Collection Description

Culture Name

Chinese Americans

Culture Description

Chinese Americans are an ethnic minority in the United States. They are the descendents of migrants from southern China. Chinese Americans mostly speak Cantonese; most of the younger people today are also fluent in English. The first immigrants arrived in 1848 and worked as laborers in mines, on railroads, and on farms and lived near their employment. However, with increased discrimination they moved to cities and established ethnic enclaves referred to as "Chinatowns," where they established services such as laundries and restaurants. By the late twentieth century many had moved out of the ethnic enclaves and found work in diverse occupations.


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North America --Regional, Ethnic and Diaspora Cultures


United States

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Collection Overview

The Chinese Americans collection consists of fifteen English language documents dealing with Chinatowns located in several American cities (e.g., San Francisco, New York City, Queens, New York), plus additional data on the Chinese American populations in such regional areas as the Monterey Bay region of California, and Hawaii. Much of the collection deals with the history of the migration of the Chinese to the United States and the restrictive immigration policies applied to them by the United States government. Additional topics that appear in all the documents in this collection are those of the discriminatory and racist practices imposed on the Chinese immigrants by the Caucasian American society, cultural adaptation and acculturation, Chinese associations, and ethnic businesses (e.g., restaurants, laundries, and groceries). Probably the best general coverage on the Chinese in the United States is presented in 2: Tsai that provides data on the Chinese experience in the United States as a whole rather than the more specific urban or regionalized accounts found in the other documents in this collection. In addition to the topics listed above, this work (2: Tsai), also contains much information on the evolution of the Chinese community from a traditional to a more modern form, Chinese students in the United States, the changing status of women, and Chinese political activities in America. The time coverage of this document ranges from the 1850s to the mid-1980s. 1: Hsu, also a generalized account of the Chinese experience in America, deals mainly with contacts and conflicts between the Chinese immigrants and the host society, how these relationships affect the behavior pattern of the individual, and what course Chinese Americans and Caucasian Americans should pursue in mutual accommodations to one another to achieve future harmony. Some limited information is provided here on family and kinship, religion, friendship and hospitality, adolescence, and racial prejudice.

San Francisco, California is the location of one of the oldest Chinese American communities in the United States, and is the focus of study for 3: Nee & Nee, 4: Loo, and 5: Chinn. 3: Nee & Nee is an in-depth study of the Chinatown community in San Francisco during its past one hundred and twenty year history. This study discusses the forces that initially created Chinatown and continue to perpetuate its existence, and analyzes the source of its exceptional cohesiveness and resilience as an American ethnic community. Additional data to be found here relate to immigration and immigration policies, individual biographies, the family society, Chinese associations, relationships with the host society, Chinese enterprises, housing, employment, and student radicals and their role in the changing society. The period covered is from the 1850s to about 1971. 4: Loo provides a sociological analysis of the dynamics of the Chinese community in San Francisco. This document discusses Chinese attitudes and perceptions of crowding (in housing and in the neighborhood), language acquisition, health status and health service use, mental health status and attitudes, women's status, and a comparative analysis of feeling of well-being, satisfaction and happiness. The time coverage of this work is principally in the 1970s-1980s. 5: Chinn is a survey of the history and development of San Francisco's Chinatown from the early 1850s to the mid 1980s. This study, dealing in large part with socio-cultural change, provides biographical sketches of first generation Chinese immigrants, information on organizational development within the Chinese community, and data on Chinese society in the 1980s.

6: Lydon presents a history and discussion of the social and economic development of the Chinese communities throughout the Monterey Bay Region of California from about 1850 to the mid-1980s. In addition to the general coverage of the Monterey Bay Region, Lydon concentrates on the communities of Santa Cruz, Salinas, Monterey, Watsonville, and Castroville. Ethnographic topics given particular attention in this work are: commercial fishing, agriculture (particularly in regard to sugar beet growing and the drying and processing of apples), and railroads and the significant role of the Chinese worker in their development. 7: Weiss provides a critical examination of the ca. 1970 community organization of the Chinese in the settlement of "Valley City," (a pseudonym) California. Emphasis in this work is on organizational and institutional adjustments to social and cultural change, and with Chinese American social organization, particularly in reference to the various Chinese associations. Acculturation and assimilation processes, and socio-cultural and economic trends in the community ca. 1970 are also discussed here. The document is divided into three major parts: the era of the traditional Chinatown (1850-1900); the time of transition (1900-1940); and the community from 1940-1970.

8: Wong, 9: Wong, 10: Kuo, 11: Zhou, and 13: Kwong all deal with the Chinatown community in New York City. Much of the material in 8: Wong focuses on the various economic activities of the Chinese Americans, and in this sense is essentially a work on the resource management of the Chinese under the reinforcements and constraints of both the Chinese community and the host society. In addition to the history of immigration to New York City, this study also contains information on the social and economic life of the community, the dynamics of various interpersonal relationships, and the differential use of Chinese ethnicity (values, social relations, ethnic symbols, etc.) by the patrons and brokers of the society. 9: Wong analyzes the structural adaptations that Chinese Americans have made to mainstream American society. This document contains information on Chinatown's social structure, methods of earning a living, family structure, ethnic identity, a biographical sampling of representatives of the several Chinese "classes" (e.g., old overseas Chinese, new immigrants), and a discussion of the forces contributing to social and cultural change within the community. The time frame covered here ranges from the mid-nineteenth century to the early 1980s. 10: Kuo is a detailed study of the role of the voluntary associations in bringing about social change in New York City's Chinatown. The author traces the evolution of traditional to modern associations and attempts and explanation for the changes taking place in Chinatown in the 1970s. The time span in this work is from the 1850s to the 1970s. 11: Zhou focuses on the experience of recent immigrant Chinese in New York City's Chinatown economy and how networks of the ethnic community facilitate their social mobility. This document also describes how Chinatown is understood by immigrant Chinese as a positive means of adaptation to their new country. Additional data pertain to the male and female labor force in New York City, the decentralization of Chinatown, and residential mobility of immigrant Chinese. The time period of this work ranges from the 1850s to the 1980s. 12: Chen describes the social and cultural life of post-1965 Taiwan immigrants living in the borough of Queens in New York City. In contrast to the usual Chinese American studies that concentrate on ethnic enclaves within a given geographical area, this work focuses on the diverse multi-ethnic neighborhoods of Flushing and Elmhurst. Additional ethnographic data to be found here relate to Chinese households in Queens, various community activities involving the social services, religious institutions, and the voluntary associations. Time coverage for this study varies from the 1850 to the late 1980s, with a concentration of the period from 1965 to the 1980s. 13: Kwong is a study of the internal dynamics involved in the social, cultural, economic, and political changes that have taken place in New York City's Chinese American society from the earliest arrival of the first immigrants to the 1980s. Although the document is primarily concerned with the Chinese American economy, there is also much data on the old or traditional Chinatown in Manhattan, the effects of foreign capital investment, the role of the Chinatown community as a model minority, Chinatown's political structure, the tongs and organized crime, the community and its relations with various government institutions, labor organization (particularly in the restaurant and garment industries), and grass-roots organizations and coalition building.

14: Glick is the only document in this collection that deals with Chinese Americans outside continental United States, i.e., in Hawaii. This work, dealing with the period of ca. 1800-1950, discusses early migrations to Hawaii from China, and the employment of these migrants on sugarcane and rice plantations both as contract and "free" laborers. Additional portions of this study deal with occupational mobility from agricultural to urban occupations, the movement of the migrants and their children into the economic stream of Hawaii, their concentration in Honolulu, the evolution of Chinatown as the nucleus of the urban Chinese community, racial prejudice, and the complex of organizations the immigrants developed in coping with racial tensions and other problems that arose as they made their adjustment to the migrant situation. 15: HRAF consists of a bibliography on the Chinese in the United States.

The culture summary and synopsis were prepared by John Beierle in June 1994.

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