Throughout history Americans have perpetuated the idea of “otherness” in relation to Chinese immigrants. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, but primarily during the gold rush in the mid-nineteenth century, Chinese men and women migrated to the US in search of work. Initially, America delighted and prospered in the abundance of cheap labor that was easily exploited. However, Americans soon fell under the fear mongering spell of Yellow Peril which pervaded the myth that the Chinese immigrants would soon over populate and destroy American harmony. This led to several restrictive laws that mark a dark period in America of escalating hostility towards Chinese immigrants such as the Chinese Exclusion Act and laws that required any Chinese business owner to have two white co-signers when applying for licensing. These political maneuvers reassured Americans that their Yellow Peril fears were justified and laid the groundwork for the racist and vicious stereotyping of Chinese-Americans within literature, films and even advertising. While the government sanctioned restrictions have been lifted, the harmful stereotypes and forced isolation are still sustained by Americans. The concept of “model minority,” the continued fetishization Chinese women, and the development and subsequent gentrification of Chinatowns in major US cities are all examples of present day racism sustained against Chinese-Americans.
Understanding the Chinese-American experiences with racism requires the use of multiple types of sources, both academic and non-academic, and, both primary and secondary. For historical research in this subject, it especially important to include primary sources such as, the National Archives in San Francisco. With an online catalog containing thousands of items relating to Angel Island and US immigration policy from the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century. In addition to primary sources for historical research several books and journal articles were deemed useful as supportive evidence. For example, At America’s Gates by Erika Lee correlates with the materials from the National Archives, and presents facts and evidence of the atrocities inflicted on Chinese immigrants coming to America because the Chinese Exclusion Act allowing immigration restrictions to be enforced legally.
In chapter 8 of Chinese American Transnationalism, Writing a Place in American Life: The Sensibilities of American-born Chinese as Reflected in Life Stories from the Exclusion Era, author and professor of Asian American studies Xiao-huang Yin, writes about the experiences and self-portrayals of American-born Chinese citizens as they were affected during the exclusion era. Yin seeks to answer questions relating to the views and sensibilities of Chinese-Americans on their attitudes towards China and America, on how their views differ from immigrants, and on their struggles to enter mainstream society and affirm their place in American life. Yin’s writing, which is available through the JSTOR database, offers preliminary insight into the current issues Chinese-American adolescents face both in asserting their American identities and within the education system.
A non-academic resource included in our LibGuide is Jenny Zhang’s debut collection of short stories, Sour Heart. Interwoven stories narrated by the daughters of Chinese immigrants, Sour Heart is an intimate reflection on girlhood and the experiences of finding meaning in the American school system, fighting for one’s identity, and finding a balance between living with and rejecting the culture of their Chinese ancestors. Zhang’s interpretation of Chinese immigration and the American adolescent experiences flow through generations and across continents. Dark and humorous, the collection resonates with Yin’s exploration of the “youthful rebellion,” and reiterates his findings that, “for many American-born Chinese children…public school education provided not only a source of new ideas that enhanced assimilation but also the social forces that uprooted them from the Chinese community” (Yin, X. p. 213).
Despite the progress made by Chinese-Americans in the education system, many are continuing to face discrimination and racism from their peers both in and out of the classroom. Supporting this is Qin, Qay, and Rana’s chapter, “The “Model Minority” and their discontent: Examining peer discrimination and harassment of Chinese American immigrant youth,” in which the authors conducted a study examining the reasons behind peer discrimination targeted at Chinese-American youth. A few key reasons highlighted in the study are the associations of Asians with the status of “perpetual foreigner” as well as the “model minority” stereotype in which Chinese-Americans are perceived as all high-achieving students that gain favor with teachers. This stereotype can also enforce higher expectations put on students by their teachers.
As the Chinese-American experience is varied so too should be the sources consulted to better understand the historical context and its contemporary manifestations. No singular statistic or article can summarize how the past mistreatment of Chinese-Americans has rippled down to the present. The truest authority on racism comes from those who have felt it’s effects. In order to fully understand the Chinese-American experience it is imperative to use primary source materials, first hand accounts and scholarly articles written by Chinese-Americans. Chinese-American identity and experience is directly influenced by the racism, stereotyping and isolationism that was experienced and passed down to future generations.
Qin, D. B., Way, N., & Rana, M. (2008). The “model minority” and their discontent: Examining peer discrimination and harassment of Chinese American immigrant youth. In H. Yoshikawa & N. Way (Eds.), Beyond the family: Contexts of immigrant children’s development. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 121, 27–42.
The National Archives at San Francisco. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/san-francisco
Yin, X. (2006). Writing a Place in American Life: The Sensibilities of American-born Chinese as Reflected in Life Stories from the Exclusion Era. In Chan S. (Ed.), Chinese American Transnationalism: The Flow of People, Resources (pp. 211-236). Temple University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1bw1j42.11
Zhang, J. (2017) Sour Heart. New York, NY: Lenny an imprint of Penguin Random House
Certificates of residence for Chinese laborers, MS 3642, California Historical Society. Retrieved from: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt858038qp/admin/#ref27
This collection of certificates of residence for Chinese laborers is an excellent primary source, representing the socioeconomic status of Chinese immigrants and that daily hardships endured. Primary sources are essential to historical research. Including such in the LibGuide will allow viewers to appreciate and understand the significance of primary sources in contextualizing a subject, as well as, constructing an argument for an assignment or paper.
Chang, I. (2003). The Chinese in America: A narrative history. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Penguin Books.
Examining the cultural, social and economic history of Chinese in America, this book is narrative written by Iris Chang. This book is included in the book list in the history tab of the LibGuide. It serves as a holistic source for beginning research in the history of racism towards Chinese in America.
Daniels, R. (2001, December 07). Asian American history’s overdue emergence. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www-chronicle-com.ezproxy.pratt.edu/article/Asian-American-Historys/35656
The article opens a dialogue addressing the underrepresentation of Asian Americans both in education and libraries. Although it has been almost two decades since the article’s publication, key points still hold true in that academic interest in Asian American history is a relatively new emergence that was largely ignored by American historians in academia. The article provides resources to scholarly publications that have appeared in response to the growing interest in Asian American studies.
Lee, E. (2002). The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1924. Journal of American Ethnic History, 21(3), 36-62. Retrieved April 18, 2018, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27502847
An example of the how the Chinese Exclusion Act not only targeted Chinese immigrants but also, limited them based on their social class. In this historical article, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the many other discriminatory immigration restrictions that followed, demonstrates the darker parts of American history. This article serves to better understand the period of 1882-1924, when America was actively restricting immigration on specific ethnic and social groups.
López, G., Cilluffo, A., & Patten, E. (2017, September 08). Chinese in the U.S. fact sheet. Pew Research Center, Washington D.C. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/fact-sheet/asian-americans-chinese-in-the-u-s/
Accompanied by a blog post that addresses key facts about Asian Americans, this page provides statistical and demographic data on Chinese populations in the U.S. across varying topics such as immigration, education, economics, and more.
Mayer, R. (2014). Serial Fu Manchu: the Chinese supervillain and the spread of Yellow Peril ideology. Philadelphia, PA: Temple Univ. Press.
Fu Manchu is the personification of the yellow peril fears that swept western culture in the early 20th century. Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan were highly popular series that spawned more books, comics, movies and games. Both figures, represent the views of western society towards Asian males and their movies are the epitome of Hollywood’s use of yellowface. Serial Fu Manchu is a vital source for understanding how Asian, and more specifically Chinese, males have been represented in pop culture in America, and the popularity of the villainess Fu Manchu, and the harmless Charlie Chan, speaks volumes to the rampant racialization and demasculinization of Chinese males in America.
Song, J. (2002). Fighting for Chinese American Identity. New York History, 83(4), 385-403. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42677817
The article offers an examination of the ways in which Chinese Americans asserted their American identities as active participants in economic, political, and social events during the Great Depression and World War II years. The resurgence of discrimination and hostility towards Chinese Americans in the 1930s marked a turning point where the younger generations shifted from isolation to involvement within the larger American society.
Tchen, J. K., & Yeats, D. (2014). Yellow peril!: An archive of anti-Asian fear. London: Verso.
A comprehensive look at the Yellow Peril ideology, it incorporates the history and contemporary issues that demonstrates its pervasiveness in society today through the use of images and writings. This book has visual importance in the context of understanding why Asians are represented as the Fu Manchu type-cast or like Charlie Chan. To characters that are based on the anti-Chinese sentiments in America dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.
Wong, K. S. (2008). Americans first: Chinese Americans and the Second World War. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
This book has been added to the historical page to serves to paint an image of life for Chinese-Americans during World War II. Additionally, it is an excellent example of historical research using primary sources as supportive documentation. The book uses materials from archives, oral histories and letters to tell this story.
Wu, F. H. (2003). Yellow: Race in America beyond black and white. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Addressing both contemporary ideas and social history, Yellow examines the racialization of Asian-Americans. It explores stereotypes, pop culture, gender issues and assimilation. This book is an overarching literary source for the Libguide, Racism and the Chinese-American Experience.