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date: 20 January 2022

Labor and Chinese Exclusion in US Historyfree

Labor and Chinese Exclusion in US Historyfree

  • Justin F. JacksonJustin F. JacksonBard College at Simon's Rock


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, white working-class activists and their allies in the United States acted as a political vanguard in efforts to limit the entry, naturalization, and civil rights of Chinese migrants, especially laborers. First in California in the 1850s, and then throughout the North American West and the nation at large, a militant racist-nativist minority of trade unionists and labor reformers assailed Chinese as an economic, cultural, and political threat to white workers, their living standards, and the republic itself. Uniting with Democrats and independent antimonopoly parties, workers and their organizations formed the base of a cross-class anti-Chinese movement that, by the 1880s, eroded Republicans’ support for Chinese labor migrants and won severe legal restrictions against them. Organized labor, especially the American Federation of Labor and its leadership, played a key role, lobbying Congress to refine and extend Chinese exclusion and erect similar barriers against other Asian migrants, including Japanese and Filipinos. Anti-Chinese labor advocates also influenced and coordinated with parallel pro-exclusion movements abroad, leading a global white working-class reaction to the Chinese labor diaspora across parts of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In many ways, anti-Asian working-class nativism prefigured early-20th-century measures placing unprecedented constraints on white European migration. Yet organized labor barely opposed the demise of anti-Chinese and national-quota restrictions during World War II and the Cold War, as diplomatic demands, economic expansion, and a changing international system weakened domestic political support for exclusion.


  • Labor and Working Class History

In the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, white workers, labor reformers, and their organizations pioneered efforts to push local and national governments to deny entry, naturalization, and civil rights to Chinese and eventually other Asian migrants. Arguably, anti-Chinese policies first enacted at the federal level in the 1880s represented trade unions’ most significant and lasting legislative victory until the New Deal era of the 1930s, when, amid the Great Depression, workers finally won substantive legal protections and collective bargaining rights. In the preceding Progressive era, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) joined elite and middle-class white “Anglo-Saxon” and Protestant nativists in rejecting “new immigrants” from southern and eastern Europe as undesirable peoples unsuited for American citizenship and labor organizations. Yet organized workers’ anxieties regarding white immigration rested partly on the xenophobic policy legacy wrought by their predecessors in the North American West, who by the 1880s successfully nationalized the region’s powerful anti-Chinese movement. Early that decade, Congress enacted the so-called Chinese Exclusion Act—the first major federal law prohibiting a migrant group’s entry into US territory based explicitly on their particular (or perceived) and highly racialized national background.

Organized labor’s demands for anti-Chinese immigration policies never purely or simply expressed white American workers’ economic self-interest, exclusive of other motivating factors. Of course, American trade unionists naturally sought higher wages and greater power in workplaces by regulating the supply of labor. This required suppressing competition from low-wage and non-union labor of all kinds, not merely racial, ethnic, or national minorities. Yet scholars now recognize that many American workers’ negative perception of Chinese migrants as an economic threat to their jobs or social status was intertwined inextricably with anti-Asian racism, American nationalism and expansionism, political ambitions and partisanship, imperial rivalry (especially in the Pacific Rim), and a maturing government bureaucracy and migrant-regulatory technologies. Undoubtedly, white working-class nativists in and around organized labor displayed a special hatred for the Chinese, the ferocity of which they never directed at nonwhite immigrant workers whom they similarly condemned for eroding standards by working for low pay. Beyond North America, laborite anti-Chinese activism reflected white workers’ resistance to rising international and transnational forces driving the economic and demographic integration of disparate societies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. White working-class anti-Asian politics was the product of a collision between older racial, ethnic, and national identities and new and disruptive globalizing forces of industrial capitalism and trade, national and settler-colonial expansion and imperialism, transnational communications and politics, and human mobility.

Chinese Migration and Imperial Expansion in the Pacific World

Working-class anti-Chinese activism had its roots in the early 19th-century aftermath of European and American imperial and settler expansion in the societies of the greater Pacific Ocean. Prior to the 1850s, American merchants, diplomats, and missionaries who encountered Chinese persons in mainland China and throughout the Pacific viewed them and their culture as different and, in some ways, inferior, but in relatively inchoate and impressionistic terms.1 Americans’ antipathy for Chinese, and especially opposition to Chinese migrant labor, solidified only in the late 1840s in the crucible of US territorial expansion in North America. In 1848, after the United States successfully waged two years of war against Mexico’s young republic, it officially annexed its northernmost territories in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The same year, when Anglo settlers discovered gold in northern California, near modern-day Sacramento, Chinese migrants joined native-born Americans and Latin American and European immigrants in rushing to mine the precious metal, and helped them displace the region’s indigenous and Mexican inhabitants. Confronting this polyglot frontier, white American settlers in California and the new US Southwest imbibed deeply from the popular doctrine of “manifest destiny.” The United States, and the white “Anglo-Saxon” men who dominated it, they believed, constituted a progressive, civilizing force ordained by providence to possess, govern, and exploit the vast western lands that would eventually, but inevitably, connect older eastern Atlantic states to the Pacific Ocean and, through its waters, China and the trade riches of Asia. Ethnocentric nationalist expansionism fueling white American settlers’ sense of rightful claims to California and its resources anticipated their rejection of Chinese migrants. Before the first Chinese arrived in California, white settlers already attempted to remake California as a white ethno-economy by barring or expelling free blacks and levying taxes on small numbers of “foreign” miners, most of them initially from Latin America and the Pacific Islands.2

Chinese migration to North America also reflected multiple and intersecting imperial histories, especially the Qing dynasty’s gradual decline in the 19th century relative to European mercantile and naval powers, and Americans who now coveted similar trade advantages. The vast majority of Chinese in the Gold Rush were poor peasants from southeastern China, mostly in and around Guangdong Province near the city of Guangzhou, or Canton, and modern-day Taishan County. Learning of new riches in North America from Chinese merchants already in northern California, these migrants, almost entirely younger men, were part of a massive diaspora sparked by demographic and economic pressures accompanying intersecting processes of rising population, decreasing land availability, agricultural crisis, and natural disaster. By the 1850s, regional political and social turmoil sparked by the Opium Wars with Great Britain, the Taiping Rebellion and other uprisings, ethnic-driven conflicts over land, and government repression generated further mass out-migration. Simultaneously, the British imperialism of free trade facilitated Chinese movement to the Americas, as the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 made Hong Kong a British entrepôt for goods and travelers. This pact also legalized the so-called coolie trade in contract labor that had developed during the 1830s, by which poor Indians imported by planters to the Americas were to serve as substitutes for emancipated African slaves, following abolition within Great Britain and its colonial empire. Most Chinese migrants leaving Hong Kong for California, however, were not the coerced kind of contract laborers associated with the coolie traffic. These so-called sojourners typically incurred debts with Chinese merchants and labor brokers to pay for transpacific passage on American and British ships but did not intend to permanently remain in North America. Escaping poverty by risking the journey to what they called “Gold Mountain,” they hoped to earn enough money to be able to one day return to native towns in mainland China and buy land, support family, and reunite with ancestors. A minority of Chinese migrants in California did achieve this dream, but most stayed to mine gold until the late 1850s and the 1860s, when the goldfields’ exhaustion led many to seek jobs building railroads. By the early 1880s, more than half a million Chinese had emigrated to the Americas, roughly half of them to North America. (While substantial from nativists’ perspective, Chinese migration to the Americas was dwarfed in size by an estimated nineteen million overseas Chinese who between 1840 and 1940 relocated to destinations across Southeast Asia and lands around the Indian Ocean.) Beyond mining and railroad building, Chinese in California earned livelihoods in various ways, from truck gardening, shoe and cigar manufacturing, and fishing to domestic service, importing and exporting retail goods, and restaurant and laundry work.3

Vital to white American settlers’ animus for the Chinese, however, was an emerging consensus that the particular conditions of Chinese migration, work, and culture somehow made them unfree in an antebellum society in which northern white workers associated coerced labor with slavery. After Congress in 1850 admitted California as a “free” state, white settlers there regarded the region as a space uniquely reserved for free native-born American and European migrants who would find opportunities for economic independence, and escape wage labor, by moving west. Such thinking reflected the often-racist antislavery doctrines of “free labor” and “free soil” politics ascendant in northern and Midwestern states and territories during the 1850s and enshrined by the new Republican Party. By prohibiting slavery in the West, free native-born and emigrant whites were to receive cheap or free land and other resources vital to personal and familial economic independence. Increasingly, white settlers believed that African Americans and other nonwhites whom they associated with degraded and bonded labor should not be entitled to the same. Whites’ racialization of black labor as inherently unfree and unfairly competitive thus anticipated white settlers’ racialization of the Chinese as coerced labor, and marginalized both.4 In California beginning in the 1850s, they frequently complained that Chinese miners’ and laborers’ passage to North America violated free labor principles. In reality, white settler discourse erroneously conflated the coolie trade with the credit ticket system. In the latter, Chinese peasants too poor to pay the $50 to board a transpacific steamer signed contracts with labor brokers, often in Hong Kong, who financed their trip. When these migrants arrived in San Francisco or other ports, brokers then hired them out to employers; through labor, migrants paid off their passenger’s debt, sometimes at high interest rates, over several years. White American critics failed to understand or accept that most Chinese in the California gold fields had emigrated voluntarily, at least compared to coerced or deceived Chinese men shipped to Cuba and Peru as bonded labor for plantation and mine owners. In addition, white settlers misinterpreted and distrusted Chinese migrants for how they organized their economic enterprises. Certainly, many Chinese miners, like white settlers, worked as individuals or in partnerships, or alternatively earned wages as unskilled laborers for white-owned mining firms. Yet other Chinese gold miners worked either for Chinese merchant-organized operations, for shares, in small groups of one or two dozen men, or within highly efficient but small cooperatives, which more individualist white settlers found unfairly competitive. They also condemned such collectivists and corporatist Chinese modes of economic organization as another sign of Chinese laborers’ lack of personal freedom. Reinforcing such perceptions was the fact that Chinese mining operations often overlapped with native-place mutual aid associations, or huiguan (known in San Francisco as the Six Companies), uniting migrants from the same home county, and “sworn brotherhood” societies, secretive and fictive-kin organizations that offered aid and protection to marginalized Chinese men. Nativist white settlers regarded these as mysterious agencies of social oppression and illegitimate attempts at economic monopoly, rather than cultural-organizational vehicles for poor sojourners to ensure economic survival by tapping into Chinese migrant networks.5

Initially peaceful relations between American settlers and Chinese migrants in Gold Rush–era California deteriorated quickly, especially as intense competition in local, state, and federal elections incentivized white nativist backlash for partisan political advantage. As white mobs began to violently expel “foreign” miners from claims, the state legislature imposed monthly taxes on Chinese and other nonwhite emigrant miners. Even as the number of Chinese migrant arrivals and contracted laborers declined by the late 1850s, politicians called on state government to outlaw “coolie” mining labor. By the early 1860s, both Democratic and Republican politicians in California regularly compared brokered transpacific Chinese migration and migrant labor to the transatlantic slave trade and enslaved Africans, stereotyping Chinese labor as unfree and “uncivilized.” Relative interracial calm during the Civil War gave way to more organized anti-Chinese activism by the end of the decade. In 1867, following anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco, working-class activists organized local and then statewide “anti-coolie” associations demanding a halt to all Chinese in-migration and the deportation of Chinese already present. By the late 1860s, when the Chinese presence in the gold fields had declined, white miners in California also took steps to eject Chinese from quartz mining. According to the 1870 census, only sixty-three thousand Chinese then resided in the United States, almost all of them men, and three-fourths of this number in California alone. The increase of this migrant population by 50 percent over the 1870s, largely in response to high demand for Chinese labor in railroad construction, amid a decade of economic recession, elicited nativist backlash.6

Labor and Exclusion Politics in the West and the Nation

If California became the American epicenter of a virtual late-19th-century earthquake of anti-Chinese agitation, Chinese migrants’ entry into other regions and industries, including southeastern and eastern states, elevated the so-called Chinese question to national politics. Labor activism in California radiated political shockwaves outward through the country, pressuring the two major parties to hew to their positions, in part by inspiring third-party challenges. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, radical Republicans acting on liberal, egalitarian, and Christian humanitarian principles had sought to emancipate and elevate African Americans. Initially, Republicans of all sections, including the West, reflected the same high ideals in tolerating “free” immigrants of all nationalities, including the Chinese. On the West Coast, white middle-class Protestants, including missionaries, typically Republicans, welcomed the Chinese, praised their ability to assimilate, and employed them, including as domestic servants. Republicans’ relative racial liberalism dovetailed with the interests of elites eager for commercial and industrial development, including employers desperate to hire laborers willing to take arduous jobs at low wages, something many white native-born Americans and European migrants refused to do. Yet as early as the 1860s, Republican politicians began responding to Democratic victories, fueled by working-class nativist voters, by adopting the Sinophobic line. In 1862, Leland Stanford, California’s first Republican governor, urged that state’s lawmakers to suppress “the settlement among us of an inferior race,” even as he employed Chinese in his mansions and properties. Stanford’s Central Pacific Railroad subsequently employed nearly twenty thousand Chinese laborers in laying tracks across the Sierra Mountains.7

While wartime prosperity temporarily dulled xenophobic fervor, Californian labor militants by the late 1860s acted as a regional political vanguard of anti-Chinese agitation, uniting white working and middle-class Americans in a budding pro-restriction movement spanning the West. Critical to its growth were mushrooming laborite “anti-coolie” clubs in northern California, whose activism anticipated white workers’ reaction to the labor market effects of the first transcontinental railroad’s completion. When the golden spike was hammered in at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869, thousands of newly discharged Chinese rail construction laborers dispersed throughout the West to find new work. While some found jobs on other rail projects, many headed back to northern California. That same year, not coincidentally, Henry George, a journalist in San Francisco, and soon-to-be celebrated antimonopoly reformer, pioneered the language of the “yellow peril” so central to anti-Chinese discourse. In the New York Tribune, George invoked fears of international racial rivalry exacerbated by social Darwinism, warning that hundreds of thousands of “Mongolians” were ready to swarm North America, and overwhelm and impoverish white workers. The nightmarish specter of an organized invasion of non-Christian Asian labor, determined to undermine whites already stressed by an ascendant system of industrial wage labor diminishing opportunities for proprietary ownership of workshops and farms, soon haunted working-class reform. The year 1870 saw the first of so-called sand lot rallies in San Francisco, in which crowds of unemployed white men gathering in empty city plots blamed the Chinese for their plight and called for their persecution.8

Anti-Chinese nativism intensified at this juncture partly as a result of whites’ perception that they increasingly jockeyed with Chinese for jobs in northern California, as both groups left gold districts and railroad projects in search for work. That sense was partly accurate. Chinese individuals at this time suffered a disproportionately high unemployment rate as part of an overall California labor force intermittently suffering bouts of joblessness. In 1870, Chinese wage earners in that state represented one of every twelve of its residents, but constituted an estimated one of every four or five hired laborers in the state. In 1871 when one of every three wage workers in San Francisco were Chinese, four persons vied for each available job. In such circumstances, white workers negatively associated wage cuts and unemployment with the preferential hiring of Chinese by industrial magnates such as Leland Stanford and his Central Pacific railroad, at wage rates lower than those typically offered to white laborers. As a result, white workers’ anger and Democratic pressure mounted, and in 1871, even California’s Republican Party convention condemned all Chinese migration, voluntary or not.9 Yet it must be remembered that white workers facing job competition from other nonwhite workers in the West, including Mexicans and Latin Americans, did not similarly call for their exclusion or expulsion, at least with such fervor and persistence. White labor’s unique and lasting hatred for the Chinese can only be explained by reference to how Henry George and other influential Sinophobes racialized them as an extremely foreign, threatening, and unassimilable mass. George depicted the Chinese as an alien Asian horde of industrial automatons, bent on ruling not merely labor markets but “the stronger races,” in a way that he warned might spark a new “civil war.” Such yellow peril discourse persuaded many white Americans to see the Chinese as a total social, political, cultural, and economic danger to Anglo-dominant settler society on the Pacific coast.10

The 1873 financial panic and its aftermath pushed anti-Chinese labor politics in a more militant direction. In 1877, in the midst of the great railroad strike then rocking the United States, Denis Kearney, Frank Roney, and other activists with backgrounds in “anti-coolie” clubs carried the anti-Chinese banner into independent politics. Responding to economic crisis, they married anti-Chinese vitriol to popular antimonopoly fervor in speeches to anxious white workers assembled in San Francisco sandlots. Blaming white laborers’ precarity on the Chinese and the businessmen employing them, Kearney and Roney turned crowds into mobs, goading them to violently attack Chinese individuals, businesses, and properties in the city. Their rhetoric’s effectiveness rested greatly on how they tied the Chinese to Stanford, other railroad magnates, and associated Republican-leaning industrialists and financial elites to whom they attributed monopoly, corruption, and various Gilded Age ills. Yet the sand-lotters of 1877 also repudiated Democrats who consistently backed anti-Chinese action since the 1850s. The Democratic politicians then in control California’s state government they denounced as unwilling to check the Chinese menace. The result was the Workingmen’s Party, a labor-based but cross-class anti-Chinese organization vying for California’s elected offices. Ultimately ephemeral and ineffective as an agent of substantive labor reform, the Workingmen nevertheless insinuated a viable anti-Chinese consensus in the state’s labor and party politics that endured for decades. Their victories at the polls, and attempts to revise the state’s constitution to bar Chinese access to jobs and the vote and facilitate their expulsion, forced Democratic and Republican politicians to adjust to their program, if only partly. Sandlot screeds and Workingmen-style demands equally stamped San Francisco trade unionism with an anti-Chinese idiom that lasted for generations, even after party activists’ political influence waned by the end of the 1880s.11

By the late 1870s, George’s Yellow Perilism and the Workingmen’s exclusionism injected the “Chinese question” into national politics. Despite nativist fearmongering, the impossibility of Chinese citizenship in the United States seemed certain. The Naturalization Act of 1790 had ruled this out by explicitly limiting emigrants’ eligibility to become American citizens to “free white persons.” Yet Chinese transit from the West Coast and Caribbean to other regions in the United States, debates over Reconstruction-era amendments to the US Constitution, and new international treaties all raised the stakes for the racialized politics of citizenship. In 1862, early in the Civil War, American shippers’ participation in the “coolie trade” to Cuba prompted Congressional Republicans to prohibit US-flagged vessels from the traffic. By fashioning anti-Chinese immigration policy as an antislavery measure meant to incentivize the in-migration of “free labor,” the law prefigured postwar national anti-Chinese legislation. Nonetheless, during Reconstruction, when most emancipated African Americans refused to return to plantation labor for wages, desperate Louisiana sugar planters scrambled to hire Chinese laborers already in Cuba. Railroad construction contractors in Alabama and planters in Memphis also called for imported Chinese labor.12 In 1868, Republicans in Washington, DC further signaled their tolerance for voluntary Chinese migration, if not necessarily citizenship, when American missionary Anson Burlingame negotiated a new diplomatic pact with China. Once ratified by the Senate, the Burlingame Treaty recognized Chinese rights to migrate to the United States but explicitly rejected naturalization for those already present on US soil. In 1870, as Radical Republicans spearheaded the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, former abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts tried fortifying African American claims to equal citizenship by introducing a bill that would strike the word “white” from the Naturalization Act. Just as Republicans began to split over the question of how to defend Reconstruction and civil and voting rights for African Americans in the South, Sumner’s egalitarian stand on Chinese migration split the party. Republicans in the West facing rising Democratic nativism sought to amend Sumner’s bill by specifically denying citizenship to Chinese migrants. Language granting naturalization “to persons born in the Chinese empire” died in the Senate.13

In the East, the extremely marginal but highly visible industrial employment of Chinese labor spurred militant white workers there to make common cause with laborite nativists in the West. In 1870, the importation of several dozen Chinese from San Francisco to break a shoemakers’ strike at a factory in North Adams in western Massachusetts outraged eastern trade unionists. In response, the state Democratic and Labor Reform parties immediately criticized their presence, and the National Labor Union (NLU), the first nationwide trade union federation, repudiated its prior endorsement of equal rights for voluntary Chinese migrants. NLU leaders blasted Chinese labor as an “evil” that “should be prevented by legislation.” Even the enlightened abolitionist Wendell Phillips, now a champion of labor rights, could praise the Chinese for their industry but still damn them for “working cheap,” as a “barbarian” people. Some liberal and pro-business eastern Republicans welcomed the Chinese as efficient and loyal workers. Editors at Scribner’s Monthly vilified the union for its Know-Nothingism and praised unorganized Chinese as “the final solution of the labor problem.”14

Congressional action against the Chinese followed, as both Democratic and Republican politicians sought to use “the Chinese question” to their partisan advantage in a highly partisan environment of hotly contested national elections. By driving western Republicans to tow the anti-Chinese line in order to secure slim electoral majorities against western Democrats, labor-based anti-Chinese agitation also propelled eastern Republicans toward a pragmatic exclusionism. Political action against migrant Chinese was also eased by their largely homosocial demography, as census results suggested men vastly outnumbered women by twenty to one. Yet a relative lack of family formation compared to other migrant populations, and the appearance of Chinese prostitutes in a few western cities and towns, fueled nativists’ belief that Chinese migrants and labor of all genders was inherently debased and coerced. In 1875, western Republicans joined with western and southern Democrats to bar Chinese women’s in-migration with the Page Act, which made it a federal crime to import women for prostitution, or “any subject of China, Japan, or any Oriental country” without their consent. As both the national Republican and Democratic parties and a Congressional investigative committee adopted anti-Chinese positions, Congress in 1879 further staunched Chinese arrivals by enacting the so-called Fifteen Passenger bill, which prohibited any vessel from disembarking more than fifteen Chinese onto US soil. President Rutherford B. Hayes promptly vetoed it but then promised to renegotiate the Burlingame Treaty. Diplomatic deliberations altered this agreement by 1881 and spurred the drafting and passage of a new bill in Congress, which won Hayes’s approval next year as the Chinese Restriction Act. (Amended in later years, it became known as the Chinese Exclusion Act.) This law barred the entry into the United States of all Chinese laborers of any kind, for a period of ten years, levied steep fines on any person caught smuggling them, and authorized seizure of vessels involved in the same. Contrary to conventional historical wisdom, the few labor organizations then existent at the national level had nothing to do with this raft of anti-Chinese legislation. In fact, only labor activists in California and western states actively lobbied for such measures. Chinese exclusion was not the bitter fruit of unanimous working-class sentiment throughout the United States. Rather, the law itself engendered a working-class pro-exclusion consensus. In the first instance, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the creature of national partisans’ scramble to gain margins of victory in a closely divided Gilded Age electorate as western states gained representation in Congress. In effect, Midwestern Republicans bolted from that party’s northeastern anti-exclusion establishment to accommodate rising nativist antimonopoly agitation in the west and defend precarious Republican footholds on the populist frontier.15

The exclusion law had the intended effect of virtually halting all Chinese in-migration. Subsequent laws, administrative decisions, and Supreme Court rulings adjusted its scope, including by allowing Chinese who proved prior residency in the United States to leave and return. Separate treaty arrangements also granted in-migration and transit rights to Chinese diplomats, merchants, and students. Yet with only little more than 105,000 Chinese residing in the United States in 1880, and all but 3 percent of these living in California, American workers hardly suffered any imminent or long-term economic threat from migrant Asian labor, in any industry or region. By 1920, exclusion reduced the number of Chinese residents on the US mainland to roughly sixty thousand; in 1940, this grew slightly to roughly seventy-eight thousand. Such hard facts did little to blunt the magnetic appeal and functional partisan edge surrounding anti-Chinese attitudes, behavior, and politics, especially in the West. The law fed a rising tide of anti-Chinese violence in western states and territories, the most bloody of which transpired in 1885, at Rock Springs, Wyoming. White miners there employed by the Union Pacific, many of them members of the Knights of Labor, then the largest national labor organization, attacked Chinese miners hired by the same railroad company. They killed twenty-eight, injured more than a dozen, and torched the town’s Chinese quarter, inflicting a level of brutality exceeded perhaps only by the so-called Snake River Massacre two years hence, in an Oregon canyon, where a white gang murdered thirty-one Chinese miners. Elsewhere in the West during the exclusion era, white authorities and vigilante mobs expelled Chinese residents from at least 168 western settlements, using every tactic from assault, arson, and lynching to boycotts, intimidation, and other forms of harassment to remove them.16

The Exclusion Act’s logic acted as the foundation for unprecedented federal-level immigration restrictions against other suspect political, racial, ethnic, and national minorities, including other Asians, in the future. Arguably, it also proved the precursor of later government measures, such as literacy tests and national quotas, designed to severely limit less-desirable migrants from certain European nations. By the mid-20th century, the arrival of southern and eastern Europeans, many of them Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Jews, at Ellis Island, under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, had become the stuff of liberal assimilationist and multicultural narratives celebrating America’s exceptional tolerance for foreigners. Such self-congratulatory narratives of national inclusion and integration obscured how organized American labor’s campaign for Chinese exclusion had created the political and policy framework for subsequent anti-immigrant measures. Indeed, for most of the 20th century, even leftists ostensibly committed to principles of social equality and international solidarity hewed to organized labor’s anti-Chinese stance. To some degree, at one time or another, most prominent Gilded Age labor leaders and labor reformers were Sinophobes, from George McNeil and John Swinton to anarchist Joseph Buchanan and socialist luminary Eugene Debs. Even a Colored State Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, organized by African Americans barred from white labor unions, and an International Workingmen’s Association loyal to Karl Marx’s internationalism, endorsed Chinese exclusion. In the United States by the early 20th century, support for Chinese restriction had turned into a litmus test for legitimate working-class reform.17

Organized White Labor and Asian Exclusion after 1882

Only in the mid-1880s, after the decline of California’s Workingmen’s Party, did organized labor consistently push an anti-Chinese agenda in national politics. Crucial to making Chinese exclusion the model for opposing the in-migration of all kinds of presumably unfree labor was the Knights of Labor and its Grand Master Workman, Terence V. Powderly. In 1885, their lobbying won congressional approval of the Alien Contract Labor law, which prohibited the entry of all contract laborers into the United States. The act also nullified migrant labor contracts and penalized employers and brokers caught trafficking persons under their terms. A new organization established that year, soon renamed the American Federation of Labor, rapidly supplanted the Knights as the country’s dominant national-level association of craft and trades unions. By the 1890s, the AFL led white American workers’ attempts to tighten anti-Chinese restrictions, maintain them, and expand their scope to other Asian migrant populations. Few in this crusade enjoyed more prominence than Samuel Gompers, a German-Jewish immigrant who ascended New York City’s cigar maker’s union to serve as AFL president nearly every year until his death, in 1924. Gompers, articulating a “voluntarist” trade union philosophy, typically distanced the AFL and its affiliated unions from party politics and legislation, especially at the national level. Workers, he believed, would best secure higher wages and better conditions, and defend them, by organizing in the workplace to wrest legally binding contracts directly from employers. Yet Gompers enthusiastically supported Chinese exclusion, and tirelessly repeated its nativist economic, political, and cultural rationales. Indeed, he cut his labor-organizing teeth in the 1870s and early 1880s promoting union-label boycotts against Chinese-made cigars, long a staple of West Coast anti-Chinese activism. In 1892, Gompers joined a nativist coalition that successfully lobbied to extend exclusion for ten years, in what became the Geary Act. Famously, in 1901, to aid efforts pushing Congress to make exclusion permanent, Gompers published a pamphlet entitled “Meat vs. Rice: American Manhood vs. Asiatic Coolieism; Which Shall Survive?” In its pages Gompers contended that Chinese workers’ willingness and ability to subsist on low wages and poor diets would ruin proud native-born workers who required and demanded the new “American standard of living,” premised on high wages allowing them to buy new mass consumer goods.18 Nativist AFL leaders helped move Congress the next year to make exclusion permanent and expand its geographic administration to new overseas territories, including Hawai’i and the Philippines, following their seizure by the United States in 1898 during its war with Spain. Chinese restriction now became imperial policy, as even Chinese laborers previously residing in these islands were denied entry to the US North American mainland.19 In Cuba, where planters between the 1840s and 1870s imported tens of thousands of Chinese contract laborers, mostly for grueling work on sugar plantations, a brief US military government there likewise imposed Chinese exclusion. In the late 1870s, international protests and agreements had already outlawed Chinese contract labor migration to this island. Yet, in 1902, the US occupation regime in one of its final acts imposed Chinese exclusion on the new Cuban republic as a permanent policy. Cuba’s government only briefly relaxed restriction, during the sugar boom of the World War I era.20

Labor activists and union officials played important roles in the new restrictionist state bureaucracy. They provided both the personnel and political pressure necessary to strictly enforce anti-Chinese regulations, as well as the impetus to extend them to other Asian migrants, especially the Japanese. In 1897, President William McKinley appointed Terence Powderly, former Grand Master Workman of the Knights of Labor, as Commissioner General of Immigration inside the Treasury Department. From there Powderly supervised a growing federal apparatus dedicated to barring the entry of Chinese individuals, and other unwanted migrants, and deporting them. Powderly also advocated literacy tests and other rules to thwart growing numbers of “new immigrants” fleeing rural poverty and religious, political, and ethnic persecution in southern and eastern Europe; their work for low wages in the coal fields and other industries had started to anger white Anglo-Saxon and Protestant men dominating the trade unions. Following the US annexation of Hawai’i, where planters had imported Chinese and Japanese laborers, Powderly warned that Japanese migration to North America endangered white workers in western states, where a handful of Japanese had taken jobs in agriculture, railroad construction, and domestic service. In 1902, Frank Sargent, chief of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Fireman, took Powderly’s place. After the U.S. Bureau of Immigration the next year moved from the Treasury Department to the Department of Commerce and Labor, Sargent rigorously administered exclusionary rules.21

Powderly’s anti-Japanese campaign anticipated the next front in white labor activists’ war on Asian migration. The Japanese population in the United States rose from twenty-five thousand by 1900, concentrated in California, to seventy-five thousand ten years later, when roughly forty thousand lived in that state. Beginning in 1900, organized workers and Democratic politicians in San Francisco spearheaded the new anti-Japanese coalition. Spreading like wildfire along the Pacific Coast, they pressed both Populist politicians and local and national AFL meetings to endorse a Japanese ban. Fears of Japan’s military power spiked after 1905, when its modern battleship navy defeated Russia’s fleet, and energized labor-backed anti-Japanese agitation in California and beyond. That year several dozen organizations, most of them unions, established an Asiatic Exclusion League to lobby Congress to bring Japanese under the Exclusion Act’s provisions. Late the next year, when San Francisco’s School Board, dominated by the city’s nativist Union Labor administration, forced Japanese students to attend a segregated school for Chinese-American youth, outrage in Japan prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to call, unsuccessfully, for laws permitting their naturalization. Roosevelt respected labor’s anti-Chinese consensus, however, dismissing the “Chinese coolie class” as “undesirable immigrants” due to “their numbers, the low wages for which they work, and their low standard of living.”22

By 1908, the Roosevelt administration’s diplomacy had produced the so-called Gentlemen’s Agreement, by which the Japanese and US governments agreed to virtually halt all Japanese labor migration to North America. With Japanese men permitted to bring wives, and residents of Japanese ancestry already in North America, the population of native-born Americans of Japanese descent in the United States by 1920 rose slightly to roughly 111,000. Organized labor also joined nativists’ steps to squelch Japanese agricultural competition, and in 1913, California legislators enacted an “alien land law” which limited nonresident aliens’ access to farm properties. In 1920, the Japanese Exclusion League, organized chiefly by California labor unions, strengthened the land law’s provisions by referendum; other western states soon followed suit. The Asiatic Exclusion League, spawning branches throughout the West and also British Columbia, pressed for excluding Koreans from the United States. Contacts made between pro-exclusion Anglophone labor activists in Canada and the Pacific Northwest helped solidify barriers against cross-border Asian transit. Throughout the United States, most Progressive-era labor radicals followed the anti-Asian line. In 1907, the Socialist Party’s national executive committee unanimously denounced all forms of Asian immigration, citing labor activists’ economic and racist rationales. Socialist notables including Morris Hillquit, Victor Berger, and Jack London endorsed Asian exclusion. The few radical organizations that did accept Asian proletarians, such as the Industrial Workers of the World, proved exceptions to the Sinphobic rule of America’s working-class movement. By the 1910s, opposition to any kind of Asian labor migration, not merely the Chinese, constituted a desideratum for working-class politics.23

That decade saw organized labor win its first major federal labor law reforms unrelated to immigrant restriction, as the AFL allied with congressional Democrats and Woodrow Wilson, first elected president in 1912. Laborite anti-Asian exclusion prefigured new immigration rules to stymy new waves of European immigration. Informed by Congress’s Dillingham Commission, which favored earlier “Anglo-Saxon” emigrants from northern and western Europe over those from southern and eastern European nations and empires, laws made during World War I and its aftermath consolidated Asian exclusion and dramatically reduced European in-migration. Fueled by patriotic wartime nationalism, and antipathy toward immigrant groups whom nativists linked to antiwar and left-wing sentiment, Congress in 1917 passed new restrictions over Wilson’s veto. These included a literacy test for all adult men and male heads of household and laws prohibiting the entry of radicals, and authorizing their deportation. Congress this year mollifying white laborite xenophobes by establishing an “Asiatic Barred Zone” which barred all persons originating in South and Southeast Asia from entering US territory. (Excepted were Filipinos, whom US laws and courts considered “nationals” for immigration purposes following the Philippines’ annexation.) By the early 1920s, amid postwar recession and resurgent anti-unionism, organized labor’s membership and political influence diminished rapidly. In 1921, postwar nativist reaction prompted Congress to impose for the first time a national quota system, limiting the number of migrants from each European nation to annual maximums set at 3 percent of that country’s population already residing in the United States by 1910, according to that year’s census. National quotas were made permanent, and more severe, three years later in the Johnson-Reed Act. This set the quota rate at 2 percent of each nation’s immigrant population present in the United States in 1890, an earlier census date that even more disadvantaged aspiring migrants from southern and eastern Europe. The visa and photographic passport system originally designed to identify, monitor, and surveil Chinese migrants now applied throughout the US immigration bureaucracy to migrants of all backgrounds.24

Soon not even Filipinos were exempt from anti-Asian regulation. As early as 1928, the AFL’s national convention called for bringing the Philippines inside the Asiatic Barred Zone. Lobbying intensified in the early 1930s during the Great Depression, as white labor organizations complained that native-born workers could not compete with Filipinos for agricultural jobs in California and other states. The essential racism of such calls, however, was evident in white mobs who assailed Filipino men for allegedly consorting with white women in public spaces such as taxi dance halls. Even though fewer than thirty thousand Filipinos, almost all men, lived in California by 1930, that state again acted as a pioneer in Asian restriction. Western white nativists ultimately secured anti-Filipino legislation from Congress by tying restriction to Philippine independence. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law granting the islands full separation from the United States in ten years. This measure limited, for the first time, the number of Filipinos who could enter North American territory annually to no more than fifty; Filipinos would also remain ineligible for naturalization.25

White Anglophone Labor and the Global Rise and Fall of Chinese Exclusion

By the 20th century, white working-class American nativists and their allies had transformed labor politics and international Asian mobility not only in the United States, but worldwide. In effect, American labor activists spearheaded an anti-Chinese reform politics that reverberated in white-dominated English-speaking settler-colonies across the globe, from the Americas and Pacific Ocean to southern Africa. Although the local conditions and dynamics of Chinese migration varied greatly across different oceanic and continental spaces, in multiple Anglophone polities working-class xenophobes contributed decisively to anti-Chinese backlash. Their rationales for Chinese and Asian exclusion, and the evolution of policies advancing it, all roughly trailed North American precedent. Racist reform politics usually cohered in populist working and middle-class claims that capitalists and other elites had promoted and exploited Chinese migrant labor in ways that denied self-government, individual rights, economic opportunity, and social equality to poorer white settlers and citizens. During the 1850s, in Australia’s Victoria colony, British settlers eager to monopolize gold fields secured laws segregating Chinese miners and limiting their entry through head, passenger, residence, and landing taxes. Other Anglophone settler societies subsequently implemented similar rules, first in additional Australian colonies and British Columbia on Canada’s Pacific Coast, then later New Zealand, Natal in southern Africa, and Tasmania. British officials and colonial governors eager to facilitate labor migration struck down some legislative restrictions. Local administrators adapted to imperial discretion by adopting discriminatory barriers that did not target migrants explicitly according to racial, ethnic, or national background but instead adopted American-style policies like literacy tests. By the 1910s and 1920s, these Anglophone polities, so-called white men’s countries, had contained and reversed the migratory flows of the global Chinese diaspora under the pressure of organized white working-class nativists and their allies. Led by the United States, they had crafted the modern immigration regulation apparatus and its highly elaborate bureaucratic machinery of inspections, passports, visas, and related techniques of migrant control and surveillance.26

Ultimately, intensifying inter-imperial competition in the Pacific world set the stage for Chinese exclusion’s demise in the United States. The coming of World War II strengthened anti-Asian attitudes in some ways but weakened them in others. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s preparations for war in 1940 included a new Alien Registration Act, or the Smith Act, which required all resident aliens to register with the federal government. Hostilities with Japan after its military attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 instantly exacerbated pre-existing anti-Japanese feeling concentrated on the West Coast. Early the next year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the U.S. military to remove from Pacific coastal states some 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were Japanese American citizens, and confine them in internment camps. Yet the United States’ strategic wartime alliance with Chinese nationalists fighting Japanese occupation pushed the Roosevelt administration to lift the longtime ban on Chinese migrants. Liberals, socialists, and conservatives who now endorsed placing China under the annual national quota system downplayed fears about the possible effects of ending exclusion. Correctly, they argued its elimination would be almost entirely symbolic in nature, signaling Americans’ diplomatic support for Chinese resistance to the Japanese while actually allowing only a mere handful of Chinese to enter the country and naturalize. While anti-restrictionists denied that ending Chinese exclusion would weaken other immigration rules, similar barriers to the migration and naturalization of Filipinos and South Asians collapsed in postwar years. In 1965, when Congress under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s direction passed the historic Hart-Cellar Immigration Act, the doors opened wider for Chinese migrants. Abolishing the national quota system, the law instead organized annual visa limits by hemisphere and equalized annual maximums among all nations to prioritize family reunification; effectively, it erased what remained of the Asiatic Barred Zone. Liberal legislation signified the postwar shift toward cultural pluralism and greater tolerance for immigrants among white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, as World War II and Cold War–era nationalist discourse celebrated an Americanism defined by a common civic commitment to liberal and democratic ideals, rather than any particular racial or ethnic identity. In the 1960s, even organized labor accepted the spirit of regulatory relaxation. Famously, leaders of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations backed the United Farm Workers, a union of agricultural laborers centered in California, comprised mostly of Mexican and Filipino-Americans.27

Historiography of Labor and Chinese Exclusion

The first histories of organized American labor’s role in Chinese exclusion were contemporaneous with the movement, and thus tended to reflect authors’ present-day opinions of white and Asian workers, working-class politics, and the practicalities and ethics of immigration restriction. They also narrowly interpreted laborite nativism as a political function of economic competition between white and Chinese wage earners localized in California and the Far West. They focused almost entirely on anti-Chinese attitudes’ part in developing California’s late 19th century labor movement, and the making of a regional nativism to which authors attributed the origins of the Chinese Exclusion Act as national policy. While Mary Coolidge condemned pro-exclusion labor reformers as bigoted Irish Democratic demagogues, Elmer Sandmeyer, writing in the 1930s amidst the Great Depression, blamed Chinese exclusion on the Chinese themselves. For Sandmeyer, Chinese willingness to accept lower wages, and refusal to assimilate to dominant American culture, justified exclusion. Only with the 1960s-era revolution in civil rights, racial attitudes, and immigration policy did scholars begin to question the earlier studies’ moralism and economic reductionism. Painstaking research into the late-19th-century Californian economy led Ping Chiu to argue that a highly racially segregated labor market had insulated most white workers from Chinese competition. Anti-coolie and Workingmen’s activists had simply scapegoated the Chinese, he concluded, blaming them for the painful advent of national industrial and market changes and recessions truly responsible for white laborers’ declining status and income. Equally path-breaking was Alexander Saxton’s 1971 book The Indispensable Enemy, arguably the New Labor History’s first major reckoning with the fundamental role of white racism and nativism in the making of the modern American working class. Saxton contended that herrenvolk Jacksonian-era mass democratic politics and producerism overdetermined white workers’ harsh reaction to Chinese migrants in Gold Rush–era California. In essence, Saxton claimed that anti-Chinese activism was not so much a viable reform effort to aid white wage earners but an expedient political strategy used by Democratic and independent partisans to forge a cross-class coalition capable of defeating Republicans at the polls.28

More recent scholarship accepts postwar revisionists’ anti-economism. Yet it also greatly expands knowledge of the origins, effects, and meanings of working-class American exclusionism by exploring anti-Asian racism, national politics, and cultural representation, as well as international and imperial contexts and processes that shaped anti-Chinese activism. Stuart Creighton Miller found labor reformers’ nativism only a minor expression of a much more pervasive and persistent history of Orientalist Sinophobia prevalent in all sectors of American society prior to the Exclusion Act.29 Gwendolyn Mink and Andrew Gyory, among others, challenged the so-called California thesis by showing that Chinese exclusion as federal policy emerged from labor’s changing relationship to the federal government and national party politics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lon Kurashige’s more recent book squares the interpretive circle between historians who tend to emphasize either racism or politics as the dominant factor in working-class anti-Chinese activism. For Kurashige, a perennial but essentially political debate between “exclusionists” and “egalitarians” contributed to the “perfect storm” that caused Chinese exclusion. While this debate never directly challenged anti-Asian racism, he argues, it also eroded exclusion in the postwar era.30 Historians of the legal and bureaucratic operation of national-level Chinese exclusion, such as Lucy Salyer and Erika Lee, do not focus on labor politics, per se, but show that labor activists inside and outside the federal immigration apparatus influenced anti-Chinese regulations’ administrative practice and evolution after 1882.31 Other work broadens the initial focus on white-Chinese labor and racial relations inside the United States to more capacious histories of American responses to Asian labor migrants across the Pacific world. Ron Takaki and Rick Baldoz explore organized labor’s role in regulating Asian and Filipino labor migration to Hawai’i and the North American mainland in the shadow of American empire. Recently, Paul Kramer claims that national economic and military expansion and transnational processes blunted white workers’ quest for total restriction, building not a “gatekeeper” state so much as a highly selective imperial regime of migrant inclusion and exclusion.32 Historians such as Moon-Ho Jung and Najia Aarim-Heriot, among others, situate white labor’s support for Chinese exclusion within larger narratives of late-19th-century racial formation, racial politics, and struggles for civil and political rights by ethno-national minorities—most critically, in reference to African Americans and antebellum slavery, the Civil War, and the politics of racial equality in the Reconstruction era.33

Early 21st-century research also plots the transnational, global, and trans-imperial dimensions of white laborite nativism in North America, situating it within a diffuse but often parallel and coordinated reaction to the Chinese labor diaspora in white settler nations around the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Madeline Hsu reconstructs transnational migrant networks of families, communities, migrant brokers, and laborers that linked southeastern mainland China and a search for economic opportunity in California, which persisted despite the advent of exclusion. Elliot Young and David Atkinson identify white working-class nativism as merely one of multiple sources of anti-Asian immigration restrictionism across British and American imperial space and the Americas. Kornel Chang examines white laborers’ role in creating a Pacific borderlands of regulation and transnational anti-Asian politics between the United States and British Columbia.34 Studying migrant Chinese labor and Chinese exclusion in a global and comparative frame, Mae Ngai’s work reveals how white nativist responses to Chinese gold miners in California, Australia, and South Africa transformed national and settler-colonial politics, economies, and migration law. Alongside early 21st-century studies by Beth Lew-Williams on anti-Chinese violence in the North American West and works by Gordon Chang and Manu Karuka on Chinese railroad workers’ position in capitalist development and settler-colonial conquest in the same region, this literature focuses attention on arguably the most central but often most elusive subject in histories of labor and Chinese exclusion to date: Chinese migrant workers themselves.35

Primary Sources

Digital Sources

Several government, academic, and public history websites provide valuable online access to primary sources of different kinds regarding labor and Chinese exclusion. The US National Archives offers a helpful website reviewing its archival and digital collections on “Chinese Heritage.” The US Library of Congress makes available digitized primary resources regarding the Chinese Exclusion Act in its collections, including manuscripts, books, newspapers, government documents, and more. The University of North Carolina Library’s Digital Repository offers a very useful selective bibliography of federal government documents regarding Chinese exclusion laws, some of which document labor’s influence. The Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley has digitized much of their collections on Chinese immigrations, Chinese Americans, and anti-Chinese politics, in the “Chinese in California, 1850–1925” digital archive. The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University has a Digital Materials website with payroll records and images of archaeological artifacts. Harvard University’s Libraries present a digital collection of printed materials, manuscripts, and photographs on US immigration history, focused on the 19th century, including Chinese migration and its politics: “Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930.” The Digital Public Library of America offers a wealth of digitized printed materials, manuscripts, and photographs on “Early Chinese Migration to the United States.” The Museum of the City of San Francisco makes available certain published materials regarding the history of the Gold Rush, Chinese migrants, and labor in that city. A collection of articles and images from Harper’s Weekly magazine on the “Chinese American Experience” provides evidence on popular public perceptions of Chinese migrants.

Government Records

The United States’ National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at College Park, MD and Washington, DC contain a vast amount of information regarding the administration of Chinese exclusion by various federal immigration agencies; these include the Customs and State Departments, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its forerunners. Regional NARA repositories too numerous to list here contain customs and court records and other correspondence relevant to exclusion’s enforcement and its politics (see NARA’s “Chinese Heritage” website). The U.S. Congressional Serial Set, which is now digitized nearly in its entirety, contains dozens of printed sources regarding Congressional hearings, investigations, and debates on Chinese exclusion, and documents organized labor’s legislative lobbying; it also includes annual reports from the US Treasury, Commerce, and Labor Departments. State government publications, especially those from California, chart labor’s influence on anti-Chinese policies at the local level. The Institute of Modern History, Academica Sinica, at Taipei, Taiwan, contains the Archives of the Foreign Affairs Office of the Qing dynastic state and its diplomatic response to Chinese exclusion in the United States. Academica Sinica has also published some Chinese government sources regarding exclusion.

Manuscript Collections

The US Library of Congress in Washington, DC retains many printed books, manuscripts, and newspapers documenting the politics of Chinese exclusion, including labor activism, portions of which have been digitized. The University of California’s Bancroft Library and Asian American Studies Library in Berkeley have a large amount of manuscript material regarding Chinese immigration and exclusion politics in California and the region. The George Meany Memorial AFL-CIO Archive at the University of Maryland at College Park, part of the library’s larger Special Collections in Labor and Workplace Studies, contains a great deal of material on labor politics, some of it pertaining to Chinese and Asian exclusion; Catholic University nearby holds the Terence V. Powderly Papers. The Japanese American Research Project Archives at the University of California-Los Angeles has some papers on Japanese migrants and laborers in the US West in the early 20th century. The University of Southern California’s Filipino American Library Collection in Los Angeles, and the Filipino American National Historical Society in Seattle, offer sources on Filipino migrant labor and nativist responses in the early 20th century.

Newspapers and Periodicals

Local, labor, and various reform newspapers, magazines, and other serials chart the evolution of working-class anti-Chinese attitudes and politics in California and the nation. San Francisco newspapers including the Call, Chronicle, and Examiner, and the Los Angeles Times, among others, are well-known resources documenting anti-Asian labor activism in that state. Local and trade-oriented labor publications such as the Coast Seamen’s Journal and Cigar Makers’ Official Journal chart workers’ anti-Chinese activism. Papers like the Workingman’s Advocate, John Swinton’s Paper, and the American Federationist spoke for leaders and activists in the NLU, Knights of Labor, and AFL, respectively, at the national level. The published proceedings of the regular meetings and conventions of these unions and related labor-reform organizations are also instructive.

Further Reading

  • Atkinson, David C. The Burden of White Supremacy: Containing Asian Migration in the British Empire and the United States. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
  • Chang, Gordon H. Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019.
  • Chang, Gordon H., and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, eds. The Chinese and the Iron Road: Building the Transcontinental Railroad. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019.
  • Chang, Kornel. Pacific Connections: The Making of the Western U.S.-Canadian Borderlands. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
  • Gyory, Andrew. Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
  • Ho-Jung, Moon. Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
  • Hsu, Madeline Yuan-yin. Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home: Transnationalism and Migration between the United States and South China, 1882–1943. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.
  • Kramer, Paul A. “Imperial Openings: Civilization, Exemption, and the Geopolitics of Mobility in the History of Chinese Exclusion, 1868–1910.” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 14 (2015): 317–347.
  • Kramer, Paul A. “The Geopolitics of Mobility: Immigration Policy and American Global Power in the Long Twentieth Century.” American Historical Review 123, no. 2 (April 2018): 393–438.
  • Kurashige, Lon. Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
  • Lake, Marilyn, and Henry Reynolds. Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Lew Williams, Beth. The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.
  • McKeown, Adam M. Melancholy Order: Asian Migration and the Globalization of Borders. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
  • Miller, Stuart Creighton. The Unwelcome Immigrant: The American Image of the Chinese, 1785–1882. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.
  • Ngai, Mae. The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics. New York: W. W. Norton, 2021.
  • Salyer, Lucy E. Laws Harsh as Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
  • Saxton, Alexander. The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California. Berkeley: University of California, 1971.
  • Sinn, Elizabeth. Pacific Crossing: California Gold, Chinese Migration, and the Making of Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013.
  • Young, Elliot. Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era through World War II. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.