History

Learn more about the Chinese Exclusion Laws and the history surrounding the laws

The Chinese Exclusion Laws

  • 1790 Naturalization Act:  The naturalization laws allowed only “free white person[s]” to become American citizens.  Text
  • 1870 Naturalization Act:  Although Congress amended the naturalization laws to allow persons of African descent to become naturalized American citizens, the Senate explicitly rejected an amendment to extend naturalization to persons of Chinese descent.
  • 1875 – Page Act – Congress prohibits “undesirable” persons defined as “forced laborers” convicts, and anyone from “China, Japan, or any Oriental country” engaged in “lewd and immoral purpose” and prohibits Asian women immigrating “for he purpose of prostitution.”  It is applied severely and almost exclusively against Chinese women. 
  • 1879 “15 Passenger Bill”: Congress restricted Chinese immigration by limiting the number of Chinese passengers permitted on any ship coming to the U.S. to 15.  Leaders in the Congressional debate expressed the view that Chinese persons were “aliens, not to be trusted with political rights.”  President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed the bill as being inconsistent with U.S.-China treaty commitments that permitted the free movement of peoples.
  • 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act (20 Year): Congress suspended the immigration of skilled and unskilled Chinese laborers for twenty years, and expressly prohibited state and federal courts from naturalizing Chinese persons.  President Chester A. Arthur vetoed this bill for being incompatible with U.S.-China treaty obligations.
  • 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act (10 Year): In light of President Arthur’s veto of the 20 year ban, Congress revised the Chinese Exclusion Act to impose a ten year ban on the immigration of Chinese laborers.  Congress kept in place the provision expressly prohibiting courts from naturalizing Chinese persons.  The new act mandated that certain Chinese laborers wishing to reenter the U.S. obtain “certificates of return.”  This was the first federal law excluding a single group of people from the United States on the basis of race or ethnicity alone. Text
  • 1884 Exclusion Law Amendments: Congress broadened the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to apply to all persons of Chinese descent, “whether subject of China or any other foreign power.”  The amendments also imposed stricter documentation requirements on travel for persons of Chinese descent.
  • 1888 Scott Act: Congress prohibited all Chinese laborers who left the United States, or who in the future would choose to leave, from reentering.  The Scott Act canceled all previously issued “certificates of return,” meaning that 20,000 Chinese laborers then overseas who held these certificates could not return to the United States.  The Supreme Court recognized that the act abrogated U.S.-China treaty obligations, but nonetheless upheld the act’s validity, reasoning that Congress had absolute authority to exclude aliens.  Text
  • 1892 Geary Act: Congress extended all previous Chinese Exclusion Laws by ten years.  By requiring Chinese persons in the United States to carry a “certificate of residence” at all times, the Geary Act made Chinese persons who could not produce these certificates presumptively deportable unless they could establish residence through the testimony of “at least one credible white witness.”  Congress also denied bail to Chinese immigrants who applied for writs of habeas corpus.  Text
  • 1902: Congress indefinitely extended all Chinese Exclusion Laws.  Text
  • 1904: Congress made permanent all Chinese Exclusion Laws
  • 1924 – Immigration Act establishes an annual quota system based on the national origins of the population in the United States and prohibits immigration of people “ineligible to become citizens,” targeted at Chinese and Japanese and South Asians (an “Asiatic Zone of Exclusion.”)  
  • 1943 Repeal: Congress repealed all laws “relating to the exclusion and deportation of the Chinese.”  Congress permitted 105 persons of Chinese descent to immigrate into the United States each year, and enabled persons of Chinese descent to become American citizens.   The 1943 repeal, however, was enacted a wartime measure to counteract enemy propaganda after China became an ally of the United States during World War II, with little acknowledgment of the injustice of the laws.   Text
  • 1945-1946 – War Brides Act – Several laws are passed that enable American WWII veterans to bring their spouses and children to United States, despite limitations based on national origins. The first of these laws, however, did not apply to Chinese until revisions were made almost two years after the first War Brides Act to provisions of the immigration law that continued to restrict Chinese immigration.
  • 1952 – Walter-McCarran Act consolidates and reforms the laws governing immigration the United States.  Overriding a veto by President Truman, Congress establishes a system that favors immigration from northern and western Europe through quotas based on the proportion of the national origins of the population in the United States as determined by the 1920 census. 
  • 1965 – Hart-Celler Act, abolishes the system based on national origins.
  • 2011 – 2012 – U.S. Senate and House of Representatives separately pass unanimous resolutions condemning the Chinese exclusion laws, expressing regrets, and reaffirming Congress’s responsibility to protect the civil rights of all people in the United States.

The Experience of Chinese in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

Anti-Chinese Attitudes and Violence

Other Organizations

Books and Articles

  • Ahmad, Diana L.  The Opium Debate and Chinese Exclusion Laws in the Nineteenth Century American West. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2007.
  • American Federation of Labor.  Some Reasons for the Exclusion of Chinese: Meat vs Rice; American Manhood Against Asiatic Coolieism. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1902.
  • Asher, Brad.  “Chinese Laborers Meet Resistance in the Washington Territory.”
  • Bagley, Clarence B.  History of Seattle, From the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time. Chicago, S. J. Clarke, 1916 Volume II, Chapter XXV, The Anti-Chinese Agitation and Riots, pp. 455-478.
  • California State Senate.  Chinese immigration: The Social, Moral and Political Effect of Chinese Immigration. Sacramento: State Printing Office, 1877.
  • Carter, Don. “Recession Fueled the Anti-Chinese Riots,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4 February 1986.
  • Chan, Sucheng (ed.)  Entry Denied: Exclusion and the Chinese Community in America, 1882 – 1943. 1991.
  • Chang, Iris.  The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking, 2003.
  • Chin, Art.  Golden Tassels: A history of the Chinese in Washington. 1977.
  • Chin, Doug.  Seattle’s International District: The Making of a Pan-Asian American Community. Seattle: International Examiner Press, 2009.
  • Chin, Doug and Art Chin.  Up Hill: The Settlement and Diffusion of the Chinese in Seattle. Seattle: Shorey Book Store, 1973.
  • Cowan, Robert Ernest and Boutwell Dunlap.  Bibliography of the Chinese Question in the United States. San Francisco: A. M. Robertson, 1909.
  • Daniels, Roger.  Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.
  • Dirlik, Arlif (editor).  Chinese on the American Frontier. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
  • Dunn, Ashley. “Seattle’s Chinese Expulsion,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4 February 1986.
  • Echtle, Edward.  Early Chinese Community at Olympia, Washington. Undergraduate Thesis, The Evergreen State College, 1997.
  • Feichter, Nancy Koehler.  The Chinese in the Inland Empire During the Nineteenth Century. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, State College of Washington (Washington State University), 1959.
  • Gold, Martin B, Forbidden Citizens – Chinese Exclusion and the U.S. Congress: A Legislative History, Capitol.net, 2012.
  • Guillen, Tomas. “Education March Recalls Chinese Expulsion of 1886.”  The Seattle Times, 9 February 1986.
  • Gyory, Andrew.  Closing the Gate: Race, Politics and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
  • Halsreth, James A. and Bruce A Glasrud. “Anti-Chinese Movements in Washington, 1885 – 1886: A Reconsideration” in Halsreth and Glasrud (eds.) Northwest Mosaic, Pruett Publishing Co., 1977.
  • Hildebrand, Lorraine.  Straw Hats, Sandals, and Steel: The Chinese in Washington State. Ethnic history series, 2. Tacoma: Washington State American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 1977.
  • Hsu, Madeline Yuan-yin.  Dreaming of Gold, Dreaming of Home: Transnationalism and Migrations between the United States and South China 1882-1943. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.
  • Hunt, Herbert.  Tacoma, Its History and Its Builders; a Half Century of Activity. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co, 1916; Chapter 32: The Chinese Menace.
  • Karlin, Jules Alexander. “The Anti-Chinese Outbreaks in Seattle, 1885-1886.”  Pacific Northwest Quarterly, April, 1948. pp. 103-130.
  • Kinnear, George.  Anti-Chinese Riots in Seattle, Wn., February 8th, 1886.Seattle: Self-published, 1911.
  • Lee, Erika and Judy Yung.  Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America. Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • McClain, Charles J.  In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth-Century America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
  • Morgan, Murray.  Puget’s Sound: A Narrative of Early Tacoma and the Southern Sound. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003.
  • Pfaelzer, Jean.  Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
  • Roth, Lottie Roeder.  History of Whatcom County. Chicago: Pioneer Historical Pub. Co, 1926.
  • Saxton, Alexander.  The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and Anti-Chinese Movement in California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
  • Schwantes, Carlos A.  Radical Heritage: Labor, Socialism and Reform in Washington and British Columbia, 1885-1917. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979.
  • Taylor, Quintard.  The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District, from 1870 Through the Civil Rights Era. The Emil and Kathleen Sick lecture-book series in western history and biography. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994; Chapter 4: Blacks and Asians in a White City, 106-134.
  • Washington (Territory), and Watson C. Squire.  Report of the Governor of Washington Territory to the Secretary of the Interior, 1886. Washington: G.P.O., 1886.
  • Wilcox, W.P. “Anti-Chinese Riots in Washington,” Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol 20 No 3 (20 July 1929), 204-12.
  • Wong, K. Scott and Sucheng Chan (editors). Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identities during the Exclusion Era. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.
  • Wu, Cheng-Tzu. “Chink!” A Documentary History of Anti-Chinese Prejudice in America. New York: World Publishing, 1972.
  • Wynne, Robert Edward.  Reaction to the Chinese in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, 1850-1910. New York: Arno Press, 1978.