Chinese Immigration in the 1800’s | The Gilded Age

Chinese immigration to the U.S. escalated quickly in the 1850s-1880s, primarily in California. Immigrants usually planned to work in the gold mines and railroad construction, as well as agricultural jobs and factory work. These immigrants were disliked by the majority of U.S. citizens, due to their different culture and the threat of lower wages due to the Chinese immigrants being willing to work for lower wages. The immigrants established the “Chinatown” districts in large cities; they were not generally welcome in most urban neighborhoods. As labor unions began to oppose the presence of Chinese laborers in the 1870s, President Hayes vetoed an attempt by Western labor unions to restrict Chinese immigration, saying that it would be a violation of the Burlingame Treaty of 1868. This treaty was amended with the Angel Treaty of 1880, which restricted Chinese immigration to some extent. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act put a ten-year moratorium on Chinese immigration, but did allow some students and businessmen into the country temporarily. The Foran Act in 1885 prohibited American businessmen from traveling to China to recruit workers. It wasn’t until 1943 that Chinese immigrants were allowed to become citizens, however, with the Supreme Court case United States vs. Wong Kim Ark (1898), it was decided that the American-born children of Chinese immigrants would be full U.S. citizens.

The Gilded Age: Chinese Immigration


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