Chinese exclusion forced society to redefine what it meant by citizenship. Power distribution in the United States was unequal. The power between the immigrants and the immigration official could not even be called on the same level. Ti was almost as if America was working on a caste system based on the color of the skin. Those that were anything but Caucasian were automatically reduced to a lower caste.
Research into the Chinese Exclusion Act is can be divided into a number of disciplines. The most prominent area of Historiography on the subject is examining how the act came about. There is little legal evidence on the development of the Act. Legal historian have had to fill in the missing gaps. The Chinese Exclusion Act had a dramatic impact on modern immigration law and discrimination law as well.
Social historians took a different perspective. They have focused their attention on explaining the social development of the Act. Their work has concentrated on social structures, organizations and institutions, labor patterns and markets, and the social identity of the Chinese in American society. The research focus has been on the American side of the Atlantic. However, this only gives us one side of the picture. In order to understand the forces that drove the migration, even through adversity, one must examine the social forces on both sides of the Pacific. The Exclusion Act led to the development of a complex social and economic system on both sides of the Pacific.
There are two stories to tell, in reality. There are the social forces in China that led to the migration, and what happened on the American side. Historians tend to forget that migrations not only have an impact on the new country, but they also have an impact on the country of origin. As many people left China, there were gaps to be filled in the country of origin. However, few historians have tackled the social and economic impact in mainland China. The migration left women and children with an absent husband. They had to cope with the migration, much as if it were a loss. The migration essentially left millions of women and children alone. If they did see their husband, it may only be a few times in a lifetime, or in some cases, never again.
Another approach taken by historiographers is that they treat the period from 1882 to 1943 as if it were homogeneous. However, there were many changes in American society, particularly during the industrial era that had an impact on the ways in which the Act was executed. There has been little study on the status of Chinese-Americans during World War I and World War II. Most historians focus on one small area of history, the influence of the Chinese on American westward expansion. There is so much focus on the contributions of the Chinese to the building of the transcontinental railroad that almost all other areas of history disappear. This narrow approach to Chinese-American history provides a skewed picture of the contributions and social tribulations of Chinese-Americans.
At some point, one begins to realize that the Exclusion Act was a part of social change in which Americans had developed their national identity. In the beginning, almost everyone was an immigrant. However, the Exclusion Act demonstrates that Americans had begun to change how they defined race, national identity and many other characteristics of society. They had began to develop a sense of "self," which logically meant they developed a sense of "other" as well. The Exclusion Act is evidence of this important step in national identity.
Omi and Winant called this process "race formation" (Omi and Winant, 57-69). This resulted in new categories of race and resulted in a series of new laws that would eventually evolve into modern immigration law. Omi Winant emphasize the development of new racial definitions as a crucial step the formation of a national identity and the restrictions that are now a part of immigration law. Control of Chinese immigrants would eventually lead to restrictions on all immigration to the United States.
The period from 1910 to 1924 saw the biggest changes in immigration law. It was during this time that decisions regarding immigration moved out of the jurisdiction of the Federal courts into the hands of the immigration service. The immigration system became systematic and bureaucratic. According to Omi and Winant these changes were the result of changes in the economy and problems associated with hoards of unskilled, unqualified workers flooding the job market. The 1924 Immigration Act was the culmination of these sentiments. It marked the formal triumph of national identity and how Americans think about race.
One of the most interesting facts that Lee discovered in his examination of immigration records is that the Chinese Exclusion Act did not end immigration of Chinese to the United States. Instead, it seems to have increased Chinese immigration, when compared to the 30 years before the Exclusion Act. (Lee, 29). Lee states that from 1882 to 1943 300,955 Chinese successfully migrated to the United States. In the pre-exclusion era from 1849-1882 only 258,210 migrated to the United States. This represents a major flaw in Lee's work.
Lee defined the pre-exclusion era as the period from 1949 to 1882 and the exclusion era as 1882-1943. There are unequally weighted time periods. It is difficult to say that immigration increased during the Exclusion period. This period was defined as a span of 61 years, yet the pre-exclusion era comprised a span of only 33 years. Yet Lee attributes the Exclusion years to an increase in immigration. If one extrapolates the data, they it would appear that immigration actually decreased during the exclusion. One cannot compare a period of 33 years to one of 61 years and determine that this represents a correlation. Both time periods must be alike in order for the type of comparison attempted by Lee to be considered valid. When one takes this into consideration, one would have to disagree with Lee's conclusion that immigration increased during the Exclusion. When one considers the rates of immigration, rather than the aggregate effect, it would appear the Exclusion Act did reduce the number of immigrants coming to America. This conflicts with Lee's conclusion, but is a more realistic comparison.
Eileen Scully is another historian that concentrated on the Exclusion period. She examined the effects of the Exclusion Act on trade relations and the effects on Americans traveling abroad to China. In her work Scully found that the Chinese government found the Exclusion Act to be barbaric. They considered it to indicate arrogance. Scully points out the disconnect in ideology. Americans saw the act as a diplomatic tool designed to demonstrate "proper" behavior to the Chinese. However, the Chinese saw it as a means to exert social control and imperialism. Scully concludes that the Exclusion Act harmed diplomatic relations with China and created a division in philosophy.
The development of national identity construed the requirement of the government to protect their citizens when traveling abroad. It was believed the "natural rights" and legal rights were two different concepts. The citizens felt that the government had a "natural obligation" to protect them from harm while traveling abroad. The western philosophy was that an imperialistic approach would ensure safety and freedom from punishment for crimes while abroad.
Westerners measured the "Civilization" of a county by how well they protected these rights. They expected diplomatic immunity when traveling in another country. The Chinese saw this as one-sided diplomacy and did not buy into it. They expected the same for their own citizens and when they did not receive it they refused to enforce it as well. This difference in expectation led to trade problems and was a major cause for the break down of diplomatic relations between the United States and China. Scully's work relies on documents from the eras and it is difficult to disagree with her conclusions based on them.
Chew and Associates explored the many means and methods employed by the Chinese to circumvent immigration laws. They used primary sources, including published law enforcement documents from 1896-1902 to examine the prevalence and techniques that came to be known as "substitution schemes" (Chew et al., 1). They used steam ship records from 1904-1907 to estimate the impact of substitution schemes to the flow of Chinese migration to Chinese-American Communities. They also used these records to examine the impact of immigration on the age composition of these communities as well (Chew et al., 1-6). They found that substitution schemes were critical to the revolving door system that achieved both external compliance with the immigration act and the ability of Chinese communities to replenish their labor force with younger workers. This is an area of impact that is often missed by many historians.
The purpose of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was to reduce labor force competition for white working men.…