Chinese were drawn to immigrate to the US in the mid-19th century for a variety of reasons. First, several factors pushed Chinese, mostly from the southern Guangdong Province, to emigrate. The region was subject to typhoons and floods, resulting in famines. The Opium Wars from 1839-1842, fought mostly in Guangdong, caused further trouble in the province. And the Tai Ping rebellion, in which twenty million people were killed in the south of China, caused continued pressure to emigrate from 1851-1864.
The main factor drawing Chinese specifically to the United States was the Gold Rush. Gold was first discovered in California in 1848, and in Oregon in 1852. The United States soon came to be known as Gim-San, or "Gold Mountain", in south China. It was rumored that a traveler to Gim-San could acquire a small fortune in only a few years, perhaps even a few months, that would ensure prosperity for himself and his family throughout their lives. Thus, large numbers of Chinese came to the US as sojourners, to make their fortune and then return home to lead a life of ease and abundance.
Later, the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad from 1862-1869 drew much larger numbers of Chinese to participate railroad construction. Food vendors, peddlers, and prostitutes also came to serve the work crews. Construction of other railroads, such as those between San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, brought further immigration. Plans of construction of a rail line along the northern US, beginning in the late 1850’s, led to little actual construction. The project was foiled first by the Civil War, and then by the failure of Congress to act, and finally by the panic and depression of 1873.
Further draws to immigrate to the US were jobs in canneries, farming, and various jobs in cities. Many well-off white Americans hired Chinese boys as servants. Chinese were considered to be "inoffensive" and ideal for the job. Many Chinese worked in the laundry business. Various businesses were associated with maintaining the Chinese community, including shops that imported food and other goods, and the then-infamous opium dens and brothels.
Chinese immigration drew increasingly fierce criticism and concern in the western US. Chinese were seen as competition for labor, a drain on the economy, and an "amoral threat". Westerners pushed Congress to end Chinese immigration, and so in 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, significantly reducing Chinese immigration. However, loopholes in the law allowed some immigration to continue. In 1892, the Geary Act was passed, reducing immigration further, though not completely eliminating it.
A history of Chinese Immigration to Oregon
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