Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Chinese Exclusion Act (United States)

Chinese Exclusion Act (United States)

Ask a question about 'Chinese Exclusion Act (United States)'
Start a new discussion about 'Chinese Exclusion Act (United States)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum

The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law
United States Code
The Code of Laws of the United States of America is a compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States...

 signed by Chester A. Arthur
Chester A. Arthur
Chester Alan Arthur was the 21st President of the United States . Becoming President after the assassination of President James A. Garfield, Arthur struggled to overcome suspicions of his beginnings as a politician from the New York City Republican machine, succeeding at that task by embracing...

 on May 8, 1882, following revisions made in 1880 to the Burlingame Treaty
Burlingame Treaty
The Burlingame Treaty, also known as the Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868, between the United States and China, amended the Treaty of Tientsin of 1858 and established formal friendly relations between the two countries, with the United States granting China most favored nation status...

 of 1868. Those revisions allowed the U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 to suspend immigration
Immigration to the United States
Immigration to the United States has been a major source of population growth and cultural change throughout much of the history of the United States. The economic, social, and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy regarding ethnicity, economic benefits, jobs for non-immigrants,...

, and Congress subsequently acted quickly to implement the suspension of Chinese immigration, a ban that was intended to last 10 years. This law was repealed by the Magnuson Act
Magnuson Act
The Magnuson Act also known as the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943 was immigration legislation proposed by U.S. Representative Warren G. Magnuson of Washington and signed into law on December 17, 1943 in the United States...

 on December 17, 1943.


The first significant Chinese immigration to the United States began with the California Gold Rush
California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands , and Latin America, who were the first to start flocking to...

 of 1848-1855, and continued with subsequent large labor projects, such as the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad
First Transcontinental Railroad
The First Transcontinental Railroad was a railroad line built in the United States of America between 1863 and 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad of California and the Union Pacific Railroad that connected its statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska The First...

. During the early stages of the gold rush, when surface gold was plentiful, the Chinese
Chinese people
The term Chinese people may refer to any of the following:*People with Han Chinese ethnicity ....

 were tolerated, if not well-received. As gold became harder to find and competition increased, animosity toward the Chinese and other foreigners increased. After being forcibly driven from the mines, most Chinese settled in enclaves in cities, mainly San Francisco, and took up low end wage labor such as restaurant work and laundry just to earn enough to live. With the post Civil War economy in decline by the 1870s, anti-Chinese animosity became politicized by labor leader Denis Kearney and his Workingman's Party
Workingman's Party
The Workingman's Party was a California labor organization led by Denis Kearney in the 1870s. The party took particular aim against Chinese immigrant labor and the Central Pacific Railroad which employed them. Its famous slogan was "The Chinese must go!" They held large Sunday afternoon rallies...

 as well as by California Governor John Bigler
John Bigler
John Bigler was an American lawyer, politician and diplomat. A Democrat, he served as the third Governor of California from 1852 to 1856 and was the first California governor to complete an entire term in office successfully, as well as the first to win re-election...

, both of whom blamed Chinese "coolie
Historically, a coolie was a manual labourer or slave from Asia, particularly China, India, and the Phillipines during the 19th century and early 20th century...

s" for depressed wage levels. Another significant anti-Chinese group organized in California during this same era was the Supreme Order of Caucasians
Supreme Order of Caucasians
The Supreme Order of Caucasians was a group organized in Sacramento, California, in April 1876 whose primary focus was to run the Chinese out of the United States. It quickly grew to 64 chapters called "camps" statewide with about 5,000 members....

 with some 60 chapters statewide.

Chinese Gold Rush in California

Early on, the California government did not wish to exclude Chinese migrant workers from immigration because they provided essential tax revenue which helped fill the fiscal gap of California. Only later, when there was enough money did the government cease to oppose Chinese exclusion. By 1860 the Chinese were the largest immigrant group in California. The Chinese workers provided cheap labor and did not use any of the government infrastructure (schools, hospitals, etc.) because the Chinese migrant population was predominantly made up of healthy male adults. As time passed and more and more Chinese migrants arrived in California violence would often break out in cities such as Los Angeles. By 1878 Congress decided to act and passed legislation excluding the Chinese, but this was vetoed by President Hayes. California, in its zeal for excluding the Chinese, declared a holiday on March 6, 1881, in order to hold widespread demonstrations to support the anti-Chinese legislation. Once the Chinese Exclusion Act was finally passed in 1882, California went further in its discrimination against the Chinese by passing various laws that were later held to be unconstitutional. After the act was passed most Chinese families were faced with a dilemma: stay in the United States alone or go back to China to reunite with their families. Newspapers around the country and especially in California started to discredit and blame the Chinese for most things, e.g., white unemployment. The police also discriminated against the Chinese by using the slightest opportunity to arrest them. Although there was widespread dislike for the Chinese, some capitalists and entrepreneurs resisted their exclusion based on economic factors.

The Act

The Chinese Exclusion Act was one of the most significant restrictions on free immigration in U.S. history. The Act excluded Chinese "skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining" from entering the country for ten years under penalty of imprisonment and deportation. Many Chinese were relentlessly beaten just because of their race. The few Chinese non-laborers who wished to immigrate had to obtain certification from the Chinese government that they were qualified to immigrate, which tended to be difficult to prove. Volpp argues that the "Chinese Exclusion Act" is a misnomer, in that it is assumed to be the starting point of Chinese exclusionary laws in the United States. She suggests attending to the intersections of race, gender, and U.S. citizenship in order to both understand the restraints of such a historical tendency and make visible Chinese female immigration experiences, including the Page Act of 1875
Page Act of 1875
The Page Act of 1875 was the first federal immigration law and prohibited the entry of immigrants considered "undesirable." The law classified as "undesirable" any individual from Asia who was coming to America to be a contract laborer, any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all...


The Act also affected Asians who had already settled in the United States. Any Chinese who left the United States had to obtain certifications for reentry, and the Act made Chinese immigrants permanent aliens by excluding them from U.S. citizenship. After the Act's passage, Chinese men in the U.S. had little chance of ever reuniting with their wives, or of starting families in their new homes.

Amendments made in 1884 tightened the provisions that allowed previous immigrants to leave and return, and clarified that the law applied to ethnic Chinese regardless of their country of origin. The Scott Act (1888)
Scott Act (1888)
The Scott Act was a United States law that prohibited Chinese laborers abroad or who planned future travels from returning. Its main author was William Lawrence Scott of Pennsylvania. It was introduced to expand upon the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882...

 expanded upon the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting reentry after leaving the U.S. The Act was renewed for ten years by the 1892 Geary Act
Geary Act
The Geary Act was a United States law passed in 1892 written by California Congressman Thomas J. Geary. It extended the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 by adding onerous new requirements....

, and again with no terminal date in 1902. When the act was extended in 1902, it required "each Chinese resident to register and obtain a certificate of residence. Without a certificate, he or she faced deportation."

Between 1882 and 1905, about 10,000 Chinese appealed against negative immigration decisions to federal court, usually via a petition for habeas corpus
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

. In most of these cases, the courts ruled in favor of the petitioner. Except in cases of bias or negligence, these petitions were barred by an act that passed Congress in 1894 and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. vs Lem Moon Sing (1895). In U.S. vs Ju Toy (1905), the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that the port inspectors and the Secretary of Commerce had final authority on who could be admitted. Ju Toy's petition was thus barred despite the fact that the district court found that he was an American citizen. The Supreme Court determined that refusing entry at a port does not require due process and is legally equivalent to refusing entry at a land crossing. This ruling triggered a brief boycott of U.S. goods in China.

One of the critics of the Chinese Exclusion Act was the anti-slavery/anti-imperialist Republican Senator George Frisbie Hoar
George Frisbie Hoar
George Frisbie Hoar was a prominent United States politician and United States Senator from Massachusetts. Hoar was born in Concord, Massachusetts...

 of Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

 who described the Act as "nothing less than the legalization of racial discrimination."

The laws were driven largely by racial concerns; immigration of persons of other races was unlimited during this period.

On the other hand, many people strongly supported the Chinese Exclusion Act, including the Knights of Labor
Knights of Labor
The Knights of Labor was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the 1880s. Its most important leader was Terence Powderly...

, a labor union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

, who supported it because it believed that industrialists were using Chinese workers as a wedge to keep wages low. Among labor and leftist organizations, the Industrial Workers of the World
Industrial Workers of the World
The Industrial Workers of the World is an international union. At its peak in 1923, the organization claimed some 100,000 members in good standing, and could marshal the support of perhaps 300,000 workers. Its membership declined dramatically after a 1924 split brought on by internal conflict...

 were the sole exception to this pattern. The IWW openly opposed the Chinese Exclusion Act from its inception in 1905.

Effects and aftermath

For all practical purposes, the Exclusion Act, along with the restrictions that followed it, froze the Chinese community in place in 1882, and prevented it from growing and assimilating into U.S. society as European immigrant groups did. Limited immigration from China continued until the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943. From 1910 to 1940, the Angel Island Immigration Station on what is now Angel Island State Park in San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay is a shallow, productive estuary through which water draining from approximately forty percent of California, flowing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers from the Sierra Nevada mountains, enters the Pacific Ocean...

 served as the processing center for most of the 56,113 Chinese immigrants who are recorded as immigrating or returning from China; upwards of 30% more who showed up were returned to China. Furthermore, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
1906 San Francisco earthquake
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was a major earthquake that struck San Francisco, California, and the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906. The most widely accepted estimate for the magnitude of the earthquake is a moment magnitude of 7.9; however, other...

, which destroyed City Hall and the Hall of Records, many immigrants (known as "paper sons") claimed that they had familial ties to resident Chinese-American citizens. Whether these were true or not cannot be proven.

The Chinese Exclusion Act gave rise to the first great wave of commercial human smuggling, an activity that later spread to include other national and ethnic groups.

Later, the Immigration Act of 1924
Immigration Act of 1924
The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act, and Asian Exclusion Act , was a United States federal law that limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already...

 restricted immigration even further, excluding all classes of Chinese immigrants and extending restrictions to other Asian immigrant groups. Until these restrictions were relaxed in the middle of the twentieth century, Chinese immigrants were forced to live a life apart, and to build a society in which they could survive on their own.

Furthermore, the Chinese Exclusion Act did not address the problems that whites were facing; in fact, the Chinese were quickly and eagerly replaced by the Japanese, who assumed the role of the Chinese in society. Unlike the Chinese, some Japanese were even able to climb the rungs of society by setting up businesses or becoming truck farmers. However, the Japanese were later targeted in the National Origins Act of 1924, which banned immigration from east Asia entirely.

In 1891 the Government of China refused to accept the U.S. senator Mr Henry W. Blair
Henry W. Blair
Henry William Blair was a United States Representative and Senator from New Hampshire. Born in Campton, he attended the common schools and private academies, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1859 and commenced practice in Plymouth...

 as U.S. Minister to China due to his abusive remarks regarding China during negotation of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Repeal and current status

The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the 1943 Magnuson Act
Magnuson Act
The Magnuson Act also known as the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943 was immigration legislation proposed by U.S. Representative Warren G. Magnuson of Washington and signed into law on December 17, 1943 in the United States...

, which permitted Chinese nationals already residing in the country to become naturalized citizens and stop hiding from the threat of deportation. It also allowed a national quota of 105 Chinese immigrants per year. Large scale Chinese immigration did not occur until the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965. Despite the fact that the exclusion act was repealed in 1943, the law in California that Chinese people were not allowed to marry whites was not repealed until 1948.

Even today, although all its constituent sections have long been repealed, Chapter 7 of Title 8
Title 8 of the United States Code
Title 8 of the United States Code outlines the role of aliens and nationality in the United States Code.* The first eleven chapters have been repealed, omitted, or transferred to elsewhere in the Code, in their entirety.-External links:...

 of the United States Code
United States Code
The Code of Laws of the United States of America is a compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States...

 is headed, "Exclusion of Chinese." It is the only chapter of the 15 chapters in Title 8 (Aliens and Nationality) that is completely focused on a specific nationality or ethnic group.

In 2011, the US Senate passed a resolution apologising for past discriminatory actions such as this act.

See also

  • Chinese Exclusion
    Chinese Exclusion
    Chinese Exclusion refers to a body of racially discriminatory immigration policies first set up in the United States, but later imitated by Australia and Canada ....

  • Chinese American
    Chinese American
    Chinese Americans represent Americans of Chinese descent. Chinese Americans constitute one group of overseas Chinese and also a subgroup of East Asian Americans, which is further a subgroup of Asian Americans...

  • Chinese American history
  • List of United States immigration legislation
  • United States v. Wong Kim Ark
    United States v. Wong Kim Ark
    United States v. Wong Kim Ark, , was a United States Supreme Court decision that set an important legal precedent about the role of jus soli as a factor in determining a person's claim to United States citizenship...

    , which held that the Chinese Exclusion Act could not overrule the citizenship of those born in the U.S. to Chinese parents
  • Chinese massacre of 1871
    Chinese Massacre of 1871
    The Chinese massacre of 1871 was a racially motivated riot on October 24, 1871, when a mob of over 500 white men entered Los Angeles' Chinatown to attack, rob and brutally murder Chinese residents of the city...

  • Rock Springs massacre
    Rock Springs Massacre
    The Rock Springs massacre, also known as the Rock Springs Riot, occurred on September 2, 1885, in the present-day United States city of Rock Springs, Wyoming, in Sweetwater County...

  • Sinophobia
    Sinophobia or anti-Chinese sentiment is the fear of or dislike of China, its people, overseas Chinese, or Chinese Culture...

  • Yellow Peril
    Yellow Peril
    Yellow Peril was a colour metaphor for race that originated in the late nineteenth century with immigration of Chinese laborers to various Western countries, notably the United States, and later associated with the Japanese during the mid 20th century, due to Japanese military expansion.The term...

  • White Australia policy
    White Australia policy
    The White Australia policy comprises various historical policies that intentionally restricted "non-white" immigration to Australia. From origins at Federation in 1901, the polices were progressively dismantled between 1949-1973....

  • Chinese Immigration Act, 1923
    Chinese Immigration Act, 1923
    The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, known in the Chinese Canadian community as the Chinese Exclusion Act, was an act passed by the Parliament of Canada, banning most forms of Chinese immigration to Canada...

    , of Canada
  • New Zealand head tax
    New Zealand head tax
    New Zealand imposed a poll tax on Chinese immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The poll tax was effectively lifted in the 1930s following the invasion of China by Japan, and was finally repealed in 1944...

  • Head tax (Canada)
    Head tax (Canada)
    The Chinese head tax was a fixed fee charged to each Chinese person entering Canada. The head tax was first levied after the Canadian parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 and was meant to discourage Chinese people from entering Canada after the completion of the Canadian Pacific...

External links