Introduction

Leaving China & the
Journey Across the
Pacific

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early
Chinatowns

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at
Work

Educational
Opportunities

Women in Cultural
Work

The Great Depression
and War

Conclusion

Additional Resources


 

 

 

To Enter and Remain

A series of harsh immigration laws and court decisions drastically affected the lives of Chinese American women. These laws and decisions determined the possibility of whether a Chinese woman could enter and remain in the United States.  Discriminatory laws and court decisions shaped the patterns of immigration, and the number of Chinese Americans. The laws and court decisions, both national and local, determined the working lives, domestic lives, and civil rights of the first Chinese American women:

A union poster demanding a boycott of Chinese American services.
National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the U.S. Circuit Courts, Record Group 21, ARC Identifier: 298113
  • The Page Act of 1875 prevented the “landing” of anyone from “China, Japan, or any Oriental country” for a fixed “term of service within the United States, for lewd and immoral purposes”. The Page Act sought to ban women, with the exception of merchants’ wives, from entering the United States.  It banned the “importation” of “women for the purposes of prostitution.” In effect, this legislation prevented the entry of most Chinese women. Without women there would be no children. Without women Chinese men were marked as temporary “sojourners”—a vulnerable and temporary “bachelor society” whose allegiance was challenged, whose gender identity questioned, and whose civic status was precarious.

  • The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first immigration law to ban a people by race. Renewed every ten years, the Exclusion Act banned the immigration of all laborers from China to the United States, and made visits to China and re-entry into the U.S. difficult and uncertain. It too perpetuated the deliberate shortage of women.

  • In 1884, Congress tightened the Exclusion Act. It not only targeted new immigrants, but also added all Chinese laborers who had landed on American soil since November 1880, the date of the last treaty between the U.S. and China. Only those who arrived prior to 1880 now had the ability to travel freely between the U.S. and China.

  • In 1907 Congress legislated that a woman attains the nationality of her husband, regardless of her own nationality. White men stood the risk of losing their American citizenship if they were to marry Chinese women, thus limiting the ability of Chinese American women to marry white men.

  • The 1924 Immigration Act excluded all classes of Chinese immigrants as well as other Asians.

  • The Magnuson Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943, nodded to the U.S. military alliance with China during World War II. With this act Congress finally repealed the Exclusion Act.  After 1943 any Chinese woman could legally emigrate to the U.S.  Yet the Magnusson Act allowed only 103 Chinese people to enter the U.S. per year, a quota determined by the Immigration Act of 1924, which set immigration at 2% of the number of people of that nationality who were living in the United States in 1890.  Thus, the number of Chinese allowed to enter was still tiny. Chinese immigration significantly increased with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965. 5