The history of the United States gives many examples showing that people representing various ethnic or racial groups could be treated in different ways by the government of the country. This paper is aimed at discussing the Chinese Exclusion Act adopted in 1882. It is possible to say that this legal act was signed for two reasons.
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First of all, the policy-makers of that period could have a great number of racial prejudices, and Chinese people were perceived as representatives of a non-white race. Secondly, policy-makers attempted to respond to the concerns about the job security of American workers.
In turn, the abolition of this law can be attributed to the decreasing importance of racial ideology and political motives such as the need to show that America is a progressive country that does not condone any form of discrimination.
Moreover, the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act can be partly explained by the growing influence of the civil rights movements in the country. These are the most important factors that should be discussed. On the whole, it is possible to say that the discussion of this legal act can throw light on the political and social transformation of the United States.
It should be noted that the Chinese immigrations to the United States began in the first half of the nineteenth century. In part, it can be explained by the California Gold Rush which was perceived as an opportunity for many people to achieve success (Gyory 1998, p. 6).
At that time, policy-makers did not object to presence of Chinese immigrants because the country required inexpensive labor force and immigrants were of great use to entrepreneurs of the country (Gyory 1998, p. 6). However, the situation changed dramatically several decades later when American workers began to view immigrants as a threat to their job security and economic wellbeing of their families (Gyory 1998, p. 6).
Therefore, it was necessary to limit the inflow of foreigners in the United States. Nevertheless, widespread concern about immigration was not the only reason for the adoption of Chinese Exclusion Act because similar anti-immigration policies were not applied to people of other nationalities who could come from Germany, Italy, or Ireland.
Close attention should be paid to the anti-Asian beliefs widespread among many people, even among legislators. For example, one can speak about such a term as Yellow Peril that was used to describe Chinese and Japanese people. The very existence of this phrase implies that these immigrants were perceived as a threat to American identity and the welfare of local workers.
Additionally, one should not forget that at that time, racial prejudices and biases that existed before the adoption of this law. At that moment, many political activists of the country such as Benjamin Hill were firmly convinced that white people were greatly superior to other races (Skowronek 2006, p. 390). Similarly, Chinese immigrants were also perceived as non-white people who could not the same civil rights.
Moreover, one should not forget about the religious prejudices held against Asian people who did not practice Christianity (Gyory 1998, p. 83). Very often they were viewed as atheists or even pagans (Gyory 1998, p. 83). These religious prejudices can be explained by the lack of knowledge about Chinese or Asian culture, the worldviews of these people, and their religious practices.
These are the main social, political, and religious factors underlying the Chinese Exclusion Act. Yet, one can say that the beliefs of American legislators and journalists were unjustified in most cases because they were based on stereotypes, rather that empirical data.
It should be taken into account that the Chinese Exclusion Act did not only forbid the entry of Chinese immigrants. It had other significant implications; for example, these people were not allowed to go to China and return to the United States. They were obliged to receive the permission of the government once again. Moreover, these immigrants were practically denied the right to citizenship (Gyory 1998).
Nevertheless, this law did not prevent Chinese immigrants from coming to the United States; very often these people were smuggled to the country, and they could not acquire legal status. To a great extent, this decision of the state legitimized racial and ethnic discrimination of minorities for a long time.
These are the most important effects of this law. Nevertheless, it did not bring significant improvement in the lives of American workers whose rights were continuously violated (Gyory 1998). This is one of the critical points that should be kept in mind.
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The abolition of this legal act is another question that is worth discussion because it shows the political and social progress of the United States. In this case, one should speak about several important trends that emerged in the early forties. First of all, at that time, the dangers of the racial ideologies became apparent, especially because of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.
Discriminatory policies of the state were no longer viewed as very beneficial. Thus, American legislators had to re-evaluate the policies that could disadvantage people on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Moreover, at that time, the United States entered the World War II and China was an indirect ally of the country (Schultz 2000, p. 260).
So, the pro-Chinese sentiment became very strong, and even those people, who objected to immigration, changed their attitude toward Chinese people and their status within the community (Schultz 2000, p. 260). Therefore, one can say that international politics could have a significant influence on the decisions of the government and its approach to minority groups whose rights had to be enforced.
Additionally, one should not forget about the policies pursued by the United States. It is necessary to focus on the set of initiatives called the New Deal that focused on the economic roles of people such as workers or entrepreneurs. However, this program deliberately excluded such terms as race, gender, or ethnicity of the citizen (Gerstle 1994, p. 1044).
Such an approach was aimed at reducing the factors that could potentially divide the society and cause animosity.. This is one of the trends that could have led to the abolition of the Chinese Exclusion Act that did not bring any improvements to the American society.
As it has been said before, America had to be seen as progressive state that did not tolerate any form of injustice, including racial or ethnic discrimination of people. This is one of the internal factors that should be taken into consideration.
Finally, it is important to speak about the transformation of liberalism in the country and the growing importance of the civil rights movement. This process became apparent in the early forties when American citizens began to join their efforts in order to eliminate various forms of social injustice (Korstad and Lichtenstein 1988).
For example, one can mention the activities of such an organization as the Congress for Racial Equality (Korstad and Lichtenstein 1988). Its representatives advocated the belief that the discrimination of citizens based on their race or ethnic background hindered the development of the United States as a society (Korstad and Lichtenstein 1988).
The activities of these professionals contributed to the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Moreover, American liberalism underwent a dramatic change. Its advocates emphasized the idea that racial, religious, or ethnic background of a person must not affect his/her social and political status in the community. This is why policy-makers had to re-evaluate the Chinese Exclusion Act and abolish it in 1943.
On the whole, by looking at the Chinese Exclusion Act, one can better understand the social and political transformation of the United States. This bill was signed at the time, when racism ideologies had a profound influence on the public opinion. Moreover, it strongly affected the decision of the politicians in the nineteenth century.
At that time, Chinese people were regarded as a threat to the American community, its values and welfare. In turn, the repeal of this law can be attributed to the political changes within the country, its international relations, and the activities of many people who attempted to eradicate social injustice. These are the key factors that one should be taken into account.
Gerstle, Gary. “The Protean Character of American Liberalism,” American Historical Review 99, no. 4. (1994), 1043-1073.
Gyory, Andrew. Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chapel Hill: Univ of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Korstad, Robert, and Nelson Lichtenstein, “Opportunities Found and Lost: Labor, Radicals, and the Early Civil Rights Movement,” Journal of American History 75, no. 3 (1988): 786-811.
Schultz, Jeffrey. Encyclopedia of Minorities in American Politics Volume 1: African Americans and Asian Americans. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000.
Skowronek, Stephen.“The Reassociation of Ideas and Purposes: Racism, Liberalism, and the American Political Tradition,” American Political Science Review 100, no. 206, (2006): 385-401.