China's culture is the oldest continuous culture on the planet, extending beyond the time of Egypt's pyramids. China led the world in science, metallurgy, engineering and many other areas until the mid-1500s when she retreated behind her Great Wall. The society stagnated for the next 400 years.
China's greatness seemed to be a thing of the past in the 1800s when Chinese immigration to the United States began, mostly from the area around Canton. The newcomers believed the new land would be idyllic and called it the "Gold Mountain."
Those that made the expensive trip to America soon encountered hardship and injustice. Few Chinese women made the journey in the 1800s. By 1880 there were 100,000 Chinese men and only 4,800 Chinese women in the country. America found herself in turmoil about immigration in general and the Chinese in particular.
"The Chinese Must Go" became a slogan to expel the Chinese, then seen as a threat to the American worker and his family. Violence became increasingly common against the newcomers peaking in Oregon on the Snake River in 1881 when ranchers robbed and killed 31 Chinese miners. Several ranchers were tried, but were found innocent.
Laws were enacted that forbade Chinese Americans to be schooled with European Americans, testify in court, vote, or marry a member of another race. Immigration from China was effectively stopped.
With virtually all jobs closed to them the Chinese settled in China towns across the country with San Francisco having the largest population. These ghetto areas developed a reputation for opium dens, gambling, and prostitution. At the same time they were complete societies with their own banking, operas, stores, hotels, and restaurants. By the early 20th century 80% of all Chinese Americans lived in Chinatowns. Some Chinese came to America and spent their entire lives in Chinatown and never learned English.
With the coming of World War II discrimination against the Chinese began to fade as America's view of the Chinese fighting against the Japanese changed for the better. China was now seen as a noble ally fighting with America. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s carried the country forward, allowing movement into suburbs.
A century ago opponents to Chinese immigration claimed that assimilation was impossible and should not be attempted. This program examines the Chinese experience in America and how one Chinese American family fared over the last 100 years.
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