Chinese-US Immigration: Some Basics

The famous picture taken in 1869 at Promontory Point doesn't show any of the Chinese who helped build the railroad

A few fast facts about Chinese immigration culled from Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants since 1882 by Roger Daniels

For over 60 years Chinese were completely barred from immigrating to the US. In 1882 Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act which made it illegal for Chinese to immigrate until it’s repeal in 1943.

The act was the culmination of an anti-Chinese movement originating in California where the majority of Chinese Immigrants lived. They had mostly come to take part in the Gold Rush. In addition, an estimated 10,000 of around 60,000 Chinese living in the US worked to build the transcontinental railroad.

Before the act excluding all Chinese immigrants, Congress passed a law in 1870 to limit the migration of Chinese women due to their reputation as prostitutes, particularly in San Francisco’s Chinatown. This despite the fact that at the time most Chinese living in the US were men, by a ratio of more than 20 to 1.

Chinese exclusion was one of the first steps toward a more and more restrictive immigration policy culminating in the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921 which instituted a national quota system and severely limited immigration until 1965.

After the quota system ended in 1965 immigration from China picked up and today there are an estimated 1.6 million people of Chinese origin living in the US, the 4th largest national group. In 2010 the US gave green cards to 70,000 Chinese, second only to Mexicans.

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