Chinese Immigration and Its Effects

Published 19 Aug 2016

“Remember that when you say “I will have none of this exile and this stranger for his face is not like my face and his speech is strange,” you have denied America with that word”. This quotation by Stephen Vincent Benet reflects what the United States is often said to be, the nation of immigrants. On of the unique communities, which contribute to the cultural diversity of the United States, is the Chinese one.

In the current essay, I intend to focus on what outcome the settlement of the Chinese had during the first and the second wave of Chinese immigration. Guided by the relevant evidence, I’m going to state that the main effects of this ethnic group’s coming to the United States are the growth of a number of industries due to cheap labor, the development of farming through their cultivation of swampy waste lands and the expansion of communication between different parts of the country due to their participation in railroad construction. Besides, I would like to show how the Chinese immigrants indirectly contributed to the promotion of democratic values and human rights.

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Like most of other post-war immigrants to the United States, the Chinese were lured by the promise of Gan Sann or “Gold Mountain”, which can be considered as poetically expressed Oriental analogy of the American Dream. The mountain was gold indeed, however, because Californian Gold Rush was in full fling. Not all were adventurous enough to go seeking gold. Part of the immigrants was looking for less risky economic opportunities and turned into hired industrial workers. Nevertheless, this group of the population was equally attracted by the hyped-up image of America as the land of opportunity. The euphoria usually ends when they face up real life in foreign land but in case with the modest Chinese it lasted longer because for many of them twenty dollars a year was their Gold Mountain. So, nothing put them off until the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by the Congress in 1882. But they managed to make a tremendous contribution to many spheres of their new Motherland before and long after the adoption of this sad law. Let us consider in more detail the effects brought by the Chinese immigration.

First of all, the cultural diversity of the United States would be much poorer without Chinese presence. As is well known the nation belongs to those who reluctantly assimilate within alien culture and thus prefer to live separately, following their traditions and lifeway habits. Partially the Chinese Americans chose the conservative lifestyle themselves; partially it was because they were literally forced to live in ghettos to survive because of hostile attitude to them the Gold Rush time’s competition caused. Anyway, the devotion to their culture didn’t only help them to keep their own identity but also influenced other Americans at different levels. It’s not necessarily the level available only to highly educated compatriots but also the level of pop and consumer culture. We can take food or such commonly consumed beverage as tea. “Chinese cuisine has been an integral part of the American diet… Key ingredients for preparing Chinese food are now found in all chain supermarkets, and lessons in Chinese cooking are regular features of national television. Chinese take-outs, catering, and chain restaurants have been commonplace in many cities. American households now routinely use Chinese ingredients such as soy sauce and ginger. They employ cooking techniques, such as stir frying and own Chinese utensils such as the wok and the clever” (Chinese Immigration to the United States, 2004)

But everyday culture and lifestyle is something that takes long to make impact. There were more immediate effects on American society, especially in the sphere of economy. Thus, Chinese workers were the pioneers of road building. As we know, powerful and dense system of transport and communication is one of the vital elements of the successful economic development. According to the data historians provide, about 15, 000 Chinese laborers took part in the construction of Transcontinental Railroad, which served as a catalyst for industrial development. The network of roads the Chinese built open access to a wealth of resources many states had in store.

Part of the Chinese immigrants decided to keep to their peasant roots and continue to be employed in agriculture. They made a great contribution to the development of farming because they started cultivating waste lands, like swamp lands in Sacramento delta, and converted them into rich suitable for growing fruit, vegetable and crop plants. Their skills in farming were imitated by others and thus centuries’ experience of Asian newcomers found a new beginning oversees. The west was no longer dependant on the east for products and thus the United States turned into a more economically homogeneous country with self-supporting regions. It was the Chinese who prompted to exploit western state resource by harvesting food.

Both railway building and farming are important effects the Chinese immigration. The most significant one are, to my mind, within the sphere of manufacturing. “Although the Chinese immigrants in the late nineteenth century faced many hardships, they had a profound effect on America. Primarily, the Chinese supplied the labor for America’s growing industry…They worked in wool mills, and cigar, shoe, and garment industries; twenty-five occupations in all. Chinese entrepreneurs started their own factories, competing with the white people. The Chinese provided a quarter of California’s labor force”. This evidence shows the scale of the change mostly in the area of economy Chinese recruited laborers fostered. The end of the nineteenth century was marked by the concept of the industrial revolution which can be seen the paradigm shift towards post-industrial society. That is the first reason I name this effect the most essential in the formation of young American Nation. But there is another aspect, which I believe to be extremely important. If we look for reasons why the Chinese labor was sought after, we will come across a simple answer – it was cheap. And thus, it substituted for the freed slaves, a detail, which cannot be underestimated. “The worldwide effort to abolish slavery was aided by the Chinese cheap labor” historians claim. In other words, economic justification of slaves liberation contributed to further democratization of the world and promotion of human rights.

To make the conclusion, I would like to say that Chinese immigrants like all the other nations who moved from their native countries to the New World, made their own unique contribution to the formation and strengthening of the American Nation. Although their life was far away from the American Dream, it was they who gave the future generations opportunities to bring it to life. The Chinese immigrants contributed to cultural diversity, pioneered railway building, cultivated new lands and provided labor for the growing US economy. At the same time, they indirectly helped the international initiative of slaves liberation and promoted democratic values of tolerance, freedom, and human rights, which underlie the American civil society.


  1. Chinese Immigration to the united States, 2004.
  2. Cohn, Raymond. “Immigration to the United States”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. August 15, 2001.
  3. The rise of the Industrial America, 1976-1900.Chinese Immigration to the United States, 2004
  4. The Journey To America: Chinese, 2005.
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