Asians and Asian Exclusion

Asians and Asian ExclusionChinese and then Japanese immigration to California in the 19th century was met with much nativist racism, suspicion, and negative stereotyping. Asian wives and families were not allowed to immigrate with working men, leading to a large male population that was perceived as at risk of drug addiction and soliciting prostitution. Buddhists had to navigate the degree to which they attempted to assimilate or accommodate Christian influence. Punjabi Sikhs were successful in farming but could not own land. Some intermarried with Mexican women as they were not allowed to bring wives from India. From 1882 on, Asian exclusion legislation severely limited the number of Asian immigrants who could enter the U.S. The immigration door from Asia to the U.S. was effectively shut following the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924.

The Chinese and Japanese immigration of the second half of the 19th century began a new chapter in America’s religious history. The broad Confucian respect for family, popular temple Daoism with its deities of protection, and Buddhism in its many forms—all found their way to American shores. With the Indian immigration that began in the early 20th century, Sikhs from the fertile farmlands of the Punjab added their traditions to this new burst of religious diversity.

This new encounter would have even more far-reaching theological challenges for the majority Christian population. Some Asian immigrants brought with them previous experience of Christianity, both negative and positive, through Christian mission efforts in Asia. Americans for their part had some knowledge of Asia, again through missions and through the literature of the Transcendentalists. On the whole, however, there was nothing but ignorance and misunderstanding to guide this encounter. Significantly, the first chapter in the Asian American experience was set in the context of economic expansion and competition in the American West, where difference of any kind often became an excuse for antagonism.

Invectives against “Chinamen,” “Japs,” and “Ragheads” marred the first decades of America’s homegrown encounter with Asia. From the 1850s to the 1920s, anti-Asian agitation from the local to the national level was fueled by fear, stereotype, and racism. The agitation that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 grew to include other Asian immigrants. The Japanese and Korean exclusion movement dilated into the Asiatic Exclusion League, formed in 1908 to work for the exclusion of all Asian immigrants whom the league declared to be “utterly unfit and incapable of discharging the duties of American citizenship.”

For the Chinese who began to come to America in the 1850s, California was known as Gam Saan, Gold Mountain. The gold rush was in full steam. For those who were not lucky with gold, there were jobs on the railroads or in factories. Some Californians praised the arrival of the Chinese, whom they called “the Celestials” as part of the diverse, burgeoning growth of America in the Industrial Age. In 1852, the Daily Alta California newspaper expressed confidence that the Chinese would soon “vote at the same polls, study at the same schools and bow at the same altar as our own countrymen.” Unfortunately this confidence was not borne out: the new state of California proposed Chinese exclusion legislation, in support of which the governor scoffed at the very idea that the Chinese could ever vote intelligently. When Chinese and Japanese students were permitted to attend schools, the schools were separate by legislative order. And, of course, the Chinese worshipped at their own altars. The first Buddhist and Daoist temples opened in San Francisco in the 1850s and, eventually, there were hundreds of small temples on the West Coast and in the frontier territories of the Rocky Mountains.

Protestant familiarity with Chinese religion was hazy at best. The Chinese were routinely caricatured as “pagans” and “heathens,” labels that emphasized both racial differences and non-Christian allegiances. One missionary to China had claimed that “the four marks of Paganism were Tauism, Boodhism, ancestor worship and opium addiction.” Bret Harte’s poem “The Heathen Chinee,” depicting a cheating Chinese gambler, was published in 1870 and reprinted in newspapers across the country. Family-minded Christian citizens condemned the “bachelor societies” of which Chinatowns, large and small, were composed. Such groups of men living together were said to be breeding grounds for drugs and prostitution. At the same time, the state moved to prohibit the wives or families of Chinese from coming to the U.S., thus contributing to the very social problems they were so quick to condemn.

The Japanese came in the 1860s. Determined to avoid the negative stereotypes of Chinese immigrants in the U.S., the government of Japan set a strict “standard” for people allowed to emigrate. Many were literate and skilled workers, and 20% to 30% were women. Nonetheless, some Americans used anti-Chinese sentiment to fan the flames of anti-Japanese feeling as well. An 1891 San Francisco newspaper carried a headline that summed up the fears of many Americans: “Undesirables: Another phase in the immigration from Asia; Japanese taking the place of Chinese; Importation of Contract Laborers and Women.” Despite their best efforts, the Japanese were lumped together with the Chinese.

For the Japanese, the 1909 “Gentleman’s Agreement” permitted the immigration of the family members of laborers already in America, but prohibited any further laborers from coming. Because marriage in Japan could legally take place by proxy and then be formalized in America, “picture brides,” known to the husband only by a photograph sent from Japan, flocked to California shores. For the Japanese in America, the encouragement of family life helped balance the ratio of men to women and allowed for a second generation to develop, often easing the way for the older immigrants in the community.

For most Euro-Americans of this period, judgments about the “otherness” of the Japanese focused on their dress, the picture bride system, and Buddhism. Christian missionaries saw the opportunity for evangelism right here at home. As a group of Japanese Buddhists explained it to their headquarters in Japan, “Towns bristle with Christian churches and sermons, the prayers of the missionaries shake through the cities with church bells. To strong Buddhists like ourselves, these pressures mean nothing. However, we sometimes get reports of frivolous Japanese who surrender themselves to accept the heresy—as a hungry man does not have much choice but to eat what is offered him.”

Such calls for spiritual leadership from the burgeoning Buddhist community were heard by a young Jodo Shinshu priest, Soryu Kagahi, who arrived in Hawaii from Japan in March 1889 to engage in a mission of his own. He established the first Japanese Buddhist temple in Hawaii, while also providing much needed guidance to the physically and spiritually taxed workers on Hawaiian plantations. Yet Christians unsure about a religious tradition they had never encountered took note of Kagahi’s efforts with concern. The Hawaiian Evangelical Association, for instance, warned its members against “a Buddhist organization among us, which encourages drinking,” a rumor which clearly indicates how much such groups still needed to learn about the new religious traditions being transplanted in their soil.

The lotus flower of Buddhism began to bloom in Hawaii and a decade later on the American mainland. But Japanese Buddhists themselves were at first uneasy about how “Buddhist” they should be. Kagahi, for instance, attempting to reach out to the Christian culture he encountered, suggested that Buddhist missionaries should use language that placed the Eternal Buddha and the Christian God under the same umbrella of the “Absolute Reality.” Such “blending” of theological terms would become more common in the future, as Japanese Buddhists sought to make their religious tradition “relevant” to both the Christian and scientific worlds of 20th century America. But in the late 19th century Japanese Buddhists were still on the defensive.

As the century turned, Japanese immigrants struggled between seeking the guidance of their faith to help them in their new lives and leaving that faith behind in the quest for “accommodation.” Such a struggle divided the Japanese community into Buddhist practitioners who were eyed with suspicion by the dominant culture and Christian converts who were welcomed only ambivalently. This division created tensions within the immigrant population that reproduced themselves in families and in the hearts and minds of individuals who strove to be culturally Western but religiously Buddhist.

Sikhs from India also brought a new religious tradition to America. They were referred to generically as “Hindus,” meaning virtually anyone from India. There were, however, only a few Hindus and Muslims among the Punjabi workers who came from 1900-1910 to British Columbia and then worked their way south to Washington, Oregon, and California. On the whole, they were Sikhs. They wore turbans wrapped around their uncut hair in faithfulness to one of the five observances of every devout Sikh—to let the hair grow, as God and nature intended. Again, it was one distinctive characteristic that was singled out for caricature, earning them the pejorative slur “ragheads.”

Like the Chinese, the Sikhs came as single men, some intending eventually to return to the Punjab, others hoping to make a new life in America. Most of them eventually settled into the agricultural work they knew well from the fields of home. They organized a gurdwara in Stockton, California in 1912 which became the primary social, cultural, and religious center for the Sikhs of the Central Valley for more than fifty years. Due to the laws prohibiting the immigration of wives and family members from the Punjab, those who wanted a settled, married life often married Mexican women with strong Catholic extended families. Thus, the first major “interreligious” encounter was often in the context of marriage. It created a subculture of Mexican-Sikhs who, with names like Jesús Singh, observed Sikh festivals with the community in Stockton and were, at the same time, baptized Catholics.

Much of America’s anti-Asian agitation and sentiment from the 1850s to the 1920s was rooted in economic and not religious terms. Chinese workers were hired to replace striking workers at the North Adams shoe factory in Massachusetts. Sikh mill workers were perceived to be a threat to those seeking employment in the lumber industry in Bellingham, Washington. Explicitly anti-Chinese agitation culminated in the 1882 Federal Chinese Exclusion Act, which was renewed and broadened in 1892 and in 1902. The Congressional debate over exclusion often turned from economics to the question of cultural and religious compatibility.

The federal Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1924 established a quota system for immigration which also excluded those ineligible for naturalization as citizens. The Federal Naturalization Law of 1790 had limited the naturalization of foreign-born persons to “white” persons only. As Asian immigrants came to America, this law became the basis of excluding Asians from citizenship. In 1922, Tad Ozawa, a Japanese man who had lived most of his life in America, graduated from Berkeley High School and the University of California, was ruled to be ineligible for citizenship. In 1923, Bhagat Singh Thind, a Punjabi-born Sikh who had served in the U.S. Army in World War I, was also ruled ineligible for citizenship. By 1924 the immigration door from Asia to America was effectively shut.

Additional Content

Montana Encounter

The following are excerpts from 19th century newspaper accounts in Montana which document the public interest in the Chinese communities of Montana and the eventual publicly expressed prejudice against the Chinese. They were originally compiled by Montana historian Robert R. Swarthout in his essay, “From Kwantung to the Big Sky: The Chinese Experience in Frontier Montana,” from his book with Harry W. Fritz, The Montana Heritage: An Anthology of Historical Essays. Swarthout notes that the first census in the Montana territory, in 1870, counted 1,949 Chinese—one-tenth of the official population. Swarthout sees the rising economic prosperity of the Chinese as well as the rising racism of the American West to be behind the shift in attitudes toward the Chinese.

Today is the [Chinese] annual Josh Day, on which occasion their custom is to visit the burial places—as our China men and women have done, closing their ceremonies about 2 p.m.—burn incense and innumerable small wax candles about the head stones or boards of the graves, deposit a liberal lunch of choice eatables and drinkables, designed for the spirits of the departed; recite propitiatory prayers to their savior (Josh), and otherwise show themselves sacredly mindful of the welfare of their dead.

[Note: Josh or, more commonly Joss, is a term that came into Western usage from the Portuguese: the god or deity in a Chinese temple, which is sometimes called a Joss House. Helena, Montana, Weekly Herald, 8 April 1869.]

The great Chinese Joss arrived last night by express from California, and is being feasted today with all the delicacies of the season…The room in which he has taken up his quarters is daily decorated with flags, roast hogs, chickens, drums, and a thousand and one articles which defy description. [The Chinese] will wind up with a grand free lunch to-night, at which at least three hundred will be present.

[Butte, Montana Weekly Inter Mountain, 23 November 1882.]

The Chinaman’s life is not our life, his religion is not our religion. His habits, superstitions, and modes of life are disgusting. He is a parasite, floating across the Pacific and thence penetrating into the interior towns and cities, there to settle down for a brief space and absorb the substance of those with whom he comes into competition. His one object in life is to make all the money he can and return again to his native land, dead or alive. His very existence in our midst is an insult to our intelligence. Pestilence and disease follow in his wake, no matter what sentimentalists say to the contrary. Let him go hence. He belongs not in Butte.

[Butte, Montana, Bystander, 11 February 1893.]

[All quoted in Robert R. Swartout, Jr., “From Kwangtung to the Big Sky: The Chinese Experience in Frontier Montana,” in R.R. Swartout, Jr. and Harry W. Fritz, The Montana Heritage: An Anthology of Historical Essays (Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, 1992).]

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act Congressional Debate

The Congressional debate over the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 reveals characterizations of China and the religious traditions of China held by Americans in the mid-19th century. Here Senator Miller of California expresses the view that the civilization of the East and that of the West, like oil and water, cannot mix, and that the Chinese, if allowed to settle in the U.S., will never assimilate, but remain “changeless, fixed, and unalterable.”

The history of this country may be searched in vain for an example of such perfect unanimity of expression by the parties at any time contending for political power upon a question of government policy. It would seem that the question of Chinese restriction has passed the state of argument…

In this connection it is proper also to consider the probable effect of a failure of refusal of Congress to pass this bill upon the introduction of Chinese coolies into the United States in the future. An adverse vote upon such a measure is an invitation to the Chinese to come. It would be interpreted to mean that the Government of the United States had reversed its policy, and is now in favor of the unrestricted importation of Chinese; that it looks with favor upon the Chinese invasion now in progress…

The defeat of this measure now is a shout of welcome across the Pacific Ocean to a myriad host of these strange people to come and occupy the land, and it is a rebuke to the American citizens, who have so long stood guard upon the western shore of this continent, and who, seeing the danger, have with a fortitude and forbearance most admirable, raised and maintained the only barrier against a stealthy, strategic, but peaceful invasion as destructive in its results and more potent for evil than an invasion by an army with banners…

It has sometimes happened in dealing with great questions of governmental policy that sentiment, or a sort of emotional inspiration, has seized the minds of those engaged in the solution of great problems, by which they have been lifted up into the ethereal heights or moral abstraction. I trust that while we attempt the path of inquiry in this instance we shall keep our feet firmly upon the earth. This question relates to this planet and the temporal government of some of its inhabitants; it is of the earth earthy; it involved principles of economic, social, and political science, rather than a question of morals; it is a question of national policy, and should be subjected to philosophical analysis. Moreover the question is of to-day. The conditions of the world of mankind at the present moment are those with which we have to deal. If mankind existed now in one grand co-operative society, in one universal union, under one system of laws, in a vast homogeneous brotherhood, serenely beatified, innocent of all selfish aims and unholy desires, with one visible temporal ruler, whose judgments should be justice and whose sway should be eternal, then there would be no propriety in this measure.

But the millennium has not yet begun, and man exists now, as he has existed always—in the economy of Providence—in societies called nations, separated by the peculiarities if not the antipathies of race.  In truth, the history of mankind is for the most part descriptive on racial conflicts and the struggles between nations for existence. By a perfectly natural process these nations have evolved distinct civilizations, as diverse in their characteristics as the races of men from which they have sprung. These may be properly grouped into two grand divisions, the civilization of the East and the civilization of the West. These two great and diverse civilizations have finally met on the American shore of the Pacific Ocean…

The two civilizations which have here met are of diverse elements and character, both the result of evolution under different conditions, radically antagonistic, and as impossible of amalgamation as are the two great races who have produced them. The attempt to merge them must result, as both reason and experience teaches, in the displacement of one or the other. Like the mixing of oil and water, neither will absorb the other. The Chinese have been established on the Pacific coast for more than a quarter of a century, and have displayed every phase and characteristic of their ancient civilization, all this time under the pressure of American laws and the example of American methods, brought into direct contact with western civilization and subjected to the powerful influence of modern thought and Christian teaching; and they have remained as fixed in their habits, methods, and modes of life as if they had all this time lived in the Mountains of the Moon. Not the slightest impression has been made upon them or the peculiar civilization which they brought with them. There modes of life remain the same, which they and their ancestors have pursued for fifty centuries in their fierce struggle for existence. They have been unable or unwilling to change the habits and character which have been forced upon them and ground into them by necessity and a heredity as old as the records of man. Nor does our experience with the Chinese differ in this respect from that of other nations who have admitted them.

It is a fact of history that wherever the Chinese have gone they have always taken their habits, methods, and civilization with them; and history fails to record a single example in which they have ever lost them. They remain Chinese always and everywhere; changeless, fixed and unalterable. In this respect they differ from all other peoples who have come to our shores. The men of every other race or nation who go abroad, sooner or later, adopt the civilization of the people by whom they are surrounded, and assimilate with or are absorbed in the mass of humanity with which they come in constant contact. The Chinese are alone perfectly unimpressible, and even their offspring born on American soil and who have grown up surrounded by American influences are Chinese in every characteristic of mind, feature, form, habit, and method, precisely the same as their fathers and their ancestors in China. We have found that no impression has been or can be made upon the civilization which confronts ours on the Pacific coast. An “irrepressible conflict” is now upon us in full force, and those who do not see it in progress are not so wise as the men who saw the approach of that other “irrepressible conflict” which shook the very foundation of American empire upon this continent.

If we continue to permit the introduction of this strange people, with their peculiar civilization, until they form a considerable part of our population, what is to be the effect upon the American people and Anglo-Saxon civilization? Can these two civilizations endure side by side as two distinct and hostile forces? Is American civilization as unimpressible as Chinese civilization? When the end comes for one or the other, which will be found to have survived? Can they meet half way, and so merge in a mongrel race, half Chinese and half Caucasian, as to produce a civilization half pagan, half Christian, semi-oriental, altogether mixed and very bad?

I insist that these questions are practical, and must have answers…

If the Chinese could be lifted up to the level of the free American, to the adoption and enjoyment of American civilization, the case would be better; but this cannot be done.

Forty centuries of Chinese life has made the Chinaman what he is. An eternity of years cannot make him such a man as the Anglo-Saxon…

Congressional Record—Senate
February 28, 1882

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act Congressional Debate

The Congressional debate over the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 reveals characterizations of China and the religious traditions of China held by Americans in the mid-19th century. Here Representative Kasson of Iowa, speaking in opposition to the Act, reminds his colleagues of the ethical foundations of Confucian Chinese civilization and of the questionable role so-called “Christian” nations played in introducing opium into China.

Much, sir, has been said about the character of the Chinese. I think much misapprehension has existed. There is a low order of Chinamen who are pagans, (as the whole country has been called here erroneously to-day,) and who are idolaters, and who are not good citizens. I no more deny this than I deny that those white people who went to John Bidwell’s plantation in California and murdered five Chinamen were low, bad American citizens. I admit that there is a large class of Chinamen who are not good elements in our population, and ought to be excluded so far as we have the right to exclude them under the powers given to our Government.

But, sir, what is China as a government? What is the China which we know by our treaties? Is that pagan? No, sir. Is it idolatrous? No, sir. The China that we know as a government, embracing a religion whose adherents are estimated as 100,000,000, is without an idol. It adheres to the teachings of Confucius, who before the Christian era announced doctrines which to this day have the respect of the civilized and the Christian world. Every official of China is obliged to pass a civil-service examination, including an examination in that moral code and system known as that of Confucius, before he can enter an office in China. Among those moral principles was that which in another and more perfect form we bind close to our hearts every Sunday. It characterizes the great system of Christianity and was willingly incorporated by China in the twenty-ninth article of the treaty of 1858, where she secures the rights of the Christian religion and missionaries in China, because their faith is to “do unto others as they would have others do unto them.” Upon that principle China has stood for nearly 3,000 years, as we have stood upon it for 2,000 years. Let us stand upon it to-day in our legislation touching the rights of a friendly nation.

That Government of China is the government with which we have to deal. After Confucius, who made a prediction that a new and a better religion would come after him into China, and would come from the West, after his period there was introduced into China from India the religion of Buddha, which now embraces over half its population, and which has fallen in successive generations so low that it has become base material idolatry. In its origin it was spiritual, highly moral in tone and character, but has degenerated into the wretched idolatrous exercises of which we hear and read to-day.

While I am on this subject may I, without wearying the House, add one other note from the history given us by the old documents? It was said by Confucius that later there should come further light and more truth, and that it should come from the West—that was about five hundred years before the birth of our Savior—and the history of China shows that the government sent out commissions in the course of later generations to inquire of the new religions of which they heard. One of these reported of Buddhism. You read in your New Testament that at the birth of Christ, “three wise men came from the East” in search of the new-born King. There is more reason to believe that these wise men came from this much abused empire than from any other people, came in search of this new light and new truth which their great philosopher and teacher, Confucius, had predicted, and of which they were in search during successive generations, as shown by their books of history.

No, sir; it is not a debased empire. Its higher authorities are the peers of European and American statesmen. When you speak of it as a government, it is not a government acting upon low or barbaric principles unworthy of our commendation or respect. There was a famous house of American merchants in Canton at the time of the famous opium war. Ah! do you remember, my colleagues on this floor, when you speak of the comparative “Christianity” of nations, that while China stood with all her worthless armament of battle, but with all her moral power behind it to keep her people from becoming debased and falling into the wretched opium drunkenness which now characterizes the shops of San Francisco, Canton, and other cities; when she sought to prohibit the importation of opium as temperance men in this country are seeking to prohibit drunkenness from liquors? Your “Christian” nation across the water is was that sent her naval forces to compel China to break down that barrier and admit Indian opium, that the people of that empire might continue in spite of their enlightened government to become beasts, debased at the hand of her “most Christian” majesty’s government. At that time, at the close of war, this American merchant, whose name is known and honored–and I may speak it—Mr. Forbes, handed a memorial to the representative of the imperial government in the province. In that memorial he alluded to the imperfect military system in China, and recommended to that government to send to the United States and obtain twenty, more or less, graduates of West Point, and guns and ammunition and examples of military armament which should better defend the empire and show the way that “Christian” nations made war on each other, that China might use similar means for her own defense.

The Chinese official indorsed it, referring it to the imperial government at Peking. The answer came in about sixty days, and reads something like this, as was told me by a member of that mercantile house: “The imperial government, knowing the friendship of Mr. Forbes for China, departs from its usual custom of receiving such papers in silence, and not only notifies him that it declines the proposition but gives the reasons why. The memorial proposes to educate this government in the art of war. War is barbarism and belongs to the state of barbarism. China long years ago passed that stage of her existence and has no desire to return to it.”

There is your paganism; there is your idolatry; there is your debased country, which has been defamed on this floor! Sir, I appeal to gentlemen here to make the discriminations due from fair-minded men, discriminations not founded on costumes, not founded on the way of wearing the hair, not founded on ignorance of our language, but discriminations based upon better and higher principles and facts than these paltry distinctions.

We have here representatives of that people who are orderly, who are seeking education, who are in responsible places, and who are entitled to respect. On the other hand, you have bad classes who are not entitled to respect, and whom it is legitimate to legislate. Let us frame our bell in this spirit of accomplishing purposes admitted to be just. Let us be careful that we do not forfeit the friendship of a great empire, to be still greater in the future, when she shall have accepted more and more of the principles of progress that animate us. Let us take care that we do not forfeit that friendship, that we keep within the treaty, and assure that great government of the honest and good faith of this government and of the people of the United States. [Applause.]

Congressional Record
House of Representatives
March 22, 1882

The Asiatic Exclusion League

The Japanese and Korean Exclusion League was organized in California on May 14, 1905. Within a few years it had broadened its anti-Asian agitation to include “Hindus,” people from India, and indeed all “Asiatics.” The League took its initial declaration of purposes from the resolutions that had been adopted by the American Federation of Labor. The Proceedings of the Asiatic Exclusion League reveal the views of exclusionists who were strongly against the mingling of people of different races and religions in America. While these were probably not majority views, they did come to have political effect in legislation to limit immigration.

At its first annual convention as a national organization, held in Seattle on February 4, 1908, the Asiatic Exclusion League stated its purposes:   

PROTEST, Against the continuance of Asiatic Immigration upon the exalted grounds of American patriotism, for the reasons—

FIRST, That these Asiatics come to the United States entirely ignorant of our sentiments of nativity and patriotism, and utterly unfit and incapable of discharging the duties of American citizenship.

SECOND, The introduction of this incongruous and non-assimilable element into our national life will inevitably impair and degrade, if not effectively destroy, our cherished institutions and our American life.

THIRD, These Asiatics are alien to our ideas of patriotism, morality, loyalty and the highest conception of Christian civilization.

FOURTH, Their presence here is a degrading and contaminating influence to the best phases of American life.

FIFTH, With their low standard of living, immoral surroundings and cheap labor, they constitute a formidable and fierce competition against our American system, the pride and glory of our civilization, and unless prohibited by effective legislation, will result in the irreparable deterioration of American labor.

[From Asiatic Exclusion League, Proceedings of the A.E.L. (San Francisco, 17 April 1908), 15. Reprinted, as are the subsequent A.E.L. articles, from the collection of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Library in Gerald N. Grob, ed., Proceedings of the Asiatic Exclusion League 1907-1913 (New York: Arno Press, 1977).]

California Congressman, Fourth District, James Maguire:

It is said that the Asiatics are as good as we are and, therefore, should be received by us on equal terms. I shall not pause to discuss the question of superiority, but, by way of illustration, I say that the sheep is as good as the horse, and as useful to mankind, yet it would be criminal folly to confine horses and sheep to the same pasture. The sheep would thrive, but the horses would starve, for they cannot feed upon pasture over which sheep are in the habit of running. So it is with Asiatic and American labor; the former will thrive where the latter will perish, and we are interested in the welfare of the latter.

Many philanthropists and religious teachers denounce this movement upon the ground that its purposes are violative of the humanitarian, Christian doctrine of “The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man,” a doctrine in which I also believe, not, perhaps, in the same absolute sense in which they teach it. But our common Father has created, or produced, in the different races of man such variations and differences that they cannot dwell together in peace or harmony, and that it is better for them to dwell apart. Their separation seems, therefore, to be required by the decree of the Father, and their amalgamation a violation of that decree.

I believe also that “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” but I do not recognize the right of migration as one of those inalienable rights, because its unlimited exercise may, and frequently is, destructive of the equal rights of others.

Must I, in order to comply with this law of equality and fraternity, keep the door of my house standing open for the convenience of such strangers as may desire to use it, nor complain if I find my bed nightly occupied by strangers who happen to reach my house and take possession of the bed before I get there? Certainly not. If not, where shall the line be drawn? We say that our country is the home of our citizens or of those people who now inhabit it, and that we have a right to say who else shall come. Without this right, the rearing of our civilizations and of our free institutions as the rearing of families would be without the right to exclude strangers and intruders from our homes. (Loud and prolonged applause)

[From Asiatic Exclusion League, Proceedings of the A.E.L. (San Francisco, 12 April 1908), 22-3.]

Article reprinted from Organized Labor, February 20, 1909

It is the old question between the Orient and the Occident—the conflict for supremacy, the struggle for self preservation, the fight for existence…[T]he Japanese are only the scouts—the vanguard of the vast Asiatic army. There are Koreans, Chinese, Manchurians, Manchus, Mongolians, Malays, and Hindoos numbering over ONE BILLION. Allow them to secure a foothold in the United States, and they will, within a few generations, sweep like an avalanche of death from the Himalayas around the globe. The Japanese, with all his politeness and pretenses, is only a corrupted Chinaman. He is a Malay Mongolized mongrel.

The Asiatic race and the Caucasian race never could and never can exist in the same territory. Their morals, their philosophy, their religion, their education, their standard of living are reversed, and as far apart as the two poles. They can never blend, harmonize, commingle or live together in peace. The welfare of both races will be best served and their happiness effectively advanced if they confine their operations and efforts to that portion of the earth given them as a home by God.

[From Asiatic Exclusion League, Proceedings of the A.E.L. (San Francisco, 12 January 1907), 11.]

Statement of Mr. Theodore Bell

In its racial aspects Asiatic immigration differs radically from European immigration. In respect to the admissions of Caucasians it is a question of regulation. In respect to Orientals it must be one of exclusion.

The blood of America and Europe can meet, harmonize and flow in the same veins, and produce an integrity of a high physical, mental and moral nature; but an eternal law of nature has decreed that the white cannot assimilate the blood of another color without corrupting the very springs of civilization. This means, then, that the Asiatic would be compelled to live with us, but not one of us. It is a truism that two distinct races, differing in religion, language, habits of thought, standards of living, history, evolution, patriotism, cannot dwell together unless one of them is content to remain inferior to the other and surrender all claims to equality. Does any believe that a proud, aspiring, progressive, ingenious and sensitive race, striking its roots deep down into our soil through the ownership of land, will not demand an equality of rights, politically and otherwise; and would it not be the part of wisdom for the National Government to see to it that the first fatal foothold is never obtained upon our shores?

[From Asiatic Exclusion League, Proceedings of the A.E.L. (San Francisco, 20 March 1910), 9-10.]

Article in the July, 1911 issue of Comfort, published in Augusta, Maine, introduced into the proceedings:

A new race conflict threatens America, infinitely worse that the one we are now struggling with. The Yellow Peril from Asia is the impending danger. Can we afford to permit another vexatious race conflict to get a firm hold on this country? Isn’t the race question which we already have about as severe a strain of this kind as the nation can stagger under?

…Don’t be deceived by any delusive hope that the yellow race can possible become amalgamated with the white race in this country through intermarriage. The very thought is preposterous and revolting in view of their physical, mental and moral differences, and especially because of the prevailing oriental treatment of woman as man’s inferior…Nor in any true sense will they ever become Americanized. For profit or convenience a few do, and in the course of time more of them may adopt our style of dress, and even cut off their pigtails and outwardly affect other of our manners, but the essential characteristics which distinguish their mode of life, their ideals, religion, morals and aspirations individually and as a race they adhere to most tenaciously. Their case would be much more hopeful if they came mere savages, for then, like the negroes, they would adopt our civilization and our religion, and aspire to work out their destiny in harmony with ours.

But their ways are not as our ways and their gods are not as our God, and never will be. They bring with them a degraded civilization and debased religion of their own ages older, and to their minds, far superior to ours. We look to the future with hope for improvement and strive to uplift our people; they look to the past, believing that perfection was attained by their ancestors centuries before our civilization began and before Jesus brought us the divine message from the Father. They profane this Christian land by erecting here among us their pagan shrines, set up their idols and practice their shocking heathen religious ceremonies…

We have this day to choose whether we will have for the Pacific coast the civilization of Christ or the civilization of Confucius, said Senator James G. Blaine of Maine in his memorable speech in favor of Chinese exclusion before the U.S. Senate in 1879. But since that day so many Asiatics have come and spread over the country that the yellow peril is not merely a local but a great national danger. Shall we check it in time, now, or wait until it is too strong for us?

Comfort’s Editor

[From Asiatic Exclusion League, Proceedings of the A.E.L. (San Francisco, 16 July 1911), 134-37.]

Acts and Court Rulings Pertaining to Asian Immigrants

1790—Federal Naturalization Law. This eighteenth century law served as the foundation for racial discrimination in naturalization rulings. It limited naturalization of foreign-born persons to “white” persons only. As Asian immigrants appeared on American shores, this law was used as the foundation for excluding them from citizenship.

1852—California Legislature—“The Foreign Miner’s Tax.” This tax required a monthly payment of $3 for every foreign miner who did not “desire” to become a U.S. citizen. The Chinese, as a group, were considered ineligible, for even if they desired to become citizens, the Federal Naturalization Law of 1790 reserved citizenship for “white” persons only. The Foreign Miner’s Tax remained in force until 1870 when it was voided by the federal Civil Rights Act. By that time, California had collected $5 million from the Chinese.

1854—California Supreme Court—People vs. Hall. This case originated in 1853 when George Hall was tried for murder and sentenced to be hanged on the testimony of one Caucasian and three Chinese witnesses. The defendant appealed the verdict on the basis of an existing statute that forbade “blacks, mulatto persons, or Indians” from testifying against white persons. The Court upheld the appeal, determining that Chinese persons were considered “non-white” and could not be permitted to testify against whites.

1855—California Legislature—“An Act to Discourage the Immigration to this State of Persons Who Cannot Become Citizens Thereof.” This law levied a landing tax of $50 on ship owners for every passenger who was ineligible for citizenship, which meant every Chinese passenger. The act discouraged ship owners from assisting Chinese immigration and added to the amount of money each passenger had to raise if the ship owner was unwilling or unable to foot the bill.

1859—California Supreme Court—John Eldridge v. See Yup Company. The court ruled in favor of one of the Chinese Six Companies. The ruling upheld the “public character of the Buddhist rite” and confirmed that the court had no power to decide if a particular rite was against public policy or morals, so long as these rites stayed within existing state and federal law.

1862—California Legislature—“Act to Protect Free White Labor Against Competition with Chinese Coolie Labor, and to Discourage the Immigration of Chinese into the State of California.” This law put a tax of $2.50 a month on Chinese living in the state, with the exception of Chinese licensed to work in mines, engaged in the production of sugar, coffee, tea or rice, or operating businesses. The law helped perpetuate the myth that most Chinese immigrants were “Coolies,” laborers pressed into service, when in fact, the majority of Chinese came voluntarily.

1862—California Supreme Court—Ling Sing v. Washburn. The court ruled that the $2.50 capitation tax on the Chinese violated the Constitution. The ruling upheld California’s right to tax the Chinese along with other residents, but disallowed taxation of them as a separate group.  

1868—Burlingame Treaty. This federal agreement negotiated between the United States and China, protected the “free migration and emigration” of Chinese people to the United States as visitors, traders or “permanent residents.” The treaty guaranteed “the same privileges, immunities and exemptions” in travel and residence as would be enjoyed by citizens of a most favored nation. Such legal provisions, however, were often ignored on the state and local level.

1870—Federal Civil Rights Act. This act extended the same rights of legal protection that were offered to black persons: the right to sue, enforce contracts, give evidence and be subject to the “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property as is enjoyed by white citizens.” The law also confirmed that no tax could be placed on foreigners immigrating from one country that would not be placed on foreign citizens from all countries.

1880—California Legislature—Miscegenation Laws extended to include the Chinese. These Laws prohibited the issuance of any marriage license to white persons seeking to marry a “Negro, mulatto or Mongolian.”

1882—Federal Chinese Exclusion Act. This act made it illegal for Chinese laborers to enter the United States and denied citizenship to those Chinese already living in America.

1883— Circuit Court of California In Re Ah Moy, on Habeas Corpus. A Chinese laborer and resident of California had returned to China, married and attempted to return to America with his wife, Ah Moy. The Court ruled that the wife of a Chinese laborer took on the status of her husband and was, by extension, herself a Chinese laborer. Thus, she could not enter the U. S. now that the Chinese Exclusion Act was in place.

1888—The Federal Scott Act. This act prohibited the Chinese from reentering the United States after a temporary departure.

1888—The terms of the Chinese Exclusion Act were broadened beyond laborers to include “all persons of the Chinese race.”

1892—Geary Act (Renewed Chinese Exclusion Act). The revised act was renewed and confirmed as valid for another ten years.

1898—Hawaii came under American rule and was subject to all American immigration laws.

1902—Extension of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Exclusion Act was extended indefinitely.

1906—California State Board of Education. The state enacted legislation for “separate but equal” schools for Asiatics.

1917—The Immigration Act of 1917. This act marked the first in a series by which the U.S. government created an immigration policy allowing immigrants into the country based on a ranked order of groups deemed easily assimilable. The act set no quotas on immigrants from countries in the Western Hemisphere, but did establish quotas for Eastern European countries, the Near East, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

1922—United States Supreme Court. The Court ruled on a case that originated in Honolulu’s Federal District Court in 1914. The case concerned Tadeo Ozawa, a Japanese immigrant who had lived most of his life in the United States or Hawaii. Ozawa’s case was a classic “test case” for citizenship, since he appeared as “assimilated” as was possible. He had graduated from Berkeley High School and the University of California. He spoke English and had converted to Christianity. The court determined that while Ozawa was “well qualified by character and education,” he was not a Caucasian and therefore ineligible for citizenship. This ruling determined the Japanese people as racially ineligible for citizenship.

1922—Cable Act. This act determined that any American woman who married an alien ineligible for citizenship would herself become ineligible for citizenship.

1923—United States Supreme Court. The Court ruled on the case of Bhagat Singh Thind, a Punjabi immigrant from India who married an American woman, became a U.S. citizen and served for a time in World War I. Applying the 1790 statute on naturalization, the court determined that Indians were not “white” in the commonly understood sense of the word. Thind was stripped of his citizenship.

1924—Federal Immigration Act (Johnson-Reid Act).  This act created a quota system based on “national origins.”  The act set a ceiling number on all immigration at 150,000 persons by 1927. It then determined country-specific quotas by which each country could emigrate 2 percent of the number of residents of that nationality living in the U. S. (based on the 1890 census). The ruling clearly favored northern and western European groups whose populations in 1890 were significantly larger than immigrants from elsewhere. A minimum quota of 100 immigrants was allotted to every nation, but aliens ineligible for citizenship were barred from even this quota. While Japanese and Chinese were thus given a quota in theory, in practice this provision barred them from entering the United States.