Literature Review on Literature for the Anti-Chinese Movement Paper

Sarah E Jones

HIST 298

March 1, 2018

Literature Review

            On May 6, 1882, a bill known as the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by the then-president in office, Chester A. Arthur. The Chinese Exclusion Act made it so that Chinese laborers were not allowed to immigrate into the United States for a period of ten years, and that all Chinese immigrants were not allowed to receive a naturalized citizenship.[1] This law marked the first ever bill to be passed in the United States that prohibited a group of people from immigrating into the country based on the specifics of class and race. This law brought upon an era of Chinese exclusion, discrimination, and racism throughout the country. Even though the proposed research project surrounds how Denis Kearney and the Workingmen’s Party of California had an influence over the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, more modern historians tend to look at what the aftermath of that law passing had on the Chinese communities in America. The different books and articles researched for the research project can be broken up into the different themes of having a focus on racism, nativism, the state of California, politics, and the performing arts.

The Anti-Chinese Movement emerged a number of years before the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. The oldest piece of literature, The Anti-Chinese Movement in California by Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer (1939), documents the history of the Anti-Chinese Movement in California, from where it started to the consequences of the movement. Even though this book was published in 1939, it still serves as a valuable secondary source on the Anti-Chinese Movement. Some clear themes that can be found in this book include racism and nativism. Sandmeyer states in their preface that the purpose of their book is to show what conditions gave rise to the Anti-Chinese Movement, what types of motives these groups had, any obstacles these groups encountered, the motives these groups used to succeed in their goals, and any steps taken in the years following the movement.[2] This book discusses that these groups, which included the Workingmen’s Party of California, used racism and nativism in their practices and speeches against the Chinese laborers in the state.

Another more dated source is an article titled “The Workingmen’s Party of California, 1877-1882,” that was published in the California Historical Quarterly (1976). This article discusses the history of the Workingmen’s Party of California with the aid of various party advertisements and political cartoons. This source follows the same themes of racism and nativism, because the article discusses the racist ways the Party would portray Chinese laborers, along with the nativist sentiment they would use to encourage white working-class men to join their cause.[3]

A more recently published work that also falls under the category of the Anti-Chinese Movement focus is an article by Ramon Vasconcellos, titled “Was Denis Kearney a Voice for Labor or a Self-Serving California Agitator” (2012). The purpose of this article is to examine the life and career of the Irish immigrant Denis Kearney when he lived in California in the late nineteenth-century. Through this examination, Vasconcellos wanted to determine if the Irish immigrant politician truly meant to be a voice for labor, or if his sandlot speeches were simply meant to cause tension between the Chinese and the white working class in California. The themes for this article can also fall under racism and nativism, since this article solely discusses Kearney’s career in the Workingmen’s Party and his involvement in the Anti-Chinese Movement.

A theme that has to deal specifically with the state of California can be seen in a of a collection of essays, compiled by editors K. Scott Wong and Sucheng Chan, titled Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identities During the Exclusion Era (1998). The purpose of Wong and Chan’s collection is to “fill important historiographical gaps” in the narratives of Asian Americans in history.[4] Even though this collection mostly covers events that happened during the Exclusion Era in the United States, there are certain essays within the collection that do discuss the Anti-Chinese Movement that happened in California.

A work that has the theme of racism is an article by Erika Lee, titled “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1924” (2002). Like the Claiming America collection, this article focuses more on the aftermath of the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Unlike Claiming America, Lee’s article does in fact discuss Denis Kearney and the Workingmen’s Party. This article discusses how the Chinese Exclusion Act and events surrounding the passing of that act helped make way to the creation of a “‘gatekeeping’ ideology, politics, law, and culture” that altered and influenced the ways future Americans viewed race, immigration, and the United States as an immigrant nation.[5] Since this article focuses on the prejudiced history of “gatekeeping” in the United States, and how that started with Chinese exclusion, this article certainly discusses the theme of racism.

Another work that Erika Lee published was a book titled At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 (2003). This book is obviously a more detailed and more extensively researched version of their earlier article that was previously mentioned. Since this is a book and not an article, there is more information to be explored for the research project, even if the information follows the same topic as the article. Also, because At America’s Gates was published a year later after the “Chinese Exclusion Example” article, Lee likely was able to gather newer sources for their book, as well as find sources that they may have previously looked over. This book also diverges from the focus on “gatekeeping” to a focus on Chinese immigration and experiences after the Exclusion Act became law.

The last two themes noticed in these works are very different from the previous topics discussed. These works look at the Anti-Chinese Movement under the themes of politics, as well as viewing the Chinese Exclusion Era through a theatre production created during that era. The older work of the two under the topic of social and political science is the article “’We Feel the Want of Protection:’ the Politics of Law and Race in California, 1848-1878” by Shirley Ann Wilson Moore. This article focuses on the politics of law and race overall in California, and not just with the Anti-Chinese Movement. Despite the seemingly broad reach of topic, the Chinese and the discrimination movement they faced is still properly covered within the article.

The more recent work under this theme of politics is an article by Edlie L. Wong, titled “In a Future Tense: Immigration Law, Counterfactual Histories, and Chinese Invasion Fiction” (2014). This article focuses on this genre of “Chinese invasion fiction” that has been in America since the Anti-Chinese Movement. Since this article goes back to the 1870s to discuss the idea of “collective anxieties over the racialized Other” within American society, it can be seen as useful for the research paper.[6]

“Chinese Ethnicity and the American Heroic Artisan in Henry Grimm’s The Chinese Must Go (1879)” by Hsin-Yun Ou is an article that looks at the Anti-Chinese Movement through a theatre production. More specifically, this article examines the social standing that Chinese laborers in California had during the Anti-Chinese Movement, based on an ethnic and gender hierarchy. This play was written during a time when Denis Kearney’s campaigning against Chinese laborers was in full-swing, with the title even being influenced by Kearney’s famous quote, “The Chinese must go.”[7] Since this article discusses the Anti-Chinese Movement through a theatre production, the theme for this work is the performing arts.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first ever law to be passed in the United States the restricted the immigration of a group of people based on their race and class. Since this law had such a racist undertone to it, there had to have been a discriminatory movement that occurred before the passing of that law. For the case of the Chinese Exclusion Act, there Anti-Chinese Movement, which was lead by Denis Kearney and his Workingmen’s Party of California, was the precursor to that law being passed. Historians tend to focus on a specific set of themes when writing about the Anti-Chinese Movement, which are the themes of racism, nativism, politics, the state of California, and the performing arts.

[1] Erika Lee, “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1924,” Journal of American Ethnic History 21, no. 3 (2002): 36.

[2] Elmer Clarence Sandmeyer, The Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1939), 5.

[3] “The Workingmen’s Party of California, 1877-1882,” California Historical Quarterly 55, no. 1 (1976): 64, https://doi.org/10.2307/25157609.

[4] Kevin Scott Wong and Sucheng Chan, eds., Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identities during the Exclusion Era, Asian American History and Culture Series (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998), vii.

[5] Lee, “The Chinese Exclusion Example,” 37.

[6] Edlie L. Wong, “In a Future Tense: Immigration Law, Counterfactual Histories, and Chinese Invasion Fiction,” American Literary History 26, no. 3 (September 1, 2014): 513.

[7] Hsin-Yun Ou, “Chinese Ethnicity and the American Heroic Artisan in Henry Grimm’s The Chinese Must Go (1879),” Comparative Drama 44, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 64.

 

Bibliography

Hsin-Yun Ou. “Chinese Ethnicity and the American Heroic Artisan in Henry Grimm’s The Chinese Must Go (1879).” Comparative Drama 44, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 63–84.

Lee, Erika. At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

———. “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1924.” Journal of American Ethnic History 21, no. 3 (2002): 36–62.

Moore, Shirley Ann Wilson. “‘We Feel the Want of Protection’: The Politics of Law and Race in California, 1848-1878.” California History 81, no. 3/4 (2003): 96–125.

Sandmeyer, Elmer Clarence. The Anti-Chinese Movement in California. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1939.

“The Workingmen’s Party of California, 1877-1882.” California Historical Quarterly 55, no. 1 (1976): 58–73. https://doi.org/10.2307/25157609.

Vasconcellos, Ramon. “Was Denis Kearney a Voice for Labor Or a Self-Serving California Agitator?” Wild West 25, no. 4 (December 2012): 24-25.

Wong, Edlie L. “In a Future Tense: Immigration Law, Counterfactual Histories, and Chinese Invasion Fiction.” American Literary History 26, no. 3 (September 1, 2014): 511–35. https://doi.org/10.1093/alh/aju030.

Wong, Kevin Scott, and Sucheng Chan, eds. Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identities during the Exclusion Era. Asian American History and Culture Series. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.