One of many stains, the Chinese Exclusion Act. How the “Chinese question” and the “Negro problem” killed US at the turn of the 20th century

One of many stains, the Chinese Exclusion Act. How the “Chinese question” and the “Negro problem” killed US at the turn of the 20th century

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in the U.S. in the 1820s. In a mere 60 years, the Chinese Exclusion Act would tragically stunt a vibrant Chinese American community for almost 100 years.

Chinese Americans in the early 19th century were under counted. They were often counted as “Mulatto” or mixed race, owing to the perspective of white Southerners that they weren’t white men, but neither were they Black. The Anglo viewed the Chinese American somewhere between civilized and uncivilized. The center of U.S. culture in the middle of the 1800s was the South, not the North. Many parts of the North were still barbaric places ala Streets of New York. The South dictated the norms, customs, and often immigration policies of the United States. 

The Southern slave economy permitted a small number of wealthy planters to accumulate extraordinary fortunes. The 1860 census data show that the wealthiest 1 percent of Southerners’ median wealth was more than three times higher than for the richest percent of Northerners.

“Even counting slaves and estimating their income at subsistence, Easterlin’s estimates place Southern per capita income at 76 percent of the United States average in 1840 and 72 percent in 1860. Per capita income in the South was higher than in the North Central states — the Midwest of today — a good comparison since both of these sections were overwhelmingly agricultural in their economic life. Southern white per capita income exceeded the national average and compared favorably with that of the Northeast. The West South Central region exceeded the Northeast in per capita income in 1840, even considering the slaves as part of the population. For the free population alone, the North Central states had distinctly the lowest income-per-capita.”

Abbeville Institute

Many Chinese Americans were in the South. The rich white Southerners Planters Oligarchs paid money to bring them to the United States for labor. Similarly to the mid 20th century when the wealthy brought in migrants from Mexico via the Bracero program.

The idea of exploiting the Chinese workers first came up in England around the 1840s. When the British Empire got a hold of Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon… white supremacists began attempting to devise scientific reasons via pseudo science to continue to oppress people by race. The American South which included the wealthiest class in the United States was close to England, socially and politically. The South was anti-federalist, meaning they barely fought in the Revolutionary War. 

Charles Darwin got the idea of eugenics from his cousin, Sir Francis Galton. Galton was an English Victorian era statistician, sociologist, psychologist, and anthropologist, who coined the term eugenics. 

I still use Galtons “Parable of the Ox Weight Contest” in political theory, but he was an appalling white supremacist racist. 

In 1873, the London Times published an article by Galton, “Africa for the Chinese.” In this article, Galton stated that it would be in England’s best interest to make it a national policy for England in their colonies in Africa to encourage Chinese people to settle there and replace the Africans. 

The reason being that, according to Galton, that while Chinese people weren’t as smart as white people, they were smarter than Africans and easier to deal with. 

This idea was embraced across the pond in the United States in many interesting ways. 

By 1865 newspapers in the South began printing editorials and letters calling for Chinese labor to be the new labor supply This interest was sparked in part by accounts boasting that the Chinese contract labor attributed to the increase in Cuban agricultural imports. The dream was to make the Chinese the new exploitable labor supply positioned societally at the same level as African Americans.

“Coolies” is a slur for Chinese American.

DeBow’s Review was an agricultural trade magazine. Before the Civil War, the magazine “recommended the best practices for wringing profits from slaves”.

At a Chinese Labor Convention held in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1869, General Nathan Bedford Forrest (founder of the Ku Klux Klan) pledged $5000 to bring in 1,000 Chinese workers to the United States. The convention was attended mainly by white men discussing how to exploit the 50,000 Chinese migrant workers in the Caribbean. 

Newspaper Clipping,
Daily Alta California, Volume 21, Number 7056, 15 July 1869

Though the recruiting of Chinese migrants was happening before the Civil War owing to the Gold Rush, the Emancipation Proclamation made the matter even more urgent to the South. 

The idea was to encourage Chinese immigrants from both the Caribbean and China to replace the recently freed, previous enslaved Africans. The planter class did not believe in paying Black people. They viewed them as sub-human. Paying Black people was not an option they wanted to entertain.

The Caribbean had 50,000 Chinese migrants. The U.S. also had a Chinese immigrants population. In the mid-1800s, the young men mostly came from the Guangdong province. They were escaping the Opium Wars, two wars waged between Western European powers and Qing-dynasty between 1839- 1860, and simultaneously the Taiping Civil War. A huge massive rebellion in China between 1850 to 1864. The uprising was lead by Hong Xiuquan. Xiuquan, influenced by the Christian Bible, had a series of visions and believed himself to be the son of God, the younger brother of Jesus Christ, and sent by God to reform China.

The Europeans’ modern military technology led to quick victories over the Qing forces, which compelled the Chinese government to grant favorable tariffs, trade concessions, and territory to the Europeans.

According to Aarim-Heriot in her book “Chinese Immigrants, African Americans, and Racial Anxiety in the United States, 1848-82 ” R.S. Chilton, the commissioner of U.S. immigration, argued in his report to Congress that Chinese labor to the South should be prohibited and that the South should instead work out contracts with freed Blacks. The commissioner associated Chinese immigration with “involuntary” immigration, backdoor slavery. Southern publications and advocates of importing Chinese labor found a loophole by arguing that Chinese laborers were “voluntary” and had left the Caribbean after their “eight-year contracts” expired.

These Chinese migrants had no idea that their invitation to the U.S. was for permanent second-class status. Possibly they had some idea. 

Jefferson Davis is infamously remembered as the treasonous President of the Confederacy, but he was also a powerful senator from Mississippi, a Mexican War hero, and secretary of war from 1853 to 1857. Davis knew that if the South made the West’s connect from its ports, Dixie could dominate western territory and the future of the United States.

According to High Country News, Davis commissioned transcontinental railroad surveys leading west from New Orleans and Memphis. To keep California connected to the South before any railroad was built. Davis imported camels to serve Army posts that protected trails across the Southwestern deserts between Texas and California.

The Southerners at one point blocked the Transcontinental Railroad unless the railroad started in the South.

The Confederates were extensively involved in the California Gold Rush and the transcontinental railroad. Access to an exploitable labor pool was of great concern to them. Chinese Exclusion Act

Confederates believe in the idea of Mudsill. As explained by James Hammond, rapist, planter, owner of enslaved people, dishonorable U.S. Senator from South Carolina, and famous for his “King of Cotton” speech. 

Every society must find a class of people to do menial labor, whether called slaves or not, and that assigning that status on a racial basis followed natural law (eugenics). The North’s class of white wage laborers presented a revolutionary threat.

We work while the (RICH) white man thinks. Chinese Exclusion Act

“In 1849, Charles Perkins, a white Mississippian, set out for California to mine gold with an enslaved man named Carter Perkins. They were soon joined by two other male slaves from the Perkins plantation, Robert Perkins and Sandy Jones, who had been forced to migrate West, leaving their wives and children behind. The three men went to work for Charles Perkins mining gold.”

Gold Rush and Shattered Dreams. Gold Chains

James Wilson Marshall the first Anglo who discovered gold in California, though he was from New Jersey he and his boss John Sutter used enslaved people to mine gold. New Jersey had close ties to the Mudsill purviewed Confederacy, it also has the distinction of being the last state North of the Mason Dixon to sign the 13th Amendment, owing to the idea of Mudsill and the Confederacy. The first miners for California gold were enslaved Native Americans.

“New Jersey was slow to abolish slavery and reluctant to pass the 13th Amendment,[14] which it did in January 1866.”

2003, nancy Shakir, “Slavery in New Jersey

While congress forbade the enslavement of people in the Northwest, it was allowed in the Southwest. California was viewed as the Southwest. It was also under a doctrine called popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty meant a state could enslave people or not. A state or territory could do whatever the people that were its inhabitants were okay with and accepted as custom. 

Enslaving Africans and Native Americans— and exploiting Chinese workers was fine if most white men in the area agreed for it to be okay.

The South had many plans for the West. Reconstruction stopped much of their already laid groundwork to expand its empire to the West. Those plans possibly and likely included exploiting Chinese migrant labor, which their Western cousins embraced. Chi

After the implementation of Reconstruction, with no white supremacist senators advocating for their exploitation, the Chinese migrants became “invited” guests in a home whose Confederate hosts were no longer in control of its own house. 

For a while, the Chinese worker did very well without this direct oppression, at least economically. Despite being subjected to horrible treatment, such as the 1871 Chinese Massacre, where 500 Anglos (10 percent of the city’s population) attacked and killed Chinese Americans in Los Angeles.

According to the PBS American Experience, by 1870, there were 63,000 Chinese Americans in the U.S., 77 percent of whom were in California. That year, Chinese miners contributed more than $5 million to state’s coffers through the racist Foreign Miners Tax, almost one-quarter of the state’s revenue.

Despite their tremendous contributions, Chinese workers were continuously viewed as a threat to the ethnic and poor white workers, who were already fighting the economically desperate and newly freed Black workers. White workers did not want to share worker’s status with Chinese men.

To this day many white people in labor insist, it was just about labor, but that story does not quite add up. 

The planned replacement to the African slave did much better than expected in the Wild West. But with the transcontinental railroad completed, White supremacy no longer needed him for the new industrial America. 

After several massacres and riots, the U.S. Congress in 1882 enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, the only American law to bar one group from immigrating to the United States specifically.

It is racist and insulting to state the Chinese Exclusion Act was about labor, it was not. It was an anti-Asian issue. It was a white supremacist issue. It was white supremacy done with the industrialist oligarch’s face and the precious white working class rather than the planter oligarch’s face. 

The Chinese Exclusion Act is what we mean when we say the North is racist too. 


Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals

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