The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 40      November 7, 2011

Decades later, Senate
apologizes for anti-Chinese act
SAN FRANCISCO—Nearly 70 years after the U.S. government repealed its anti-Chinese immigration laws, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted October 6 to apologize for Washington’s decades of systematic racist discrimination against Chinese. A similar measure is pending in the House.

In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned most Chinese from the country for the next 10 years and denied them citizenship. Merchants, scholars, teachers, and officials were exempt. The bill was extended for another 10 years in 1892. In 1894 the bill was broadened to include all Chinese laborers without exception and in 1902 the exclusion was extended indefinitely and remained enforced until its repeal more than four decades later.

The act was the first federal law that excluded a single group of people based on race. Until that law, U.S. borders had been open.

The history of discrimination against Chinese in the U.S. is not commonly known. Chinese immigration began with the Gold Rush of 1848 in California. At this time the working class in the United States was still in large part being formed through immigration, as the existing labor force could not keep pace with the mushrooming urban factories and vast railroad construction. Chinese workers were superexploited and to a large extent segregated from the rest of society. Between 1850 and 1882, some 370,000 young Chinese men came to the U.S.

From the moment of their arrival the Chinese were limited in their employment, denied basic constitutional protections and liberties, segregated into ghettos, subject to lynchings and pogroms, and not allowed to become citizens of the United States. In 1854 the California Supreme Court barred Chinese from testifying in court against Caucasians, in effect sanctioning all kinds of crimes against the Chinese, including assault, theft, and murder, which served to keep them “in their place.” The phrase “a Chinaman’s chance,” originating in this era, meant no chance at all.

The periods of stepped-up agitation against the Chinese corresponded with periods of national economic decline in the U.S., in 1873-77, and again in 1882-86. The anti-Chinese campaigns were organized and directed by government officials and leaders of the Democratic Party, who convinced sections of the labor movement, especially craft unions, to join the protests around the slogan “The Chinese must go!”

This anti-Chinese crusade gained momentum as a result of the biggest setback inflicted on the working-class in U.S. history. In 1877, 12 years after the end of the Civil War, Union troops, which were backing Radical Reconstruction governments in the South, were withdrawn. These radical regimes had repealed Black Codes, which forced ex-slaves into contract labor gangs on plantations, and carried out other measures in the interests of the toiling classes of all races.

The withdrawal of the Union Army had the intended effect—these governments were crushed through a rein of terror by racists gangs such as the Ku Klux Klan.

As a result, writes Farrell Dobbs in Revolutionary Continuity: Marxist Leadership in the U.S., “the rural poor and working class were forcibly divided along color lines. The value of labor power was driven down and class solidarity crippled. Jim Crow, the system of extensive segregation, was legalized. Racism spread at an accelerated pace through the entire United States.”  
Chinese resist racist treatment
Between 1850 and 1906 from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains, Chinese were violently driven onto railroad cars or steamships and marched out of town or killed in nearly 200 roundups, with 34 incidents in California alone after 1882. About 200 Chinese were lynched in California between 1849 and 1902.

The Chinese resisted, suing for the restoration of their property and demanding vigilantes be prosecuted, organizing strikes and food boycotts, passively resisting by refusing to register or pay fines, defending their communities with arms, and even a general strike in California in 1893.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until Dec. 17, 1943, when the U.S. needed China as an ally in the war against Japan.

The victorious fight against Jim Crow and the colonial revolutions in Africa and Asia in the 1960s struck a blow against racist discrimination and racist attitudes against Blacks, Asians, and other non-Caucasian people in the United States. Overtly racist laws of the past are today officially denounced by the capitalist rulers, while racism in less blatant forms remains a cornerstone of the U.S. imperialists’ divide-and-rule strategy at home and ideological justification for wars of conquest and domination abroad.

In 1988 Japanese-Americans won an apology and reparations for their incarceration in concentration camps during World War II.

This most recent apology for Washington’s systematic anti-Chinese discrimination takes place as the U.S. rulers face a rising China that is slowly but surely challenging the imperialists’ military hegemony in the Pacific. At the same time, on the economic front, the simultaneous rivalry and interdependence between the two powers continues to deepen.
Related articles:
U.S. imperialists seek to curb China’s rising power  
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