Chinese Immigration 1880-1920

By: Mary Cathryn Mathis, Zander Santi, Brittney Townsend, and Grace Martin

Reasons Why Chinese Left Their Homeland

The Chinese were attracted to America by the Gold Rush of 1849, they felt they would 'get rich quick' by searching for gold in California. Mining jobs were plentiful, and there were many transcontinental railroad construction jobs. Since the construction jobs did not pay much, many others considered them too low for their social status. Additionally, the Civil War was tearing China apart during the 1860's so they fled to America to escape the destruction of their homes. When the Chinese immigrants arrived and settled into America, more than 90% lived in the 10 westernmost states. More than two-thirds resided in California. San Francisco became home to basically a quarter of the nation's 107,000 Chinese in 1890. Because of this, San Francisco became the capital of Chinese America.

Two Chinese men at mealtime, most likely on a boat.

What did Chinese experience once they got to America?

Chinese found jobs working on the transcontinental railroad and mining in the

Gold Rush of 1849. Once the railroad was finished and all the gold seemed to

be gone, they were jobless but sometimes worked very cheap labor such as

factories. All different races fought for jobs fiercely and most of the time it

was between the Chinese and the Irish-Americans.

Chinese immigrants with all of their baggage. Probably on Angel Island

American Reaction to the Chinese Presence

The Americans grew angry because the Chinese took away all of the open jobs no

matter how small. Some of these jobs included doing the labor work for the transcontinental railroad and the Gold Rush of 1849. Other examples of the jobs the Chinese occupied were canning, timber and agriculture.

The Americans also wanted to change the Chinese language so they would fit in and be like the rest of the citizens. People also stood up and made speeches about how they wanted

them to go back to their country. They banned the Chinese from being natural citizens just as they did the rest of the immigrants. For example, one of the laws against them called the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited all the chinese workers from coming into the country for a streak of 10 years.

Chinese immigrants on boat; some sharing meals

Side Facts

Although many of the Americans despised the Chinese for taking all of the job openings, they were particularly appealing to mine operators. This was mainly because they had an acceptance of low wages and a strong, hard work ethic. They also had a willingness to work in dangerous conditions that frightened most others. Business owners would hire brokers to pay for the transport of Chinese across the Pacific Ocean and in return the Chinese would pay it off through their work in the mines.

The Chinese workers were paid less than the white workers even for the same work. For example, Chinese workers laying tracks for the transcontinental railroad in Nevada and Utah received basically $26 each month and had to pay for their board. On the other hand, white workers were paid $35 a month and received free board.

Following a riot that occurred in 1887, a business man named Denis Kearney formed the Workingmen's Party of California, an anti-Chinese group that was widespread; although Denis Kearney himself had once been an immigrant. He was Irish-born and came over to America as a young man. Then, in San Francisco he established a hauling business and was granted citizenship in 1876.

Chinese immigrants lined up on a ship


Grace: Ni hao

M-Cat: or in other words, hello.

Zander: today we are going to tell you about why the Chinese came, what they experience once they got here, and how the Americans reacted to their arrival.

Brittney: here is their story

(assemble into spots)

Grace: Once the Chinese immigrants arrive at Angel island they are asked questions about their background. Such questions might include...

Brittney: “What is your name?”, “Where are you from?”, “Where are you going?”, “How much money do you have with you?”, “Can you read and write?” (to M-Cat and Zander who give a couple fake answers)

Grace: Then doctors will inspect their health so if they are let into America they will not get everyone sick with foreign diseases.

(Brittney then (softly) lifts up the eyelid and points a flashlight down M-Cat’s mouth)

Grace: If they are all clear they are let in.

(M-Cat and Zander excitedly walk through)

Grace: The most common reason why the Chinese came to America from the 1880’s -1920’s was because of the Gold Rush of 1849 and job opportunities to work on the transcontinental road.

(M-Cat walks over to the “river” and starts piling pebbles in it and sifts through them. Zander shovels at the ground symbolizing clearing ways for train tracks)

M-Cat- Most of the jobs like this had to be fought for because there was so many immigrants looking for cheap work. (still working)

Zander- We mostly fought with the Irish- Americans. Also, laws against us made finding jobs even harder. An example would be the exclusion act. (while working)

Brittney: The exclusion act prohibited chinese labor from coming into America over a period of ten years.

Grace: You can definitely say that the Americans reaction to the Chinese immigrants was far from a “warm welcome”.

Costumes and props

  • Mary Cathryn Mathis
  • Jeans
  • Working man shirt
  • Boots
  • Pillow Case- Filled with books
  • Wear hair in low braid
  • Pan
  • Gold rocks
  • Regular Rocks

  • Zander Santi
  • Traditional Chinese Robe
  • Traditional Chinese Rice Hat
  • American made shovel

  • Brittney Townsend
  • Flashlight
  • Lab Coat