Chinese Exclusion


Wong Fook, Lee Chao, and Ging Cui were among thousands of Chinese workers who built the Central Pacific Railroad, working longer hours for less pay than white workers under dangerous conditions. In 1867, workers staged a strike for equal pay and better conditions. The largest labor action in the country at that time, the strike ended after Central Pacific cut off the workers’ food supplies. (Amon Carter Museum of American Art Archives)

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first major law restricting voluntary immigration to the United States. It banned all immigrants from China for 10 years, prohibited Chinese immigrants from becoming American citizens, and restricted the entry and re-entry of Chinese nationals.

As Chinese people joined the flow of migrants to the West Coast of the United States after the Gold Rush of 1849, many white Americans resented economic competition from Chinese workers, denounced Chinese people as racially inferior, and blamed them for white unemployment and declining wages. The Exclusion Act kept many Chinese nationals from entering the United States and fueled mistreatment of Chinese people in America.

In 1885, an all-white San Francisco public school barred a Chinese child, claiming Chinese people were “dangerous to the well-being of the state.” When a Wyoming railroad company hired Chinese miners in 1885, white miners rioted, killing 28 Chinese people and wounding 15. In Boise, Idaho, white residents held an Anti-Chinese Convention in 1886 and voted to “expel” Chinese residents using violence and intimidation; by 1910, nearly all Chinese residents fled the state.

The Exclusion Act was extended and strengthened over the next 80 years. In 1892, Congress extended the Act for 10 years, and in 1902, it made the Act permanent and added discriminatory provisions. The legal ban on immigration from China was slightly loosened in 1943, but large-scale Chinese immigration was not restored until the Immigration Act of 1965 passed.

Like Chinese immigrants did for generations, other hopeful immigrants to the United States continue to struggle against unjust laws and harmful abuse rooted in racial prejudice.