Weird History
38.1k readers

12 Brutal Realities Of Being A Chinese Railroad Worker In The 1800s

Updated June 18, 2018 38.1k views12 items

Daily life for Chinese-American immigrants in the 1800s was made difficult by dangerous, low-paying jobs and discrimination from white Americans. Chinese-American immigrants first came to the States in the 1840s during the California Gold Rush, after which they settled into cities, creating the first American Chinatowns. Later on, they were recruited to help construct the railway system, during which Chinese workers faced hunger, death, and long working hours. Domestic conditions were also difficult, as very few Chinese women had immigrated to the US and those who did were often brought over as sex slaves and forced into prostitution. Nineteenth century Chinese immigrants played an important role in uniting the two coasts of the United States, even though the country itself, in many ways, turned its back on them.

  • Congress Passed A Law To Prevent Chinese Immigration

    Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s were discriminated against and blamed for the increasingly low wages and economic hardships faced by the US population. In response, the US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which aimed to limit Chinese immigration based on racist claims made by workers that the Chinese somehow hurt wages and were diluting the "racial purity" of the US. Although the law was originally only meant to last for 10 years, it was renewed in 1892 and, in 1902, Chinese immigration was made illegal. For people of Chinese dissent already living in the US, they were barred from officially becoming citizens until 1943.

  • Immigrants Built Chinatowns In Response To Discrimination

    The development of America's Chinatowns started out with their resembling the ethnically diverse parts of cities settled by European immigrants. Originally, these cities were formed on the West Coast during the construction of the railroads, but immigrants eventually started moving to the East Coast in response to the racist violence used against them by whites. Discriminatory employment and housing practices also meant that it was difficult for Chinese immigrants to find jobs in the US outside of Chinatowns. White Americans saw Chinatowns as being rife with prostitution, opium use, and gambling, and justified the implementation of discriminatory laws and practices based on these assumptions. Eventually, the image of Chinatowns began to change when Americans sought to forge an alliance with China in World War II to fight against the Japanese.

  • The First Immigrants From China Came During The Gold Rush

    Thousands of Chinese immigrants took the trip to California and other western states when gold was discovered in the 1840s. Originally, they were welcomed to their new country, but soon the tides of racism turned against them. As the gold rush continued, whites saw the immigrants as threats to their gold claims, so the government began taxing them to be in mining areas and many ended up leaving the camps for low-wage jobs. Ultimately, the first Chinese railway workers were recruited from service jobs that they had taken after being pushed out of the gold rush.

  • Chinese Women Were Forced To Be Sex Workers

    Few Chinese women made the trip to the US due in part to the Chinese Exclusion Act that was passed in 1882. Only 8,848 women had journeyed across the Pacific to the US, and of those many died on the voyage or soon returned to China, while as many as 300,000 Chinese people (mostly men) remained in the States. At the time, interracial sexual relationships were illegal in the US, so the sex disparity led to Chinese women being forced to come to the US, where they were pushed into prostitution - in fact, many women were kidnapped in China or sold to human traffickers who brought them over. According to the 1870 census, it is reported that there were 1,184 female Chinese sex workers out of the total population of 1,702 Chinese women.