Type of paper: Essay

Topic: China, United States, America, Labor, Immigration, Race, Economics, Migration

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/10/07

Section day/time

Although political rhetoric espoused by various politicians in the United States today tout America’s unique and exceptional identity as a “teeming nation of nations,” the historical record contradicts such an idyllic image. Non-white immigrants whose appearance deviated from the identity markers of the hegemonic group and wore a far different “racial uniform” were excluded from, enjoying the rights and protections afforded to American citizens. Indeed, they were stripped of political, social and economic agency and were treated as second-class citizens. Throughout American history, laws surrounding myths about social problems have been cast both in racial and sexualized terms, which is part and parcel of the racial formation that took place during an era of exclusion. The Chinese are the only group too be explicitly excluded by name in the history of the United States despite the fact that American courts rendered Chinese people born on U.S. soil America citizens. Chinese exclusion laws banned the Chinese from obtaining naturalized citizenship, so the first so-called “illegal alien” and “alien citizen” germinated towards the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, Chinese were viewed by the hegemonic peoples as incapable of assimilating, which profoundly shaped the dominant perceptions of the Chinese and rendered them permanent Others. Confined spatially to Chinese ghettoes that developed proxy economies and stripped of political agency, Chinese Americans were marginalized and alienated well into the twentieth century not only because of the economic threat they posed to their American counterparts in terms of job security but also because of nativism. Indeed, the treatment of the Chinese evolved over time but nonetheless burdened the Chinese with many hardships both on the mainland as well as in Hawaii. The shifting attitudes towards the Chinese merely reflect how contingencies undergirded shifting policies towards certain groups in order to preserve the status quo and the hegemony of white Anglo-Saxons. Such a revolving door policy towards subaltern groups underscores how trenchant the possessive investment in whiteness has historically been throughout American history.
Nonetheless, the Chinese were initially welcome to migrate to the United States in order to fulfill labor necessities. Chinese labor on the colonization of Hawaii underscores this assertion, as they worked side-by-side with indigenous workers. The cultivation of sugar became a lucrative market that required highly-intensive labor and arduous labor that the native working population could not meet. Moreover, employers lamented that the native workforce were habituated in certain customs “handed down to them from their forefathers andwould remain ‘the great obstacle to their employment’ as agricultural wage laborers.” Managers deployed strict workplace discipline in the plantations, often opting to hire an overseer similar to those that had a prominent place in African slavery. Nonetheless, the native workers spurned their masters and refused to “convertinto docile and efficient modern agricultural workers.” Thus, employers opted to resort to Chinese labor in order to rectify the labor problems that he faced on a quotidian basis. The Chinese were successful in their ventures and labor operations, and the need for foreign labor had become blatantly clear. Although a Chinese labor force did not eradicate “labor difficulties” due to the antagonism that persisted between the Chinese and the native workers as well as their desire to resist management in a plethora of ways. Nonetheless, this desire to procure a Chinese labor force encouraged Chinese immigration in order to meet the labor needs in order to yield a profit. Chinese labor in Hawaii serves as a good starting point for understanding how contingencies undergirded the U.S.’ revolving door policy towards the Chinese in order to preserve their hegemonic position in the world while also sustaining a system demarked by the possessive investment in whiteness.
The language of race and gender is evident both explicitly and subtly in various laws passed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in order to construct non-whites as inferior racial Others as a result of the economic threat they posed. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 contained a provision that rendered the Chinese ineligible for citizenship, which remained peripheral to the main corpus of the law. Prior to exclusion, the Chinese immigrated to the United States in search of economic opportunities that they did not have in China, and they were willing to work hard for less pay in comparison to their white counterparts. Many violent anti-Chinese riots took place across the country on a quotidian basis in order for whites to gain an economic advantage over their subaltern counterparts. J.D. Borthwick wrote down observations of the squalid working conditions of Chinese miners in California in 1857, noting that the environment made it very difficult for the Chinese living there in a cluster of small tents to enjoy their labor. He further notes that the common “Chinamen[were] paid very poor wagesat least for California.” Nonetheless, the Chinese were “productive and consumptive” people who were willing to work for very little, rendering them ideal laborers whom employers could exploit and yield greater profits as a result. Moreover, reformer and journalist Henry George asserted in his popular monograph Poverty and Progress that Chinese exclusion was necessary in order to prevent wages from depressing as a result of “Chinese competition.” This Wages problem is directly associated with the fact that “the use of low-priced Chinese labor is precisely the same as that effected by the use of machinery.” Such language dehumanizes the Chinese as mere cogs in a well-functioning system devoid of rational thought and volition. This discursive technique further underscores the nativist sentiments many whites embraced during this time period because the influx of immigrants threatened their hegemony as well as their economic livelihood and safety. Moreover, George contends, the Chinese threaten a unitary American culture, thereby further conveying the paradox of the American Dream and ideal of cultural pluralism. George poignantly articulates these salient resentments through an unequivocally racist argument for Chinese exclusion.
Chinese exclusion was not only aimed at male laborers, as it also targeted Chinese women, thereby revealing that immigration functioned as a site of race and gender construction. Journalist Helen Grey exposed the activities of a Chinese brothel owner in 1899 and described how subaltern women, especially Chinese women were rendered subordinate through the legal construction of them as prostitutes and thus a threat to the health of Americans. Grey feels proud that she exposed the “nefarious Chinese girl slave trade in San Francisco” and on the western frontier when a young Chinese girl names Suey Hin confessed about the underground human sex trafficking. Grey discursively portrays Chinese women as uncivilized and backwards when she reiterates how Suey Hin turned to Christianity in order to escape such a squalid and sinful existence. Moreover, her account suggests that the Chinese were socially toxic because they do not value human life, as Hin’s father had sold her into the sex trade at the age of five. Grey praises Hin for giving up her lucrative yet highly immoral business in order to live a truly Christian life. Grey also deploys the language of race in order to construct the Chinese as wholly other and subaltern, repeatedly describing Suey Hin as “shrewd” and thus not trustworthy. Such perceptions of the Chinese were ubiquitous during the nineteenth century and thus validated the exclusion of the Chinese whom many viewed as socially toxic and permanently alien.
Legislation barring Chinese from entering the United States persisted until it was repealed in 1943 due to wartime contingencies that necessitated a morale boost. Indeed, Chinese exclusion profoundly strained the diplomatic relationship between the United States and China. Nonetheless, the history of exclusion underscores how contingencies dictated American immigration policies and attitudes towards immigrant groups. As the twentieth century wore on, Chinese immigrants enjoyed a degree of social mobility and economic agency. Moreover, they, along with the Japanese, were cast as “model minorities,” which was a myth that circulated public discourses and intelligentsia circles in order to “prove” that subaltern groups can achieve equality and economic success. After 1965 there was a boom in Asian immigration because the U.S. actively recruited them as educated people in a phenomenon known as “Brain Drain.” This new generation of Asian immigrants was largely composed of middle-class and professionals, many of whom occupied managerial positions within lucrative industries. This composition of immigrants starkly contrasts from Chinese immigrants in the nineteenth century who migrated as members of the working-class willing to engaged in hardnosed, blue-collar labor. Indeed, race is understood as historically specific in this context, as the Chinese were racialized as a class of well-educated people who work hard and can become doctors and scientists. They did not need the federal government to pass laws in order them to achieve. The Civil Rights Movement was taking place and inciting violence throughout the South. Thus, the U.S. exploited the situation by making an example of the Chinese as a non-white race that was able to enjoy the American Dream without the help of the government. Thus, other races should strive to emulate them and disengage in any politics of confrontation that was so salient during this turbulent epoch in American history.
The international political climate also drove the United States to embrace Chinese immigration in order to ameliorate their tense diplomatic relations. The Cold War was in full swing, and the United States had adopted a policy of rapprochement towards China out of the fear that China would align with the Soviet Union based on their common political ideologies. Gutting exclusionary laws forbidding Chinese immigration was a watershed moment in Sino-American rapprochement that further elucidates how the U.S. maintains a revolving door policy towards subaltern immigrant groups in order to meet the country’s perceived economic and p political needs/


Kurashige, Lon. Major Problems in Asian American History: Documents and Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Takaki, Ronald T., and Rebecca Stefoff. Democracy and Race: Asian Americans and World War II. New York: Chelsea House, 1995.

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WePapers. (2020, October, 07) Free TA’s Name Essay Sample. Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-tas-name-essay-sample/
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"Free TA’s Name Essay Sample." WePapers, Oct 07, 2020. Accessed June 28, 2022. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-tas-name-essay-sample/
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"Free TA’s Name Essay Sample," Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com, 07-Oct-2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-tas-name-essay-sample/. [Accessed: 28-Jun-2022].
Free TA’s Name Essay Sample. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/free-tas-name-essay-sample/. Published Oct 07, 2020. Accessed June 28, 2022.

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