Chinese Immigrants in Gold Rush Era California
Digital History ID 1193
The Gold Rush brought tens of thousands of people from around the world, including China, to California. In 1849, there were only 54 Chinese immigrants in California, but by 1876, there were 116,000. Though Chinese immigrants made up only a small proportion of California’s immigrants, they faced intense prejudice and discrimination. In 1852, California’s governor, John Bigler, proposed restricting immigration from China. In the following public letter, Norman Assing, a prominent San Francisco merchant, restaurant owner, and community leader, denounces the governor’s proposal.
To His Excellence Gov. Bigler
Sir:--I am a Chinaman, a republican, and a lover of free institutions; am much attached to the principles of the Government and the United States; and therefore take the liberty of addressing you as the chief of the government of the state. Your official position gives you a great opportunity of good or evil…. The effect of your late message has been…to prejudice the public mind against my people, to enable those wait the opportunity to hunt them down, and rob them of the rewards of their toil….
You are deeply convinced you say “that to enhance the prosperity and to preserve the tranquility of this state, Asiatic immigration must be checked”…. You argue that this is a republic of a particular race—that the constitution of the United States admits of no asylum to any other than the pale face. This proposition is false in the extreme; and you know it. The declaration of your independence, and all the acts of your government, your people, and your history, are against you….
We would beg to remind you that when your nation was a wilderness, and the nation from who you sprung barbarous, we exercised most of the arts and virtues of civilized life; that we are possessed of a language and literature, and that men skilled in science and the arts are numerous amongst us; that the producers of our manufactories, our sail and work-shops, form no small share of the commerce of the world; and that for centuries colleges, schools, charitable institutions, asylums and hospitals, have been as common as in your own land…. We came amongst you as mechanics or traders, and following every honorable business of life. You do not find us as pursuing occupations of a degrading character, except you consider labor degrading, which I am sure you do not…. As far as the aristocracy of skin is concerned, ours might compare with many of the European races; nor do we…believe that the framers of your declaration of rights ever suggested the propriety of establishing an aristocracy of skin.
Source: Daily Alta California (May 5, 1852)
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