Discrimination faced by Chinese immigrants during the industrial era.

During the industrial era, the Chinese immigrants struggled with ethnic discrimination in the United States. In the American society, the majority of Chinese immigrants were living in poverty and criminalized due to their inability to speak English and limited education (Boswell, 1986). Even though these immigrants faced a lot of social difficulties, they also experienced great opportunities as well. The Chinese immigrants have contributed greatly to this nation by building its railroad lines, developing a laundry soap, and opening up restaurants. Chinese immigrants have played a significant role in making this country what it is today. They are also a part of its history and represent the cultural diversity that America has to offer. Despite all of the hardships they faced, they managed to assimilate into American culture and contribute to the growth of this nation.

The Chinese faced various forms of discrimination from the well-established American citizens. While this discrimination was occurring at the beginning of the industrial era, it gradually became more evident during the later years. One of the most obvious forms of discrimination was in being excluded from jobs they were qualified for (Boswell, 1986). The Chinese were not only excluded from certain jobs like construction and policeman, but also excluded from American society altogether. They could not join any organizations or school due to a belief that they would be treated unfairly. Even though there were attitudes against them, their presence in America created opportunities for other people to make money by opening up restaurants and laundry shops.

The period of time from 1840-1920 was filled with attitudinal changes in the United States toward Chinese immigrants. Many people became frustrated with the lack of productivity from the great amount of hardworking people residing in America at that time. With increased discrimination towards them, many foreigners went back home for their families or moved to Canada just to avoid painful experiences in America (Lee, 2003).

The California Constitution of 1879 excluded Chinese laborers, both unskilled and skilled from entering the congress. No Mongolian or Chinese could be employed in any capacity, indirectly, or directly by any organization or club, or any place which can engage in business. The constitution did not prevent Chinese from entering the state, but restricted them from becoming citizens. Various laws were passed to to ensure that no corporation could employ a Chinese laborer, or to prevent Chinese from buying property. The constitution of 1879 was eventually repealed in 1965.

Though [most] constitutional amendments failed, the California legislature created the California Board of Immigration that was to oversee the development and implementation of a plan for restricting the immigration of Chinese people and other undesirable races into the state. The board made its first reports to legislative committees in November and December 1852. Its most important recommendation had to do with a system for excluding immigrants before they arrived. The board recommended several methods of exclusion: denying passengers landing places on California shores; preventing them from taking ships as passengers; or prohibiting ships with Chinese crews and passengers from coming into California’s harbors (Lee, 2003).

During the mid-19th century to early 20th century there were rising tensions between immigrants and natives of different races, religions and ethnicities. The Gold Rush brought great wealth to California; however it was also accompanied by many negative consequences such as the increased crime rate, disease and social problems that eventually forced Californians to demand a change in policies. Anti-Chinese groups formed during this time period due to their perception of Chinese immigrants being economic burdens on society, responsible for spreading diseases, possessing an unsound moral character and undermining the American practice of Christianity due to their practice of Buddhism.

Yick Wo was a Chinese who operated laundry business in San Francisco for many years but he was refused a permit. He was arrested when he continued to run the business. Yick Wo then sued the city of San Francisco. This is a good example of how the city attempted to curtail Chinese businesses in San Francisco at the time in California history. In 1875, Yick Wo and a partner named Chin Fung opened a laundry on Washington Street. The years that followed saw Yick Wo become the “queen of Chinese laundries” in San Francisco. Yick Wo was successful at first but soon began to receive complaints from other merchants, particularly those who sold liquor and groceries in Chinatown. Around this time, laws were passed prohibiting the sale of opium in the city, and Yick Wo’s laundry could not be operated above Po Lin Monastery because several former residents had come over to America. These rules made it difficult to continue operating his business. The Yick Wo v. Hopkins case is considered one of two important pieces of litigation in United States history that involve human rights, and the first piece that determined what those human rights were worth in a court of law (the other being Ex Parte Quirin).

According to the case U.S. v. Wong Kim Arkof 1898, it was held that any child born within the United States territory, regardless of the nationality or race of the parents, is a U.S. citizen. This resulted in a change of mind for many Chinese immigrants who previously felt that they were ineligible for citizenship. The case was decided following the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in some instances. It led to changes in how all minorities were viewed, not only Chinese immigrants. This has further led to the idea that citizenship can be claimed by anyone, regardless of their background or nationality. However, as time progressed, many people have come up with another opinion that racial minorities can only present themselves as U.S. citizens if they are white and have been born in this country since birth; otherwise they may be denied access to certain rights such as voting or being able to serve on jury duty without explicit cause.

On the other hand, In the Chae Chan Ping v. U.S., also known as The Chinese Exclusion Case the supreme court made it clear that the congress has the sovereign power and authority according to the constitution to prevent Chinese immigrants from entering or reentering the United States. When Chae Chan Ping arrived on U.S. soil in San Francisco, CA, he was not granted entry because of the prohibition act that had been passed by congress a few years earlier and signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur; which stated that all Chinese immigrants were prohibited from entering the country except for a very small list of students and merchants who had been given permission to enter without their families. The court then upheld the power of congress’ decision in this case and stated that they have legally deemed all Chinese individuals to be “aliens” even though they were born in the United States.

The case displays some level of discrimination against the Chinese population because the supreme court, which is considered to be a high authority in the United States, made it clear that deciding a person’s citizenship by birth on U.S. soil is within the power of congress; this was not legal in Chae Chan Ping’s case so he was denied entrance into the United States of America because he was Chinese. The court then upheld this decision and stated that they have legally concluded all Chinese individuals to be aliens even though they were born in the U.S.


Boswell, T. E. (1986). A split labor market analysis of discrimination against Chinese immigrants, 1850-1882. American Sociological Review, 352-371.

Lee, E. (2003). At America’s gates: Chinese immigration during the exclusion era, 1882-1943. Univ of North Carolina Press.