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Forgotten Victims—American Workers Immiserated By Chinese Immigration In Nineteenth Century California
Open Borders advocates would have us believe there were no victims during past periods of rampant immigration enthusiasm. But immigrants to America were hardly innocents eventually shut out by cruel xenophobes. And the American victims of mass immigration are forgotten--perhaps deliberately in order to justify the current dispossession of the historic American nation.
One particularly enlightening episode: the nineteenth-century Chinese influx into California. Capitalists in search of cheap labor imported thousands of unskilled Chinese for the transcontinental railroad and other projects. Their numbers swelled until by 1870 they constituted one third of the male population of the state. When the railroad was finished, unemployed Chinese competed with desperate Americans from the East for jobs.
Employers did not bring the Chinese to America out of charity. Many arrived in ships as packed and filthy as those used in the African slave trade. Indeed, labor historian Vernon Briggs reports that some of the exact same slave ships were used for both purposes. He writes
“Such treatment reinforced the view of white workers in port cities that the Chinese immigrants were a subservient people.” Nor was this another example of uniquely white perfidy. As with the black slave trade, where African chiefs sold their fellow blacks into slavery, it was Chinese contractors who set and enforced the oppressive labor arrangements.
While the rich and the well connected prospered under this arrangement, American workers suffered. A 1901 article from the American Federation Labor entitled “Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion” explains why. It states, “In the agricultural districts a species of tramp has been created, known as the blanket man. White agricultural workers seldom find permanent employment; the Chinese are preferred. During the harvest time the white man is forced to wander from ranch to ranch and find employment here and there for short periods of time with the privilege of sleeping in the barns or haystacks….”
Mass Immigration and the National Interest By Vernon M. Briggs, 2003, p. 63
In the era before the welfare state, the inability to compete for work was a literal death sentence for Americans. In some cases, Americans were expected to underbid literal slave labor.
The AFL article chronicled not just the immiseration of white American workers, but the wholesale dispossession of an entire class of people. It continues,
Beginning with the most menial avocations they [the Chinese immigrants] gradually invaded one industry after another until they not merely took the places of our girls as domestics and cooks, the laundry from the poorer of our white women, but the places of men and boys as boot and shoemakers, cigarmakers, bagmakers, miners, farm laborers, brickmakers, tailors, slippermakers etc. In the ladies furnishing line they have absolute control displacing hundreds of our girls who would otherwise find profitable employment. Whatever business or trade they enter is doomed for the white laborer, as competition is simply impossible. Not that the Chinese would not rather work for high wages than low, but in order to gain control he will work so cheaply as to bar all efforts of his competitor.
But not only has the workingman gained this bitter experience but the manufacturers and merchants have been equally the sufferers. The Chinese laborer will worker cheaper for a Chinese employer than he will for a white man… and as a rule, he boards with his Chinese employer. The Chinese merchant or manufacturer will under sell his white confrere, and if uninterrupted, will finally gain possession of the entire field.
… As their power grew they became more independent, and in the pork industry they had secured so strong a hold that no white butcher dared kill a hog for fear of incurring the displeasure of the Chinese.
In factories owned by white employers, the Chinese employees refused to work together with white men and upon one occasion positively struck against them, refusing to work unless the white men were discharged. [My emphasis]
“ … The tales of their prosperity soon reached China, and the Six Companies [Chinese organizations surviving into the 21st century as the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association] were formed for the purpose of providing means and transportation—but few having sufficient to come on their own account—binding their victims in exchange therefor by contracts which virtually enslaved them for a term of years They became absolute chattel of the Tongs, or companies, and were held and to this day are held just as ever, into strict compliance with the terms entered into, not by any moral obligation, but by fear of death.”
A typical consequences of mass immigration is the breakdown of the nation’s sovereignty over its territory, as in the sharia courts of modern Britain or the “no go” zones of occupied Sweden. This isn't a modern deviation, but an iron law of history. In 1876, a committee of California government officials wrote a report stating that the Chinese tribunals of the Tong societies were accepted as legitimate authorities by the Chinese population, and that they therefore dominated one- seventh of the population of California.[ Memorial of the Senate of California to the Congress of the United States]
Chinese prostitution became common, with prostitutes held on display in small booths. The California Legislature’s Fisk Investigative Committee confirmed the presence of a slave trade, reporting in 1901 that one merchant preparing to return to China had openly advertised five female slaves for sale. A baby girl could fetch $125, for example. Young, often illiterate girls were made to sign, or thumb print, sinister contracts that they didn’t understand. A typical example read,
An agreement to assist the woman Ah Ho because coming from China to San Francisco she became indebted to her mistress for passage. Ah Ho herself asks Mr. Yee-Kwan to advance for her $630, for which Ah Ho distinctly agrees to give her body to Mr. Yet for serv ice as a prostitute for a term of four years.
There shall be no interest on the money. Ah Ho shall receive no wages. At the expiration of four years Ah Ho shall be her own master. Mr. Yet Kwan shall not hinder or trouble her. If Ah Ho runs away before her time is out her mistress shall find her and return her, and whatever expense is incurred in finding and returning her Ah Ho shall pay.[ If They Don't Bring Their Women Here, By George Peffer, P. 117]
Canadian author Denise Chong wrote a book called The Concubine’s Children, about her discovery that her grandmother had been sold at age 17 as a concubine to a Vancouver Chinese immigrant. Her grandmother worked in a tea house as a waitress and her earnings were used to support the family in China of the man who bought her.
Obviously, not all West Coast Chinese of that period were desperate peasants. Chinese IQs rank among the highest in the world. However, the sheer number of Chinese contract workers constituted an existential threat to American laborers.
Needless to say, Establishment historians don't care about American victims. The Library of Congress’s Ameican Memory project, under the heading Anti-Chinese Movement And Chinese Exclusion, writes
“During the 1870’s, an economic downturn resulted in serous unemployment problems, and led to heightened outcries against Asian immigrants. Racist labor union leaders directed their actions and the anger of unemployed workers at the Chinese “… (Emphases mine.)
In other words, any attempt to limit foreign competition and protect American workers could only be explainable only by “racism.”
But when we read the actual words of the American Federation of Labor, we get an entirely different picture. These organizers of the past specifically denounced ethnic prejudice. According to the AFL,
“We furthermore desire to assure our readers that in maintaining our position, we are not inspired by a scintilla of prejudice of any kind ….” Furthermore, the AFL noted that, “In an age when the brotherhood of man has become more fully recognized, we are not prepared to overlook the welfare of the Chinese himself, ... because the Chinese has a great industrial destiny in his own country.”
The AFL Chinese Exclusion Convention adopted this statement in 1901:
Therefore, every consideration of public duty, the nation’s safety and the people’s rights, the preservation of our civilization and the perpetuity of our institutions, impel your memorialists to ask for the reenactment of the exclusion laws. A Clear and Present Danger: The Chinese Exclusion Act, Historymatters.gmu.edu
Of course, back then, immigration patriots and labor organizers worked together and won a great victory for citizens. Legislation was passed to limit Chinese immigration in 1882, and renewed in 1902. Desperate American workers were given relief. A West Coast slave society was averted.
Both Chinese immigrants and Americans benefited, as California transformed into a workers' paradise, the “Golden State” of American Myth–at least until the current immigration influx.
Can America survive a second attempt to turn California into a Third World slave state? It almost happened once.
Immigration patriots should hold no illusions about what is at stake if they are unable to stop this second invasion.
Kathy Knechtges [Email her] is a writer who lives on the Great Lakes. Her interests are American workers, manufacturing, immigration, the family and spirituality.