Term Paper: California Gold Rush

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Chinese, Gold Rush

The 1848 discovery of gold in California attracted miners throughout the nation and of diverse backgrounds, all with the goal of striking it rich. In addition, were individuals from other countries who believed that this would be a much better opportunity than their present way of life. These included the Chinese, who were drawn together by a common language and culture and settled in camps along the tributaries of the Yuba and Bear Rivers. The 1852 census showed 3,396 Chinese living in Nevada County. By 1880, they consisted of 22% of California's mining population and the largest single nationality engaged in mining. The Chinese, who made significant contributions to the economy, trade and industries, were first appreciated and then disdained, ridiculed and discriminated against because of their strong work ethic.

The news of the discovery of gold was sent via trading vessels across the Pacific Ocean. The information spread quickly from the shipping docks at Hong Kong throughout mainland China. By 1851, 25,000 Chinese had left their homes for California, the land of gum saan, or "gold mountain." The majority of these emigrants were part of a larger exodus of people leaving China's southeast Guangdong, or Canton, Province in search of better economic opportunities and political freedom (McClain, 1994).

At first Californians welcomed the Chinese. For a number of years, they provided a convenient supply of labor. As late as 1868, the Burlingame Treaty between the United States and China encouraged free immigration between the two countries. However, completion of the first transcontinental railroad after the Civil War brought more white laborers into the West. (Quaife, 1949, p. 126). Not only did custom, habit, and language isolate these unusual immigrants from the native Americans, but the white miners soon came to resent the hard work and thriftiness of these new Asian arrivals and their serious desire to work longer hours for lower wages. This deflated the price of labor in the gold fields, which led rapidly to anti-Chinese riots and discriminatory anti-Chinese legislation. By 1852, the California legislature passed a foreign miners' tax. In the following year, anti-Chinese riots and demonstrations erupted in San Francisco. These were followed in 1855 by California legislation that levied a fifty-dollar head tax on all Chinese immigrants. With all these difficulties, the good-natured and confused Chinese could do little to help themselves (McClain, 1994).

There was a strong movement to expel all Chinese and no longer allow them into the country, but this was vetoed by President Hayes. The controversy continued in the press and in the legislature, but the principles of the American Constitution overruled the desired legislation. The country was open to everyone, and the Chinese should enjoy equal rights. (Borthwick, 1998, p. 232). In some areas of the mines, however, the miners ran things their own way and did not allow the Chinese to join them. However, the Asians were not usually bothered, for they worked such poor digging areas, it was not worth the effort to take it from them (Seager, 1959, p. 49).

If not employed by mining companies, the Chinese patiently reworked mining districts that Americans had abandoned. For this allowance, they needed to pay a small monthly tax for about 20 years. Their worst concern was their lack of legal rights. They were not able to vote or testify in court for or against a white man. Therefore, Americans killed them or took their gold without fear of punishment, until the federal courts struck down most of the varied anti-Chinese state and municipal laws in the 1870s (Fessler, 1974).

There were also instances where Chinese of higher classes directed the work and paid the common men very poor wages. A Chinese worker could be hired for two, or at most, three dollars a day by any individual who thought his labor worth this much. However, the workers were probably paid at a still lower rate; it was well-known that whole shiploads of Chinese came to the U.S. under a species of bondage to some of their wealthy countrymen in San Francisco, who, as soon as they arrived, shipped them to the mines under charge of an agent. They were then kept completely under control and very independent of the laws of the country (Fessler, 1974).

The success of mining in California, as well as in all other gold districts, depended primarily on a continual supply of water, or the gold could not be separated from the earth. Because of this, the minors' earliest work occurred along the river banks. In addition, there were numerous other places found in areas too high for any running streams to reach. Here the miners had to pack the gold on their shoulders or on the backs of donkeys and travel to the nearest water, often a distance of miles away (Tsai, 1986).

The earth had to be unusually rich to warrant such an outlay of labor and time, as found in the Chinese Diggings in Tuolumne County. Here sturdy Chinamen moved slowly along under the weight of huge sacks of earth brought to the surface from a depth of eighteen feet and deposited in huge piles after a long walk along the banks of muddy waters. Others who were stationed here for the purpose had washed these, and the day's proceeds were equally divided. At Shaw's Flat, similar means were used. An unusual method was the dry washing, or winnowing process, that was only found in places where water was not available (Tsai, 1986).

The Chinese lived in isolated areas of mining camps for protection and out of their desire to be with one another. More than miners of any other nationality, they never abandoned their dream of returning home with the money they earned, although very few ever were able to do so. Many eventually crowded into San Francisco's Chinatown, where they lived out their lives in low-paying factory work, poverty or addiction to opium (Peterson, 1997).

The conditions for the Chinese women were not any better. Similar to their counterparts from other nations, early Chinese immigrant women were encouraged to leave due to forces in China and were attracted to the United States for the freedom it offered. The final encouragement primarily came from natural disasters and internal upheavals in China in the 1840s and 1850s. The major ones were the severe draught in Henan in 1847, the flooding of the Yangtze River in the four provinces of Hubei, Anhui, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang, and the famine in Guangxi in 1849. Flood and famine in Guangdong gave way to the catastrophic Taiping Revolution from 1850 to1864. This destroyed the land, the peasants' farming lives, and the economy and polity (Ling, 1998, p. 20).

In addition, the women had a strong desire to reunite with their families, gain economic independence, and to fulfill personal goals. Ah Toy, one of the first Chinese immigrant women, arrived alone in San Francisco in 1849 from Hong Kong to "better her condition." She soon became the earliest and, most successful Chinese courtesan in San Francisco. Men were known to line up for a block and pay an ounce of gold, or $16 just "to gaze upon the countenance of the charming Ah Toy. www.questia.com/reader/action/gotoDocId/34254907" (Espiritu, 1997, p. 32). She also became a recognized figure in the courtroom. Contrary to most Chinese prostitutes who feared the police and avoided the courts any way the could, Ah Toy "was tremendously impressed with the American judiciary system and took many of her personal problems there for settlement." (Espiritu, 1997, p. 32). She appeared in court a number of times to defend her profession and to sue the clients who paid her with brass fillings instead of gold. To Ah Toy, America was really the mountain of gold it was claimed to be in China.

From the late 1850s through the 1870s, growing numbers of Chinese traveled to the Northwest primarily in response to mining discoveries in Idaho and Montana. Jobs in railroad construction throughout the area increased as well. The prejudiced people in the Oregon and Washington Territories "welcomed" these newcomers with head taxes. In Wyoming Territory, the hostility led to an outbreak on September 4, 1885, known as the Rock Springs Massacre. White coal miners, who were trying to force all Chinese from the territory's mines, killed 28 of them. Three days later, 35 Chinese workers in the Issaquah Valley of Washington Territory were attacked, and three were murdered. The Chinese were forced to flee due to violence throughout northwestern rural areas, Washington port cities and to go north to British Columbia, and south to San Francisco. Anti-Chinese riots then took place in Tacoma and Seattle, resulting in considerable property losses for Chinese residents and their quick evacuation (Wunder, 1983).

After the anti-Chinese riots of 1885 to1886, even the Chinese government concluded that the inability of the American government to protect the Chinese living in America meant that China would have to limit emigration itself. In August 1886, the Chinese foreign office proposed to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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