A Gold Rush: Hardships For Asian Living In America

An opening statement

Since I was a part Asian-Americans for about a year, I had to face hardships which only Asians living in America can understand. As I reflected on those times, i wondered what the first Asians in America had to go through. The first Asians were the Chinese gold rushers who arrived in California. While they faced different issues than Asian Americans today, many of their problems are the same.

Contrary the popular belief, it is not true that China was always a powerful empire. China, although it was a major power in Asia, was still outmatched by the western powers. The English Empire was at its height and had completely dominated China. British merchants used Pearl River to trade opium from 1820 to 1830. Opium was influential in China. Many Chinese became opium-addicted, which increased the demand. Because of the increased opium consumption, British trading companies were able rob China of more resources. It was then debated whether opium should be legalized. English traders still traded with Chinese criminals, despite Chinese government’s strong opposition to the opium trade. This led to a more severe ban on opium. The Chinese government forbade ships from bringing opium into their waters. Eventually, this meant that opium cargo vessels could not land. The First Opium War began as a result of the naval conflict. The Royal Navy had no chance against the Chinese Navy. Chinese falsely reported the destruction of their ships to boost morale. The West’s cannons tore through the Chinese hulls, despite the fact that they were outnumbered. China, therefore, lost the First Opium War and Second Opium War against England and France. England and France punished China with the burden of war expenses and by accepting more European products. China then experienced a recession. The local people were affected by the foreign competition in business and high taxes. Chinese peasants suffered a lot from economic hardships. In China, rebellions erupted and people felt oppressed and unhappy. Chinese people were compelled to find new homes and leave their home country.

James W. Marshall stumbled upon a shiny item on John Sutter’s property. Marshall, the foreman of Sutter’s Farm, examined the shiny object and discovered that it was gold. Sutter, to his surprise, was horrified by the discovery that gold had been found on his farm. John Sutter was in California to establish an agriculture empire. He feared the gold would attract uncontrollable numbers of people, making him unable to realize his dream. He kept the gold news a secret. Evidently, Sutter did not keep the news from spreading. Sutter’s Mill in Coloma California spread rumor to San Francisco. Samuel Brannan, San Francisco’s newspaper publisher and merchant published a story in March of 1848 about the discovery by Samuel Brannan that gold had been found in Coloma. This was after he set up a gold prospecting shop. He shouted “Gold!” as he walked through the streets. Gold! Gold from the American River! California was liberated from Mexican control. California was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Local Californians went out to find gold and opened businesses so that they could accommodate the influx of gold seekers. Californians divided their labor. Women would run the business, with boarding services being the most common, while men went to find gold. Oregonians, Sandwich Islanders, and Latin Americans (Mexicos, Perus, Chiles, etc.), were among the first to arrive in California. California was flooded with people. The “Argonauts” were the names given to these miners, who were also known as “forty eighters”, after the famous travelers from Greek mythology. These miners found success in the majority of cases. They found up to 15 times as much gold as the East’s prospectors. Some found it so lucrative that they were able to earn a six year wage in only six months. Rumors spread like wildfire as these success stories were being made. New York Herald published its first gold report on August 19. 1948. This brought the new gold frenzy to the East Coast of America. The second wave of miners was created. The “Forty-Niners”, as they are known, flooded the area. Many others also came, but the majority were Americans. Among this large group were the Chinese. California was a popular destination for many Chinese because of the poor conditions in China. The Chinese are the first Asians to arrive in America by mass. America experienced many social changes. As a result, the population skyrocketed and new towns were created. San Francisco grew to about 250,000 in 1850, from a population of 1,000 in 1848. California became one the most developed areas in the West thanks to the growth of its population and the wealth it gained from gold mining and consumer consumption. With the great advances in American culture came one of today’s greatest challenges for Americans and other countries: racism.

Chinese miners were initially living in small towns or camps, as all other miner communities. But times have changed. The Foreign Miner’s License Act was responsible for the migration of nearly the entire Chinese population to San Francisco. Racism and urbanization pushed Chinese into a single ethnic neighborhood. Chinatown was the name of this neighborhood. Chinatown is densely-populated, as it’s one of the few regions in the city which allowed Chinese land ownership. The majority of Chinese men who crossed the Pacific were male. Many women, even those who wanted to go on the trip but were refused due to United States policy. A large majority of Chinese people in Chinatown live in poverty. They relied on small shops in Chinatown or on jobs at the mines and railroads. Although Chinatown’s small population was thriving, its quality of living was low. Ah Toy was probably the richest Chinese woman. She was an American prostitute, who gained most of the money she had by seducing a ship captain while on her journey to the United States. Her attractive height and figure made her a popular high-priced prostitute. She started a chain of prostitution in Chinatown that trafficked Chinese girls. It is easy to draw conclusions about the Chinese culture by looking at the fact that their richest member was a highly successful human trafficker and prostitute. In the end, we see that Chinese people live very modest lives, and that Chinatown is not the vibrant ethnic marketplace that we think of China as.

After 1851 most Chinese gold-seekers start arriving in California. Initially, however, they did not face discrimination. They were welcomed with open arms. The Chinese are very passionate about their work, thanks to Confucius and Chinese culture. The humble beginnings and the difficult economic conditions of China heightened their passions. The Chinese immigrants were driven by a desire to earn money and gain wealth. They did not want the hard journey they had made across Pacific Ocean for nothing. Chinese immigrants worked wherever they were able to find work. The Chinese were willing to accept work even if it was relatively low-paying. They were therefore well received by other Californian miners. The Chinese miners were a rarity among the ambitious miners. While the other miners came here in order to become rich, the Chinese only wanted to survive. They accepted the menial jobs that others refused to accept. They were therefore indispensable as workers. The miners were in need of cooks and carpenters. Governor McDougal described them as “ones of the most deserving of our newly-adopted citizens”. Californians praised them for their hard work, grit and determination. Chinese people were very happy with their home. America was not a land of wars and poverty but one that offered new opportunities. After their acceptance, they had nothing to complain about.

The peace that was enjoyed by the miners could not last. The miners were not happy when the gold was exhausted. These ambitious miners became frustrated when they did not find the precious metal they were searching for. The gold ran out, and as feelings turned bitter, racism appeared. People began to blame each other. As Americans were the majority, the people began to scream racist slogans. California belonged only to Americans. Since this cry was in line with California’s attempts at statehood, the racism against Chinese grew. Racism was easy to perpetrate against the Chinese because they were very different. Chinese miners wore and looked very differently than Western miners. William Perkins wrote that the Chinese were dressed “mostly in the national dress: petticoats reaching up to the knees; big jackets lined or quilted in sheep or dog skin, and enormous basket hats made from split bamboo.” Chinese immigrants were therefore the most affected by anti-foreigner law. The state legislature passed a law in 1850 requiring foreign miners to have a license. The name of the law suggests that foreign miners were required to obtain a permit. All non US citizens had to pay $20 per month. The law was repealed later, but it made many Chinese give up on their mining dreams. Many Chinese were left penniless in the miner camps and fled to San Francisco. San Francisco was the first city to have a Chinatown. Discrimination was so severe that the Chinese could not buy land, marry Caucasian girls, or even receive an education. Chinatown had to be created. Chinatown was inevitable. Chinese communities were vulnerable if divided; united, Chinese could find support in their neighboring countries. San Francisco on the other had to deal with a lot of burdens in caring for the foreigners. It was considered a failure. But not before Bigler had used the Chinese as a political punching-bag. He accused the Chinese of “contract “coolie”, “avaricious”, or “ignorant moral obligations”. Bigler’s comments led to a renewed foreign miner’s tax. The new tax on foreign miners was $4 per month, which is a much more lenient amount. Americans still hated China despite the new tax. In 1853, Australia discovered gold. California was thrown into a panic. Californians and migrants moved south to find better luck. Prices of all products skyrocketed, including butter and houses, due to a sudden drop in consumer demand. Californians were very upset by this. The Californians who remained needed to make more money so they could survive. In response, laborers began to strike. However, it backfired on East Coast Investors. Investments in West industries dropped dramatically, resulting in a loss-lose situation both for businesses and residents. Unemployment suddenly hit the West industries hard, and both businesses and residents of the Far West were affected. Once again, the Chinese were targeted. Due to the fact that Chinese workers were paid cheaply and they weren’t Americans, accusations began flying. They were accused by the Chinese of taking away jobs from honest and hard-working Americans, as well as sending back their earnings. They were viewed by some as Asian leeches sucking American blood. These people were also annoyed by the Chinese’s frugal ways. William Perkins states in El Campo de lobos Sonoaraenses o: Three Years Residency in California that, “they consume a small amount of food and merchandise in the country”. They bring rice, which is their main staple, in large quantities. The whites were enraged by their frequent remittances as well as their thrifty consumption.

As racism grew, so did the number of racists. As soon as antiasiatic feelings began to rise, Chinese started accusing Americans of racism in Sacramento through unions. Governor Bigler was told, “We’re not the degraded people you want us to be.” However, they failed to make any impact. Racism grew stronger. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, California’s first immigration ban for a specific group of ethnicity, was the peak of Chinese racist sentiment.

ConclusionThe Pilgrims and the first Asians to arrive in America were similar. The economic and home security of the Asians in their homeland was threatened. Both made a long journey to start anew. Both groups struggled to survive. Due to ignorance and racial stereotypes, the first Asians in America were denied the American Dream. Many Chinese Americans suffered because of ignorance and jealousy. It was the beginning of Asian discrimination. We will be faced with a much bigger mountain than college when we arrive in America. Even though our lives may seem difficult, we should not forget those first Chinese who experienced this form of racism. They were persecuted and denied entry to their new home despite the fact that they had made a dangerous and long journey across the ocean. Most of the Chinese who were brave enough to stand up against this racism and try to improve the world are those that we should honor. Later, Asian racism lessened and kids like us could dream of living in the USA.


  • bensonsimpson

    Hi! I'm Benson Simpson, a 35-year-old educational blogger and teacher. I write about educational topics such as student motivation, creativity, and effective teaching techniques. I also run a blog about creativity and learning, which you can find at bensonsimpson.com.



Hi! I'm Benson Simpson, a 35-year-old educational blogger and teacher. I write about educational topics such as student motivation, creativity, and effective teaching techniques. I also run a blog about creativity and learning, which you can find at bensonsimpson.com.