poverty and the urge for becoming rich quickly, prompted about 25,000 Chinese people (mostly from Kwangtung) to migrate to California.

These gold seekers were mostly in their early 20s or late teens. These uneducated and single Chinese men came with the sole purpose of amassing wealth and going back home to China. They did not mingle with the local community and remained confined in their own protective settlements with their indigenous traditions and customs. The Chinatown in San Francisco was the largest and most prominent settlement among all these. At that time the miners of Anglo-European origin were also working and they were envious of the teamwork and industry which these Chinese folk displayed. If any conflict occurred between a Chinese and an Anglo-European miner, decision would always be given in favor of the later, such was the strong presence of racial prejudice. The overall opinion of the people in the U.S. and particularly in California was that the Chinese were mysterious, clandestine, irreverent and secretive.

Many people also had this view that the Chinese had no right to stay in the U.S. Dispelled from the lucrative mines these hardworking Chinese miners took over the abandoned and unprofitable mines. Still their persistence and hard work reaped profits. This angered the miners of the Anglo-European community even further. A tax was levied in the year of 1850 specifically directed for financially exploiting the Chinese miners.  The Chinese people tolerated all these injustices and continued to pay the “foreign miner’s “tax. In the year 1854, a white-skinned person was convicted of killing a Chinese man. Since all the witnesses were Chinese, the decision was overturned as according to the Criminal Act no non-white person could give evidence against/for a white man. Henceforth, the Chinese community became further secluded and all their differences were settled internally.

The charges against Chinatown being a secretive hotbed of all unsocial activities gained ground. There were actually some secret societies known as “tongs” who were engaged in extortion, robbery, gambling, opium dens, etc. Gradually the mining scenario changed and hydro-mining and hard rock industries came into existence. Many Chinese started to be hired by the Anglo-Europeans as they realized that the Chinese workers were more industrious and cheaper as compared to other workers.

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