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Chinese Culture in America
China and theUnited States have enjoyed a unique relationship throughout the ages.Chinese presence in America was first documented in 1784 when somesailors landed in Baltimore. Some Chinese immigrants lived in NewYork during the 1830s (Ciment & Radzilowski 21). However, thegreatest influx of Chinese citizens into the US occurred in the 1850sduring the infamous Gold Rush (Chung 15). There were over 60,000Chinese in the country before the 1880s (Ciment & Radzilowski29). Chinese immigrants entered the US so as to work in gold mines(Chung 19). This explains why the majority of Chinese immigrants werefound in California.
Besides, Chineseworkers were also enticed by factory work in the garment industry andagricultural jobs. In the US, there was pertinent need for cheaplabor to help in construction projects. In this regard, Chineseworkers assisted in constructing numerous railroads such as thetranscontinental network (Ciment & Radzilowski 44). However, thehigh number of Chinese workers increased the competition for jobs.Inevitably, local American workers developed a strong anti-Chinesesentiment. Chinese immigrants endeavored to become integral membersof the US population. There was constant opposition to their customs,culture, language, and social institutions.
Granted, Chineseimmigrants amounted to a relatively small fraction of foreigners atthe time. Nevertheless, Chinese immigrants experienced tremendousdiscrimination and hostility. The Chinese were accused of not onlygrabbing available jobs but also corrupting American women. They wereperceived as threats to American culture and civilization (Ciment &Radzilowski 56). In response, the California government enactedvarious measures to curtail the influence of the Chinese. Forexample, Chinese businesses and workers were required to obtainspecial permits. Also, the state government attempted to prevent thenaturalization of Chinese residents (Chung 46). Some Chinese workersfaced systematic eviction from their jobs. They also lost businessesand land. In the mainstream society, the liberties and privileges ofChinese immigrants were suspended indefinitely.
The US Congressunsuccessfully tried to restrict the number of Chinese immigrantsarriving in the country via ship. However, a major victory was scoredwhen Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 (Li 16). Thislaw ensured a denial of citizenship and other democratic rights toChinese workers in the country. It also barred the furtherimmigration of Chinese laborers for a decade. Only students,teachers, travelers, and merchants were permitted to enter the USupon approval of legitimate documentation. Prospective Chineseimmigrants were subjected to interrogations, invasive medicalexaminations, and lengthy detentions in bedarkened barracks (Li 22).Nevertheless, current immigrants could still leave and return to thecountry.
The ExclusionAct of 1882 was renewed in 1982 with more discriminatory statutes.The new law required Chinese residents to register by proving theirright to stay in America (Li 36). Defaulters were either imprisonedor deported. Some Chinese immigrants were forced to use falsifieddocuments so as to obtain admission into the country. However, theprohibitive Act was recanted in 1943 during World War II (Ciment &Radzilowski 69). President Franklin Roosevelt signed this law thatlifted the ban on the naturalization of Chinese residents. Insubsequent years, selective immigration was permitted in the case ofChinese war brides. The 1943 Act failed to provide better treatmentfor Chinese immigrants. For example, Chinese were confined toisolated regions called Chinatowns (Ciment & Radzilowski 74).Segregation was also engineered through denial of democratic andother legal rights. Diplomatic means and the courts also provedincapable of safeguarding Chinese freedoms and rights.
The onset of theCivil Rights movement culminated in the adoption of the Civil RightsAct in 1964 (Ciment & Radzilowski 90). This Act nullified racialoppression and segregation faced by Chinese immigrants. Previouslydenied rights were not only restored but also reinforced. Besides,the Immigration and Nationality Act was enacted in 1965 (Ciment &Radzilowski 91). This law allowed Chinese immigrants to reunite withlong-lost family members. The Immigration Act also set preferencesfor skilled laborers. Since 1970, the number of Chinese immigrantshas increased to several thousand each year.
The globaloutlook and economic prosperity achieved in China changed the caliberof immigrants into America. Chinese scientists and intellectuals haveimmigrated into the US and contributed to the advancement of science,research, and technology. Other Chinese immigrants also moved intothe US so as to escape repression and political instability prevalentin Asia during the Cold War. For example, Vietnam’s ethniccleansing of Chinese residents raised the influx of immigrants intothe US (Ciment & Radzilowski 96).
Recent factsshow that Chinese immigrants constitute the largest Asian group inthe US. For example, the 2010 census registered over three millionChinese-Americans (Lee). In fact, Chinese laborers had higher annualearnings compared to the general American worker (Lee). The effectsof conducive laws and policies can be clearly seen in the thriving ofChinese communities in the US. Chinese middle-class residents haverisen in prominence in suburban neighborhoods. Furthermore, historicChinatowns have been revitalized and modernized (Lee). New arrivalsof immigrants have also enhanced the diversity and dynamic nature ofChinese residents.
Notwithstandingthe strides in policy and tolerance, the perception and treatment ofChinese-Americans has barely improved. Hostility and resentment stillabound in many American neighborhoods. Restrictive zoning has beenused to curb the growth of Chinese population and businesses (Ciment& Radzilowski 67). Some Americans are repulsed by the high levelof competition for jobs and college admissions. Consequently, unfairmeans have been used to reduce and reverse the enrollment of Chinesestudents in select learning institutions. Sadly, racial violence hasbeen reported in several instances (Ciment & Radzilowski 85).Such incidents show the depth of hatred harbored by some Americanstowards Chinese residents.
The actions ofChina often determine the interactions between Chinese culture andAmerican law enforcement. For example, some elite Chinese immigrantshave been accused of spying for the Chinese government (Lee).American legislators and economists have been incensed by China’sinsistence on devaluing their currency. This tactic undercuts thevalue of American exports to China. It also gives Chinese imports anundue advantage in American markets. Besides, China operates apositive balance of payments and holds the greatest reserves ofAmerican currency (Ciment & Radzilowski 101). In this regard, theUS has continually sought to shield its economy from external Chineseinfluence through legislation. The racial oppression anddiscrimination of Chinese immigrants may have ended. However, Chinesecontinue to be viewed with suspicion.
Indeed, Chineseculture has experienced plenty of run-ins with American lawenforcement. As discussed, Chinese immigrants moved into the US towork as laborers in gold mines and construction projects (Chung 19).Their increasing number generated intense competition for jobopportunities. Consequently, the US Congress enacted the ChineseExclusion Act in 1882 to restrict Chinese immigration andnaturalization (Li 16). The law was reaffirmed in 1892 when Chineseresidents were required to register for residency in the US. However,respite occurred in 1964 through the enactment of the Civil RightsAct. A year later, the Immigration Act was enacted to lift bans onimmigration and naturalization. From that point forward, the numbersof Chinese immigrants increased (Lee). Despite the increasedtolerance of Chinese populations, American citizens still abhor theproliferation of Chinese Americans.
Chung, Sue. In Pursuit of Gold: Chinese American Miners andMerchants in the American West. Illinois: University of IllinoisPress, 2014. Print.
Ciment, James & Radzilowski, John. American Immigration: AnEncyclopedia of Political, Social, and Cultural Change. Hoboken:Taylor and Francis, 2015. Print.
Lee, Erika. “Chinese immigrants now largest group of new arrivalsto the U.S: Column.” USA Today. USA Today, 7 July 2015. Web.21 March 2016.
Li, Tien-Lu. Congressional policy of Chinese immigration. NewYork: Arno Press, 2013. Print.