Chinese Exclusion Acts

By Gerald McFarland
  • Grades: 6–8, 9–12

The Chinese Exclusion Acts were federal laws passed in 1882, 1892, and 1902 to prevent Chinese immigration to the United States. Large numbers of Chinese came to the West Coast after the discovery (1848) of gold in California and during the construction (1864-69) of the Central Pacific Railroad. The right of Chinese to immigrate to the United States received formal protection under the Burlingame Treaty (1868), but economic competition between Chinese and native white American laborers led to anti-Chinese agitation, which intensified during the depression of the 1870s and culminated (1877) in anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco.

In 1879, Congress passed an act severely restricting Chinese immigration, but the act was vetoed by President Rutherford B. Hayes. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, however, suspended Chinese immigration completely for 10 years. In 1892, Congress extended the exclusion for 10 more years, and in 1902 the prohibition was passed again without a terminal date. These laws were repealed in 1943, when China was a U.S. ally in World War II, but a quota of 105 immigrants a year severely restricted Chinese immigration until the implementation of much-liberalized rules under a 1965 amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Bibliography: Sung, Betty Lee, Mountain of Gold: The Story of the Chinese in America (1967).

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