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What was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882?

Reed Hepler, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Reed Hepler

    Reed Hepler is an M.L.I.S. student at IUPUI. He received a Bachelor’s in History from USU, with minors in Religious Studies and Anthropology. He also earned a Certificate in Museum Studies. He has worked in museums, libraries, archives, and historical sites for the past three years.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

    Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Read about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act's significance, why Chinese immigration was restricted, and its significance. Updated: 12/03/2021

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What Was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882?

The Chinese Exclusion Act was a Chinese immigration act passed by the United States Congress in 1882. It banned all Chinese immigration into the United States from that time until 1943, over fifty years later. The specific wording of the act stated that no Chinese laborers could enter the United States. However, as almost all Chinese immigrants could not prove that they were not seeing work, the act effectively banned all Chinese immigration until it was repealed.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was signed by President Chester Arthur. The passage of this act was driven by widespread prejudice against Chinese immigrants in general and Chinese laborers in particular.

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Why Was Chinese Immigration Restricted?

Why was the Chinese Exclusion Act passed? Chinese immigration to the United States began to dramatically increase in 1848 with the discovery of gold in California. People from around the world, including China, came to California to try and find gold. Many of these speculators stayed after the Gold Rush had ended, resulting in the establishment of Chinese communities along the West Coast, to the consternation of locals.

Many Chinese gold miners stayed in the United States after prospecting, exposing racial prejudices that contributed to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Black and white image. Many Chinese gold miners stayed in the United States after prospecting, exposing racial prejudices that contributed to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Another factor in the increase of Chinese immigration was the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, which took place from 1863 to 1869. Thousands of railroad workers entered California to find employment with the Central Pacific Railroad. After the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, these workers continued to labor with Central Pacific until the 1880s.

What was the purpose of the Chinese Exclusion Act? The stated purpose of the act was to prevent the immigration of more Chinese laborers to the United States. The unstated purpose of the act was to significantly decrease the number of Chinese individuals living in the United States by prohibiting them from coming to the United States in the first place. The Chinese immigrants already living in the United States were targets for severe discrimination.

Problems in China

At the same time as Chinese immigrants were facing harsh discrimination, China was fighting the Taiping Rebellion. This destruction resulted in food shortages and violence in China. For the past thirty years, China had been slowly recovering from a massive famine in 1852. The food shortages brought about by the rebellion caused many Chinese to fear a reversion to those difficult times. Many Chinese fled China, and, hearing about the gold and work to be found in the United States, decided to immigrate there.

Anti-Chinese Racism

As the labor surplus grew after the Gold Rush ended, other Americans began to resent Chinese laborers and created anti-Chinese groups such as the Workingmen's Party, which connected anti-Chinese sentiment with economic and cultural arguments against Chinese immigration. These groups were fueled by nativism, the idea that established inhabitants deserve special treatment over immigrants. Many of these groups resorted to violence. Over one hundred Chinese immigrants were murdered in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Other avenues of preventing Chinese from settling in the United States were soon undertaken by regions and states before the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. For example, the Foreign Miners' Tax of 1850 was created by the California State Legislature to dry up Chinese miners' money reserves. Under this law, every miner in the United States who was not a citizen was required to pay a twenty dollar tax.

Another demonstration of legal action meant to deter Chinese miners was the verdict of the California Supreme Court in People v. Hall, in which that Court ruled that minority testimony, specifically that of Chinese individuals, was not to be considered sufficient grounds for any criminal charges against a white man. This decision shows the notion that Chinese individuals were thought to be less than human, and therefore not valuable to California.

This political cartoon is evidence of the anti-Chinese sentiment behind the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Drawing. This political cartoon is evidence of the anti-Chinese sentiment behind the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What was the purpose of the Exclusion Act?

The stated purpose of the Chinese Exclusion Act was to prevent Chinese laborers from entering the United States. The unstated purpose was to prevent all Chinese immigration.

When was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion repealed?

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was repealed by the Magnuson Act of 1943. This act established a yearly quota of 105 Chinese immigrants.

Why did some Chinese leave China in the 1800s?

There were multiple factors for Chinese immigration to the United States. These included the Taiping Rebellion, the Gold Rush, and the Transcontinental Railroad.

What is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882?

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was a discriminatory act against Chinese immigration. It prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the United States.

What is the historical significance of the Chinese Exclusion Act?

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first of a series of discriminatory immigration policies. It also started a trend of nativism and race-based policies regarding individuals other than African Americans and Native Americans.

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