Timeline of Chinese immigration to the United States
This timeline covers Chinese immigration to the United States, including both temporary and permanent migration. Among the topics discussed are: migration patterns, source and target regions of migration, laws (U.S. federal and state, and Chinese) that target or significantly affect migration patterns, court cases and administrative/bureaucratic developments affecting migration.
|Year||Month and date (if available)||Event type||Affected United States region||Details|
|1815||Beginning of migration||California||Migration from China to the United States begins at a very small scale, along with the opening of trade between China and the United States. See the Wikipedia page History of Chinese Americans for more context.|
|1834||Beginning of migration||California||Afong Moy is the first Chinese woman to arrive in the United States. She is brought from her home town of Guangzhou to New York City by Nathaniel and Frederick Carne, who exhibit her as "the Chinese Lady".|
|1844||July 3||Treaty||United States||The Treaty of Wanghia is signed at the Kun Iam Temple between the United States of America (represented by Caleb Cushing, a lawyer dispatched by President John Tyler) and Keying, the Viceroy of Liangguang, representing the Qing Empire that rules China. It would be ratified by United States President John Tyler on January 17, 1845. The treaty is an unequal treaty, and its 34 articles deal with assuring the rights of US ships, traders, and citizens in China/ Reciprocal rights of Chinese traders and citizens in the United States are not covered. Subsequent treaties would be more equal.|
|1848||January||Beginning of migration||California||Gold is discovered in California, leading to a California Gold Rush. A number of people from China arrive in the United States to participate in the Gold Rush. Before 1848, the total number of Chinese in the United States is only 325; soon, annual immigration from China exceeds this amount.|
|1848||February||Jurisdictional definitions and boundaries||California||The Mexican–American War concludes, and Alta California (which includes the modern U.S. state of California, plus nearby regions) is established to be part of the United States.|
|1849||Organization||California (San Francisco)||The Chew Yick Association, one of the earliest organizations of Chinese in the United States, elects Norman As-sing, a prominent Chinese merchant, as their leader. Allegedly an American citizen naturalized in Charleston, South Carolina and converted to Christianity, As-sing acts as a bridge between Chinese and American cultures.|
|1849||December 20||Leadership change||California||Peter Burnett becomes the first Governor of California as a state. Burnett would play a key role in setting the state's initial exclusionary policies towards non-whites, especially Chinese, with his championing of a $20 Foreign Miners Tax.|
|1850||Settlement||California (San Francisco)||Chinatown, San Francisco begins to be formed, as Chinese settle in the area (partly because of being unable to move into other parts of the city).|
|1850||September 9||Jurisdictional definitions and boundaries||California||The state of California comes into formal existence as part of the Compromise of 1850.|
|1850||April 13||Tax||California||The state of California passes a Foreign Miners Tax Act imposing a tax of $20/month on foreign miners in California, which has an effect on Chinese as well as miners from Europe and other countries in the Americas. The Act is approved by the legislature and signed into law by Peter Burnett, who is one of the proponents of exclusionary policies toward Chinese. Of the money, the tax collector would receive $3 and the remainder would be split between the county and state governments.:468 Signed into law on April 13, 1850, the Act would be published in California newspapers over the next two weeks.:210 The tax leads to protests from French, Mexican, and Peruvian miners. The state fails to raise the expected revenues from the tax, as many miners leave the state of California, some going to other states and some returning to their home countries.:468:50|
|1851||January 9||Leadership change||California||John McDougall (sometimes spelled John McDougal) succeeds Peter Burnett as California governor. Unlike his predecessor and successor, McDougall has a favorable view of Chinese immigration, and sees it as a way to cope with California's labor shortage, proposing to employ Chinese immigrants in projects to reclaim swamps and flooded lands.|
|1851||Tax||California||The Foreign Miners' Tax is repealed, after failing to raise sufficient revenue, and causing impoverishment among miners, making them flee to cities with no money. One source credits the repeal to lobbying from white real estate owners in Tuolomne County (who are concerned about the drop in rents and prices as miners leave the area).:468|
|1851||Organization||California (San Francisco)||Tong K. Achick arrives in San Francisco. He knew some English and some American customs from mission schools in China. He would go on to found the Yeong Wo Association for immigrants from his native district of Heung Shan.|
|1852||January 8||Leadership change||California||John Bigler succeeds John McDougall as California governor. Unlike McDougal, Bigler wants to stop Chinese immigration and encourage existing Chinese to leave. He would play a key role in taxes and other legislation attempting to drive Chinese out of California.|
|1852||Late April||Violence, ultimatum||California (Yuba County)||A miners' convention meeting at Foster and Atchinson's General Store in Yuba County leads to the issuing of an an ultimatum stating that no Chinese miner can hold a mining claim after May 1 and none can remain in the county after May 3. However, violence against Chinese erupts even before them, leading to the Chinese being forced out.:62|
|1852||April 25||Speech/writing||California||California governor John Bigler delivers a Special Address on Asiatic Emigration, arguing against Chinese immigration and justify the Foreign Miners' Tax of $3/month that was being passed at the time. Over and above the stated tax burden, many Chinese have to bear a much larger tax burden due to the problem of multiple fake tax collectors demanding payment.:59|
|1852||May 5||Speech/writing||California (San Francisco)||Norman As-sing, leader of the Chew Yick Association, writes an open letter to California governor John Bigler, published in Daily Alta California. The letter, a response to Bigler's April 25 Special Address on Asiatic Emigration, challenges the idea of immigration restrictions against the Chinese, highlights the rich cultural history and contributions of Chinese, and argues for equal treatment with an appeal to the United States founding principles.|
|1852||May 8||Ultimatum||California (Columbia, Shasta County)||At the second Columbia Miners Convention, the attending white miners declared that "no Asiatic or South Sea Islander shall be permitted to mine in this district either for himself or for others." The miners' underlying frustrations stem from the dwindling of gold reserves, the supplanting of individual miners by larger corporations (as more expensive tools become necessary once the low-hanging fruit is plucked), and competition from Chinese miners.:63-64|
|1852||Tax||California||The state of California imposes a Foreign Miners' License Tax of $3/month on foreign miners. The tax is signed into law by and enthusiastically supported by Governor John Bigler. The amount of the tax would increase gradually, to $4/month in 1853, and then again to $6/month in 1855, set to increase by $2/month each year. In 1856, the state legislature reset the amount at $4/month. The amount would eventually get to $20/month in 1870, at which point it would be repealed.:469|
|1854||Court case||California||In People v. Hall, George Hall is accused of murdering a foreign miner Ling Sing, but all witnesses are Chinese. The court rejects their testimony, arguing that Section 394 (which forbade Indians and blacks from testifying against whites) also forbade Chinese from testifying againt whites. The opinion is delivered in 1854 by Chief Justice Hugh Murray with the concurrence of Justice Solomon Heydenfeldt.:67-68|
|1854||Prostitution||California (San Francisco)||Chinese madam Ah Toy shuts down her business in response to the decision in People v. Hall. She had previously used the threat of the law to protect herself from clients who harassed her, but this would no longer be possible. See Ah Toy on Wikipedia for more.|
|1855||Speech/writing||California (San Francisco)||A response in Chinese to Governor Bigler's Special Message, with a translation to English, is published. The original Chinese version was written by the Lai Chun-Chuen, the Chinese Merchant Exchange. In addition to disputing Governor Bigler's characterization, the Chinese merchants threaten reciprocal action against American citizens residing in China.:61-62|
|1855||January, February||Ultimatum, Violence||California (Shasta County)||In January, white miners issue an ultimatum to Chinese to stop working in the country, and to white men to stop employing Chinese labor. The deadline is specified as February 25. The Chinese refuse to leave, leading to a mob of white men chasing Chinese out at gunpoint. Clay Stockton (the new Sheriff) chases the white mob and arrests many of its members, but is unable to keep them locked up as a scared judge releases the prisoners.:41-43|
|1855||April 28||Tax||California||The California state legislature passes an Act to Discourage the Immigration to the State of Persons who cannot Become Citizens thereof, imposing a $50 tax on the owner of the arriving ship or vessel for each migrant on board the vessel who is not eligible for United States citizen. In particular, this law applies to Chinese immigrants, since naturalization is currently restricted to free white persons (by the Naturalization Act of 1790). The Act goes in effect on September 1.:58 The tax would be declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in 1857.|
|1858||Treaty||United States||With the conclusion of the Second Opium War, the Treaty of Tientsin is signed between China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The complicated treaty requires China to continue to open its ports to Western access, and in turn, the Chinese have access to Western ports.|
|1858||Settlement||New York City||Businessman Ah Ken arrives in New York City and sets up cigar stores around this time, marking the beginnings of Chinatown, Manhattan.|
|1858||October 1||Legislation (restrictionist)||California||The California state legislature passes a law forbidding Chinese individuals from landing in California except in emergency circumstances, and asserting that it had the right to exclude any class of foreigners deemed obnoxious to California's social or political interests.:58-59 The law would be declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in 1862.|
|1859||Ultimatum, Violence||California (Shasta City, Shasta County)||The "Shasta Wars" occur -- a battle between white miners who seek to evict Chinese, against Chinese miners who refuse to vacate and Sheriff Clay Stockton, keen to maintain law and order. White miners convene at Brannan's General Store on Middle Creek in the Siskiyous for the Shasta Miners Convention, and on February 5 issue an ultimatum to Chinese to vacate the area in three weeks. Chinese refuse to leave, and a gang of white miners attacks their claims. Four days later, they attack rich Chinese claims close to Shasta City. Sheriff Stockton disperses the mob and frees about 200 Chinese. After securing more ammunition from the Governor John Weller, Stockton manages to suppress the gang violence, causing Chinese to celebrate. However, Chinese mostly leave the area by 1860, and Justice Keene declares all the rioters arrested by Stockton "not guilty".:43-44|
|1859||Court case||California||In People v. Elyea, the precedent of People v. Hall is overturned, and it is established that tawny skin color is not a reliable measure of competence to serve as witness or testify in court, and cannot be used as a foolproof proxy for race.:3061:68|
|1860||Speech/writing||California||Pun Chi, a young Chinese merchant, delivers an impassioned appeal to the United States Congress, arguing against the decision in People v. Hall. The speech is translated from Chinese to English in 1870 by William Speer, a Presbyterian minister and missionary in San Francisco’s Chinatown.|
|1862||February 19||Legislation (restrictionist)||United States||The 37th United States Congress passes a law, known as the Anti-Coolie Act, forbidding participation by American citizens in the "coolie" trade from China, namely, trade in bonded Chinese labor. The Act also reinforces existing regulations on the conditions of transportation (as codified previously in modifications to the Steerage Act of 1819 and in the Carriage of Passengers Act of 1855).:58-59|
|1862||April 26||Tax||California||California passes the Chinese Police Tax Law, levying a $2.50 fee on all Chinese living in the state, with a few exceptions (those engaged in production of specific goods including sugar, rice, coffee, and tea. The Law exemplifies the expansion of anti-Chinese sentiments beyond mining, as the California economy becomes less focused on mining, and Chinese competition in other industries is resented.|
|1863||Connectivity||United States||Work begins on the First Transcontinental Railroad, connecting Northern California with the East Coast. The increased connectivity would result in Chinese immigrants moving to other parts of the country beyond California, and would make Chinese immigration a more salient federal issue, rather than merely a California state issue.|
|1863||Settlement||California (Los Angeles)||Chinatown, Los Angeles begins to form as Chinese begin to move to Los Angeles to work on the railroad.|
|1868||July 28||Treaty||United States||The treaty that would later be known as the Burlingame Treaty is ratified in Washington, D.C. The treaty amends the Treaty of Tientsin by making relations between China and the United States more equal. The United States grants China most favored nation status. The treaty affirms that each country must allow people from the other country to migrate to it, but the privilege of naturalization is withheld.|
|1869||May 10||Connectivity||United States||The First Transcontinental Railroad is completed, with the two teams working on the railroad from the west and east respectively meeting in Utah.|
|1869||December 28||Labor union||United States||The Knights of Labor, a progressive labor union, is founded by Uriah Stephens. The union plays an important role in the United States labor movement. Althought inclusive of women and blacks well ahead of public opinion, the union embraces anti-Chinese sentiment.|
|1871||October 24||Violence||California (Los Angeles)||The Chinese massacre of 1871 occurs in Los Angeles, California. 500 people enter Chinatown to attack, rob, and murder Chinese residents. An estimated 17 to 20 Chinese are tortured and hanged, making the event the largest mass lynching in American history..|
|1873||Legislation with disparate impact||California (San Francisco)||The Pigtail Ordinance is passed with a narrow margin by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, but vetoed by the Mayor.|
|1875||March 3||Legislation (restrictionist)||United States||The Page Act of 1875, the first restrictive federal immigration law, passes. It forbids the immigration of forced laborers from Asia, Asian women suspected of potentially engaging in prostitution, and all people considered convicts in their own country.|
|1876||January 13–14 (argument), March 20 (decision)||Court case||United States||In Chy Lung v. Freeman, the United States Supreme Court rules that the power to set rules surrounding immigration, and to manage foreign relations, rests with the federal government. The case is a lawsuit by Chinese women forbidden entry at San Francisco by the immigration commissioner who considers them "lewd and debauched women."|
|1876||April||Organization||California (Sacramento)||The Supreme Order of Caucasians is formed in Sacramento, California to drive Chinese out of the United States. It grows to 64 chapters called "camps" statewide with about 5,000 members.|
|1880||November 17||Treaty||United States||The Angell Treaty of 1880, formally known as the Treaty Regulating Immigration from China, passes in Beijing. The treaty would be ratified by the United States President on May 9, 1881, the ratification exchange would happen on July 19, 1881, and the proclamation would happen on October 5, 1881.|
|1882||May 6||Legislation (restrictionist)||United States||The Chinese Exclusion Act is signed into law by United States President Chester A. Arthur after passing both chambers of the 47th United States Congress.|
|1882||Organization||California (San Francisco)||The Chinese Six Companies, that are already operating in San Francisco to provide various benefits, protections, and oversight to people of Chinese origin in the area, form a Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.|
|1883||Organization||New York City||The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New York City forms.|
|1884||Legislation (restrictionist)||United States||The Chinese Exclusion Act is amended to require any Chinese leaving the United States to obtain re-entry certificates; those who do not present a re-entry certificate when re-entering will not be allowed to re-enter.|
|1884||October 30 (argument), December 8 (decision)||Restriction||United States||Chew Heong v. United States is decided in favor of the plaintiff. The case involves a Chinese plaintiff who resided in the United States and left it before the requirement to obtain re-entry certificates was added to the Chinese Exclusion Act. The requirement was added before his return, and he was denied entry. He sued contesting the denial, and the Court ruled in his favor.|
|1885||September 2||Violence||Wyoming (Rock Springs, Sweetwater County)||The Rock Springs Massacre, also known as the Rock Springs Riot, a riot between Chinese immigrant miners and white immigrant miners, occurs at Rock Springs in Sweetwater County, Wyoming, due to racial tensions created by an ongoing labor dispute over the Union Pacific Coal Department's policy of paying Chinese miners less than white miners, and giving them a preference in hiring. The riot, instigated by white miners, leads to at least 28 (and likely more) Chinese miners dead, and many non-fatal injuries. There is some speculation that the Knights of Labor organization is connected to the riots, but no definitive evidence.|
|1885||September 7||Violence||Washington (Squak Valley, now Issaquah)||The Attack on Squak Valley Chinese laborers, 1885 occurs.|
|1885||November 3||Violence||Washington (Tacoma)||The Tacoma Riot of 1885 occurs. The city of Tacoma had proposed a November 1 deadline for the Chinese population to leave the city. On November 3, two days after the deadline, an angry mob consisting of prominent businessmen, law enforcement, and political leaders marches Chinese residents to the railroad station and forces them to board a train to Portland. In the following days, structures belonging to the now expelled Chinese residents are razed.|
|1886||February 6–9||Violence||Washington (Seattle)||The Seattle Riot of 1886 occurs after a Knights of Labor chapter attempts forcible expulsion of all Chinese from the city. Violence occurs between chapter members and federal troops ordered in by President Grover Cleveland.|
|1887||May||Violence||Oregon (Wallowa County)||The Hells Canyon Massacre occurs, with 34 Chinese miners ambushed and murdered. The site of the violence is renamed Chinese Massacre Cove in 2005, and a memorial is placed there in 3 languages in 2012.|
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