1. In the first paragraph, describe some of the challenges Chinese immigrants faced (please choose different ones and find a direct quote)?
Chinese immigrants faced many challenges. They faced challenges in their homeland like “unemployment, high taxation, growing population pressure, and natural disasters such as flooding” (Lee, p. 4). The people that were most affected by these difficulties were usually the poverty stricken and those with little to no voice. When reading about Chinese immigrants the Push-Pull theory was extremely apparent from the beginning of the chapter. The first paragraph sets a tone on what Chinese people (especially those who were poor) thought of America and the possibilities of wealth and opportunities it contained. The “push” factors that lead Chinese immigrants out of their homeland was their oppressive government, unemployment, political turmoil, and pressures that came with the growing population. To understand the “pull” factors that lead Chinese immigrants to reach for America, you did not have to read very far because Lee makes it easy on you by making his very first sentence in chapter 1 state, “the Chinese characters for “America” consist of the compound “mei” meaning beautiful, “guo” meaning country. Therefore, regardless of dialect, the Chinese call America “beautiful country” (mei gok in Cantonese, and mei guo in Mandarin)” (Lee, p.1). Many Chinese immigrants settled in Hawaii and California. The Chinese called California “gold mountain,” and this could be because there was actual gold found and also because of the opportunities for work and a possibly a new life where anything was possible (Lee, p. 6).
The immigrants that came from China during the period of 1840 and 1900 were mostly poor and illiterate men who were laborers. There were about two and a half million people who left China and settled in places like Hawaii, California, Canada, Australia, and so on (Lee, p. 4). Once in America, Chinese immigrants soon learned that the land of opportunities and beauty was a lot harder to come by. Lee states that, “although their search was for gold, many ended up in coal mines, railroad construction, and service work (e.g., as cooks, laundry workers, and shopkeepers). Chinese pioneers began to establish Chinatowns, either by necessity or by choice, and started to recreate and reproduce a perception of community,”(Lee, p. 6). White Americans seemed open to the idea of cheap labor and took full advantage of the fact that Chinese immigrants needed not only passage but jobs, so they entered into work/passage contracts or “a form of forced slave labor to afford their passage to Southeast Asian countries, the Kingdom of Hawai’i and the mainland United States,” (Lee, p.7). According to Lee, Chinese laborers were exploited and treated harshly, much like African slaves were.
Second paragraph, describe any surprising information that you learned or any of your questions that were answered by this class module.
I found the events surrounding the British Opium Wars of 1893-1842 and 1856-1860 really interesting. Again, I’m showing how naïve I can be when it comes to history and how a country or culture is shaped. I never heard much about the history of opium in China and just chalked it up to that China always had opium. Reading this chapter I now know that my assumption was so far from what really happened. China had been struggling with the increase in its population and struggled to repair its economic and social problems. Opium started to be smuggled into China to “advance British economic interest” and for a while China was able to fight them off, but once the “highly addictive narcotic” was introduced to all areas in China from the poor to the rich it spread and seemingly, could not be stopped. I found Iris Chang’s thoughts on how addictive and pervasive opium had become in China really heartbreaking. Chang wrote, “whether they smoked opium through a pipe or sucked it in tablet form, heavy addicts fell into a near-comatose stupor, gradually decaying into living skeletons… Millions of Chinese were wasting away, slowly dying from the poison” (2004, 14, Lee, p. 3). I could go on and on and talk about the treaty’s that were signed giving China and its people even more hardship but for the sake of time I’ll just say that the political moves and motivations from nations and their people are all intertwined and extremely complex. Chinese immigrants may have had hardships before the opium wars but the opium wars and the Treaty of Wangxia (Lee, p. 3) and the Treaty of Nanking (Lee, p. 3) no doubt increased those hardships, forcing Chinese people to flee to America (and to other countries) in search for a better life and more opportunities.
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