Introduction

Leaving China & the
Journey Across the
Pacific

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early
Chinatowns

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at
Work

Educational
Opportunities

Women in Cultural
Work

The Great Depression
and War

Conclusion

Additional Resources


 

 

LEAVING CHINA AND THE JOURNEY ACROSS THE PACIFIC

Leaving China

Early Chinese immigrant women were “pushed” by forces in China, and “pulled” by family ties and the economic lure of the United States.  In the 1840s and 1850s natural calamities, such as the 1849 famine in Guangdong Province and floods in many inland areas, created dire poverty in China.

Life in China further deteriorated after the first Opium War (1839-1841), when European powers, including Germany, Britain, and France, as well as the United States, received “extraterritoriality” in Chinese Treaty Ports along the Southern coast (meaning they were not subject to Chinese laws in these areas). Unequal treaties also gave Western powers the right to set Chinese tariffs, which compounded the inflation and economic imbalance created during the illicit opium trade. 1

Widespread government corruption and the inability of the Qing government to protect China from Western imperialism inflamed anti-government sentiment. These chaotic conditions intensified China's social and economic crises. 

Yet, China had a long history of mining, and when gold was discovered in California in 1849, skilled male miners eagerly sailed to the United States. Like the Anglos, Chileans, Argentineans and Mexicans who rushed to the gold fields, most of the first Chinese immigrants were male, but a few courageous and adventurous Chinese women also left.

Most of the first Chinese women arrived in the American West, were kidnapped and sold in “dens” to work as enslaved prostitutes.

 

Chinese Female Immigration to the United States 1852-1922
  Source: Mary Roberts Coolidge, Chinese Immigration (New York, 1909), 502, Annual Statistics Report presented to the U.S. Department of Labor by the Immigration Bureau.

 

Chinese American Population and Sex Ratio 1900-1950
Year
Total
Male
Female
Male/Female Ratio
1900
89,863
85,341
4,522
19 to 1
1910
71,531
66,858
4,675
14 to 1
1920
61,639
53,891
7,748
7 to 1
1930
74,954
59,802
15,152
4 to 1
1940
77,504
57,389
20,115
3 to 1
1950
117,629
77,008
46,021
2 to 1
Source: US Census of Population