"The Chinese, The Chinese, You Know"

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"The Chinese, The Chinese, You Know"

Terrorist Attacks on Chinese Immigrants in the United States


By: John E. Donnelly, W. S. Mullally

Date: 1885

Source: "The Chinese, The Chinese, You Know", a song.

About the Author: In 1885, a well-known minstrel leader, W. S. Mullally, teamed with John E. Donnelly to produce a local song, "The Chinese, The Chinese, You Know." The song proved popular enough to be picked up by the National Music Company of Chicago for national distribution.


The Chinese were the first group of Asians to migrate to the United States in significant numbers, and they became the first Asians to suffer racially motivated attacks by white Americans. The Chinese came to the United States in the 1850s at the invitation of business owners to work in the mines and on the railroads. The Chinese, typically single males, worked for less money than white laborers and frequently took the dangerous and unpleasant jobs that whites did not want. About one-twelfth of the population of California consisted of people of Chinese descent by 1870.

The end of the Civil War dramatically changed the employment situation in the West. Demobilized whites competed with the Chinese for work in an economy suffering from a postwar recession. Additionally, the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 made it much easier for white laborers to move to California. White unemployment rose in the state.

As a direct result of job fears by white laborers, agitation against the Chinese grew rapidly. By 1867, an increasing campaign of moral, political, and economic pressure by white workers against the employment of Chinese proved moderately successful. Despite persuading many employers to dismiss Chinese laborers, white workers became steadily more hostile toward the Asians. The Chinese who worked in mines were often subject to taxes by white miners. Assaults against Chinese men were common. In the winter of 1867, 400 white workingmen attacked a group of Chinese who were excavating for a street railway in Eureka, California. The crowd stoned the Chinese, maimed several people, and burned their shanties. Afterward, the leaders of the riot were jailed and the Chinese resumed work under armed guard. In 1871, a Los Angeles mob lynched twenty-one Chinese workers.

When a depression struck in 1873 and continued through the 1870s, Chinese labor was blamed. Denis Kearney founded the Workingman's Party of California in 1877 and mounted a massive drive in support of a new state constitution to severely restrict Chinese residence, employment, and education.


I'll sing of a subject, but your ears you must lend,
And listen to what I've to say.
We'll have to do something with this curse in our land,
For our business has gone to decay.
The merchants are idle, their goods on their hands,
And the cause of this terrible woe
I'll tell you my friends, and you'll say I am right
It's the Chinese, the Chinese, you know.
Let labor and capital go hand in hand
And crush out this terrible foe
For a crying disgrace is this abominable race,
The Chinese, the Chinese, you know.


Workers in the West convinced Congress to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. The legislation applied to Chinese laborers, skilled or unskilled, who intended to immigrate to the United States from any foreign port. Ship captains who accepted Chinese workers as passengers were subject to fines, imprisonment, and the forfeiture of their vessels. In addition, state and federal courts were forbidden to naturalize Chinese, thereby preventing Chinese immigrants from becoming American citizens. The freedom to become a citizen was granted only to native-born Chinese.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first national law ever passed banning a group of people based on race or nationality. It was reenacted in 1892 and again in 1902 before being made permanent in 1904. In that year, Chinese laborers already living in U.S. possessions, such as Hawaii and the Philippines, were barred from coming to the mainland. As a result of federal legislation, the Asian immigrant populations in the United States stagnated.

Most Americans saw the act as solving the problem of scarcity by eliminating a triple threat: a competitor for jobs, a people they considered racially inferior, and an emissary of a competing empire. The false issue of Chinese exclusion deflected the workers from the real problems of employment and capital. The situation for workers would not improve because of the anti-Chinese legislation. Workers would continue to struggle for better pay, better hours, and better working conditions into the twentieth century.

The anti-Chinese legislation set a pattern of discrimination that would be applied to other Asian groups. Over the years, other Asians were also excluded from the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act remained a law until World War II. By this time, the legislation had become an embarrassment to the government of the United States. In 1943, eager to demonstrate interest in joining with the Chinese against the common enemy of Japan, the government removed the Chinese from exclusion. People of Chinese heritage were granted the right to become citizens regardless of where they were born.



Saxton, Alexander. The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971.

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"The Chinese, The Chinese, You Know"