China is one of the oldest cultures in recorded history. For centuries it was a feudal society bound by traditional roles and responsibilities according to age, sex, birth order, and class within society. Less than one hundred and fifty years ago, there was almost no contact between China and the West. The Chinese were forbidden to teach their language to a foreigner or to send books abroad. The first Chinese arrived in the United States in 1847 when they were brought by a missionary for schooling in Massachusetts, and with the push by America to open up China to trade, the year 1848 saw the arrival of silk merchants and the first true immigrants, two men and a woman, to work in mining areas. By 1851, after news of the gold rush had reached economically depressed Canton in south China, tales of riches brought twenty-five thousand Chinese to California. The Chinese had developed mining throughout Southeast Asia, and they named America "Gam Saan," or Gold Mountain. America also needed access to cheap labor for the Central Pacific Railroad, and the economic conditions in China made for a frail but mutual alliance between the two countries.
Most of the Chinese who came were poor male villagers. Known as "sojourners," they left their wives and children with the idea of making enough money to return to China. To Americans, the Chinese appeared alien, due more to cultural differences than racial characteristics. Compounding the problem, Chinese sojourners maintained a psychological and social separateness from American society by maintaining the values, norms, and attitudes of their homeland, and men still dressed according to Chinese custom with long queues (braids), felt slippers, cotton blouses, and little round hats.
Opposition began as Chinese gold miners, mining locations Americans considered worthless, made them profitable. Because men far outnumbered women, Chinese seized opportunities as cooks,...