High Lights on the Chinese Exclusion and Expulsion

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High Lights on the Chinese Exclusion and Expulsion


By: Oliver P. Stidger

Date: September 1924

Source: Stidger, Oliver P. High Lights on the Chinese Exclusion and Expulsion. Chinese Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco, California, September 1924.

About the Author: Oliver P. Stidger was the attorney for the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce, an organization that promoted Chinese businesses.


Trade between the United States and China began in 1784 with the successful docking of the ship Empress of China; the Americans delivered cotton and fur and returned with silks, spices, and porcelain. The successful trade, netting a high profit for the merchants, led to an opening of Chinese-U.S. trade relations into the nineteenth century.

The Opium War in the late 1830s and early 1840s opened China further to European goods and trade. In 1844, American diplomats negotiated the Wangxia Treaty, which allowed for U.S. access to trade with China and for involvement in the illegal opium trade. For the next few decades, Chinese immigrants entered the United States, spurred by the Gold Rush in the early 1850s. Chinese settlement on the west coast of the United States, particularly in San Francisco, led to the development of small "Chinatowns" where Chinese immigrants clustered, opening businesses to serve both Chinese and native-born American customers. The 1868 Burlingame Treaty gave immigrants from each country most-favored-nation status in protection and immigration rights.

By the 1870s, anti-Chinese sentiment grew in the west, fueled by unemployment, racism, and anger over employers' preference for lower-paid Chinese workers. Violence, initiated by white mobs, led to deaths in Los Angeles and Colorado, with other incidents in Washington, Oregon, and throughout California. In 1882, despite the Chinese government's opposition and opposition from Chinese diplomats stationed in Washington, D.C., in the embassy opened there in 1878, the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The first piece of legislation aimed at a particular immigrant group, the 1882 law severely restricted Chinese immigration, limited labor opportunities, and worked to weaken Chinatowns and Chinese businesses. Within ten years the law was renewed and tightened. The resulting Geary Act of 1892 limited legal rights in court and in the criminal law system as well.

An 1884, United States Supreme Court decision, Heong v. United States, placed limits on Chinese laborers' ability to bring Chinese spouses to the United States. The 1888 Scott Act barred even those Chinese with proper documentation from returning to the United States after visiting China. The result drastically lowered the number of Chinese immigrants who remained in the United States.

By the early twentieth century, the Chinese Exclusion Act, now the Geary Act, was a firm component in the U.S. immigration policy toward China. Renewed in 1902 indefinitely, the Geary Act continued to restrict Chinese immigration. By 1905, Chinese citizens in China, most notably in Guangdong Province, but also in most major Chinese cities, began a boycott of American goods to protest the restrictions. In spite of such limitations, Chinese immigrants continued to trickle in to the United States, and the remaining Chinese community grew over time through marriages and births. By 1924, organizations such as the Chinese Chamber of Commerce gained strength and issued public statements to call attention to the various immigration laws that restricted the Chinese.


The Officers and Members of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco respectfully direct your attention to the following letter received from our attorney, O.P. Stidger, Esquire, and request that you consider the injustice pointed out and do all within your power to relieve the intolerable conditions enforced upon the Chinese mercantile interests of this country—by securing a Congressional amendment to the Immigration Law of 1924.

The fact that we are restricted by the Immigration Law of 1924, in addition to being subjected to the harshness of the various treaties and exclusion laws since 1844, makes it impossible for us to continue in upbuilding and maintaining friendly business relations with our brother merchants in the Orient. This intolerable and deplorable condition can only be remedied by the co-operation and assistance of those who believe that the future of San Francisco and the whole Pacific Coast lies within its trade with the Orient.

With these thoughts in mind we ask for your hearty co-operation.


The Chinese Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco.





September, 1924.


The Immigration Law of 1924 completely overhauled the immigration system in the United States. In 1921 a temporary quota system had been instituted; the 1924 law made it permanent. Before 1924, more than 350,000 people were permitted into the United States as immigrants each year; the 1924 law cut that number to 164,000 with an ultimate goal of 154,000. The law permitted two percent of the current population of immigrants from a particular country to enter, based on 1890 census figures. With nearly eight years of enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act depressing the number of Chinese immigrants, the number of Chinese permitted to enter the country legally (the allowed two percent) came to one hundred people allowed per year under the 1924 immigration law.

As the letter from the Chinese Chamber of Commerce notes, the severe restrictions imposed by the 1924 law inhibited business growth, immigration, and trade. The brief letter highlights trade and commerce as victims of the 1924 law as it stood, and suggests an amendment to change the Chinese quota and to help smooth trade difficulties with China. Unlike Europeans, Africans, or other Asians negatively affected by the new law, Chinese immigration restrictions had stretched back for forty-two years; the four decades had created conditions that limited Chinese immigrant development in the United States, and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce's appeal used simple economics and profit to work toward a change in U.S. policy.

By 1924, industrial development in the United States—aided by wartime industry during World War I—had fueled economic growth. By alluding directly to the 1924 law's negative impact on west coast economic development and trade relations with China and other Asian nations restricted by the immigration overhaul, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce attempted to appeal to the nation's industrial interests.

A series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1925 and 1927, Chang Chan et al. v. John D. Nagle, Cheung Sumchee v. Nagle, and Weedin v. Chin Bow set limits on Chinese immigrants wishing to bring wives to the United States from China and interpreted the 1924 immigration law in light of Chinese interests. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce's appeal did not result in an amendment to the 1924 law lifting restrictions. For the next nineteen years, Chinese immigration was virtually eliminated, until the 1943 Magnuson Act lifted the Geary Act's restrictions. By 1965, a new immigration law gave the Chinese equal footing with other immigrants, eighty-three years after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.



Gyory, Andrew. Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Lee, Erika. At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Wong, K. Scott, and Sucheng Chan, eds. Claiming America: Constructing Chinese Identities During the Exclusion Era. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press, 1998.

Web sites

National Archives and Records Administration. "Chinese Immigration and the Chinese in the United States." 〈http://www.archives.gov/locations/finding-aids/chinese-immigration.html〉 (accessed June 11, 2006).