LEAVING CHINA AND THE JOURNEY ACROSS THE PACIFIC
Early Chinese immigrant women were “pushed” by forces in China, and “pulled” by family ties and the economic lure of the United States. In the 1840s and 1850s natural calamities, such as the 1849 famine in Guangdong Province and floods in many inland areas, created dire poverty in China.
Life in China further deteriorated after the first Opium War (1839-1841), when European powers, including Germany, Britain, and France, as well as the United States, received “extraterritoriality” in Chinese Treaty Ports along the Southern coast (meaning they were not subject to Chinese laws in these areas). Unequal treaties also gave Western powers the right to set Chinese tariffs, which compounded the inflation and economic imbalance created during the illicit opium trade. 1
Widespread government corruption and the inability of the Qing government to protect China from Western imperialism inflamed anti-government sentiment. These chaotic conditions intensified China's social and economic crises.
Yet, China had a long history of mining, and when gold was discovered in California in 1849, skilled male miners eagerly sailed to the United States. Like the Anglos, Chileans, Argentineans and Mexicans who rushed to the gold fields, most of the first Chinese immigrants were male, but a few courageous and adventurous Chinese women also left.
Most of the first Chinese women arrived in the American West, were kidnapped and sold in “dens” to work as enslaved prostitutes.