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At that time, China was rocked by a number of violent conflicts including the Red Turban uprisings (1854-64) and the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64) responsible for the death of at least twenty million Chinese.
The Opium Wars of 1839--60 against Great Britain also inflicted economic devastation. The Qing government of China, having lost to Britain in both conflicts, was forced to pay reparations.
Competition with the Chinese brought to the surface the economic pressures whites were trying to escape in the industrializing Northeast, and the Chinese quickly became scapegoats as a result. White settlers took a number of steps to discourage Chinese immigration.
As early as 1852, the California legislature passed the Foreign Miner’s License Tax, stipulating a monthly tax of three dollars on every foreign miner not desiring to become a citizen.
Because the Chinese were sojourners, this tax almost exclusively affected them.
Furthermore, even if the Chinese did want to become American citizens they were prohibited under the Naturalization Act of 1790 that allowed only “free white persons” to become citizens.
Despite initial misgivings over the Chinese being too delicate for the work, the initial crews of Chinese workers proved to be as hard working as whites and accepted less pay. The full curriculum guide is available for download here.“GOLD MOUNTAIN” AND THE ROOTS OF ASIAN AMERICAN IMMIGRATION Asian immigration to central North America predates the existence of the United States.Though some were wildly successful like Wong Kee, who at one time employed as many as 900 workers in his mining company, and more returned home as successful sojourners, most Chinese found themselves simply as outcasts in the rugged frontier West. White settlers from the eastern United States were as new to California as the Chinese, but labeled the Chinese as “aliens” because of their different appearance and customs.Chinese competed with whites for the limited gold and jobs, often willing to work for less than white workers.
The reaction from the legislature and white working class contrasted with the messages sent from business owners and corporate moguls who needed cheap foreign labor.