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National Educational radio in cooperation with the Institute on man and science presents a series of talks drawn from the institute's annual conference held recently in Rensselaer Vale New York. The Institute on man and science is a nonprofit educational institution chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. The annual assembly of the institute is designed to focus attention on 20th century technology and the human relationships resulting from its application. The speaker for this program is author Barry song who will speak on the topic. Chinese people in the United States. Here now is Betty's song. I'm very honored to be invited to speak before such a learned audience and I'm glad that my topic has gained recognition as a discussion topic for the seminar although our main theme is understanding China. And we certainly know little enough about that fascination. But I think we
know even less about the Chinese in the United States. My feeling is that the most important nation we'll have to deal with in the very near future will be China. And on the domestic front the most important issue will be that demands of minority groups and their rightful place in the scheme of life. But when we mention minority groups seldom do we think about the Chinese. Of course the Chinese have not created any disturbances or riots. They're not demanding anything and they're not recounting grievances either I don't think the Chinese like to project themselves. They don't like to be noticeable. They always try to withdraw. Now I think in the immigration tactics that they in spite of the immigration rules against them they do some did manage to come in but it was not a
direct confrontation with the with the larger society I think that coming to grips immediately and going headlong. Up against a group and you know and intruding and thrusting yourself up against the problem is not going to solve it because it only invites and adverse reaction. And I think the Chinese are very subtle. They always told us side step take take a roundabout way. Do it so that it's not noticeable and they may have pride they may have. Their reverence for learning and so forth but they don't go shouting it. And I think maybe this is one of the drawbacks to the Chinese never make themselves known and they never publicize anything if they don't publicize their accomplishment. So very little is known about them. So somehow like the brother of the prodigal son they're ignored or neglected. Now very little research has been done on the Chinese in the United States and it was because of
this void that I wrote my book not in the goal. It was published by Macmillan at the end of last year and I hope you'll all get a chance to look at a copy of it. Today I want to give a very quick summary of the history of the Chinese in the United States and I want to take a brief look at their present day status. The first large migration of Chinese to the United States occurred shortly after the cry of gold went up in California around 1848. Most of these immigrants came from a very small area in and around southern Kanto on these adventurous some hardy souls risk life and limb to come to the mountain of gold and the title of my book derives from the name that the Chinese have given to the United States. It's a colloquial expression known among the Chinese in this country. The
United States to them is the mountain of gold. Now most of these immigrants did not strike it rich but they didn't make enough money to encourage their friends and relatives to come. When the veins of gold petered out in California the Chinese went into farming and into railroad building. California at the time was virgin lion it was pioneer country. It needed food for its people and most of all it needed ties with the East. At that time to get from the east to California was a long hazardous journey. You either went by boat around the tip of South America which took about three or four months are you took the land route across 3000 miles of desert hostile Indian Territory and
mountain chains or you could take the boat down to the Isthmus of Panama and then cross the swampy lands by foot and where many fell victim to malaria or yellow fever to weld this nation into one. Congress authorized the building of a transcontinental railroad but at the time the country was and broils and the civil war and men power was not to be had. When the Chinese proved adept at building real roads more and more Chinese were recruited from China to make this monumental engineering feat a reality. At first the Chinese were welcomed with open arms. They were praised and lauded for their industry and reliability. When the Transcontinental Railroad was completed and the last spike driven into
place about 25000 Chinese as well as thousands of their white coworkers lost their jobs. The Chinese readily found other work in farms and draining the tide lines and small manufacturing industries and domestic service. Now that it was easy to go west thousands of easterners rode the rails to the west looking belatedly for the quick bonanza when the 1873 depression set in. The white man was hard hit. He scorned the jobs at the Chinese Hill but the Chinese had jobs whereas the white man did not. So the Chinese became convenient targets for the white man's plight. So where the Chinese were once praised and welcome they were now denounced and persecuted. Laws were passed
specifically directed against the Chinese. They were harassed and massacred. The word was not accepted and they could not own land. They cannot marry non Chinese. They were restricted to Chinatowns and 1880 to in direct contravention of a bilateral treaty between China and the United States. They were absolutely excluded from the United States anti-Chinese sentiment was so heated that Chinese Exclusion planks were written to the presidential election platforms Leland Stanford who ran for governor of California at the time and who was one of the big four partners for whom the Chinese built the railroads now found it politically expedient to denounce the Chinese to condemn them whereas he at once praised them. For
survival the Chinese began to disperse eastward and to go into service occupations such as laundries and restaurants. The Chinese in the United States have almost become tagged as long green men or restaurant men. To some this may seem a stigma but from another point of view these occupations suited the Chinese well considering the hostile environment in which they found themselves. These cellphone operated enterprises met their conditions and which little capital was needed. Little English was necessary and besides the Chinese removed themselves from competition with the white man and they did not have to go and beg the white man for a job. The
small entrepreneur has lived by their own labor and their own industry. And I think in large measure the salvage for them their human dignity and pride. By nine hundred twenty The Chinese population had dwindled to 60000 what remained of the Chinese community in the United States was characterized almost totally by a middle age male population who looked only to the day when they had accumulated enough money to buy some land in China where they could retard to their homeland. But the Chinese family here is a very recent thing because as I said for a long time the Chinese population consisted almost wholly of middle aged males. Women did not emigrate
and so there were no families here to talk about. Now the family the Chinese family really came of not after World War 2 when women were allowed to join their husbands and they came in as non quota immigrants because obviously 305 wasn't enough for anybody. Any establishment of families and so it was not until 1946 that the war brides act in a number of other minor allowances for women to come to this country. And that's when families really started. The few family that there were encourage their children to learn Chinese and they encouraged them to go ahead and seek education either in medicine or in engineering or in some profession where they could go to China and where their skills were in great demand. United States was only a gateway or a ladder to which they climb to
success. Life in this country was merely a soul journey. This accommodation was drastically altered by World War Two. The Chinese did not want to go back to China because their homeland was occupied by the Japanese. In the United States labor shortage was so acute that many employers were forced to hard Chinese. And once the barriers were down they tumble into almost every feel that the Chinese have ventured. They've acquitted themselves proudly. I think the Chinese can take great pride in the splendid record that they have established for themselves. Only last week in conversation with friends and relatives this
fact was emphatically read it or write it. My nephew who works for a Sinclair oil told me that the Assistant Personnel Director had him down for lunch. The company had just undergone a survey by management experts and the company had gotten a lot rid of a lot of dead wood so they were looking for new employees and they were specifically my nephew was specifically asked if he could recommend some other Chinese to come and work for Sinclair. The personnel director had been so impressed by the performance of the other Chinese who were already on the payroll that they wanted more of them. Now within this very same week another friend was talking to me and he operates a home cleaning service on the on Long Island and when he went to give a lady an estimate to clean her home on a weekly basis
and she opened the door the first question she asked him was are you Chinese. And he says yes ma'am I am. He said Name your price. The job is yours. Now it's just kind of confidence that has opened the door to the Chinese and I think the doors of job opportunities and economic opportunities are wide open to the Chinese now. According to a number of surveys and studies I feel that there is a little but there is little or no one tag an ism against the Chinese buying homes in white neighborhoods anymore. The same could not be said 25 years ago or even more recent. There were alien land acts which for the Chinese from or all Orientals from owning land holding hands or even inheriting land. Socially I think the Chinese are well accepted and respected by the American
people and there is little prejudice or discrimination against them. As late as 1967 that was last year 12 states had massaged nation's laws forbidding marriage between whites and Chinese. But these laws were struck down by a Supreme Court ruling in 1967 and in spite of these massage laws I think that you'd be surprised to learn that the rate of intermarriage between Chinese and non-Chinese runs as high as 25 percent in comparison with other minorities groups this is astonishing. A high percentage I think the negro rate of intermarriage is something like 1 percent. A study came out about the tuition to marriage not long ago and the Jewish people were very
concerned at the end to marriage rate had grown as high as 13 percent in Washington D.C. The Japanese rite of intermarriage is only about six percent. But I think the ultimate acceptance of people is in the intermarriage and with the Chinese It runs as high as 25 percent. I think this is very significant. Exclusion and this dream and a stringent immigration laws is the most previous era era area of discrimination against the Chinese. Here they suffered 61 years of total exclusion until 1943 when the United States and China were at war with Japan at that time they were allies in arms and it was felt that these laws should be repealed the laws of repeal. But the fear of the Chinese remain so that a holder of one hundred and
five was assigned the Chinese people. And this is the call to govern Chinese immigration for more than 20 years until the new law a new law was passed two years ago and that repeal the national origins quota. Technically under the new rule the number of immigrants from any one country can run as high as 20000 for a year. Now this is exactly what has occurred with the Chinese in the past three years. More Chinese immigrants have come in than in the 21 years preceding rather and the 21 years dating from repeal. Formerly the majority of immigrants came from a very small area in southern Kent on today's immigrant. It's
come from a much wider area from all over China. Yesterday's immigrants were mainly laborers or the unskilled who were willing to start at the bottom rung of the ladder where new immigrants are usually relegated. Today they are selected on the basis of education and skill and they're not going to be content to operate laundries. The immigrants are concentrating in two states. About half of them go to California. About 35 percent settle in New York. The remaining 15 percent go to the other 48 states. Concentration emphasizes visibility. That means if there are more of them they're more noticeable. And according to social psychologists visibility tends to provoke
antagonism. Now of course I don't advocate a cutback in immigration nor do I favor the lower price immigrants. Nor do I say that all immigrants must start at the bottom where they traditionally start. This isn't possible nor is it desirable. What I am saying is that the tremendous increase and change in makeup of the Chinese in the United States. Call for attention and research. The Chinese community is undergoing tremendous upheaval which will and evidently create problems of adjustment and I hope the process will be a smooth one. But I call upon students of scholar students and scholars of social studies to give some attention to the growing Chinese population
in the United States and I feel that the area of research here is a fertile one. For example prejudice against the Chinese in the United States is presently out it's low was it. Can we maintain this favorable attitude in the light of history. We know that sentiment for or against a group that is distinctly different is a wholly irrational quantity that can change overnight. New York is that one time unaware or indifferent to Puerto Ricans and to large scale migration set in the West. The Chinese were welcomed with open arms when they were need it but they were persecuted and barred when economic reverses set in and caused a labor surplus. The
Japanese till their farms peacefully in the Sacramento Valley until the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor then followed and brought about face and attitude. Again I say prejudice is irrational. Allegations have been made against certain minority groups that they're lazy they're shiftless irresponsible and hence undesirable. Yet the Chinese were excluded from the United States for exactly the opposite qualities. The knowledge that the Chinese were more dustiest more thrifty more efficient arouse fears the white man felt that he could not compete against the Chinese. In many countries of Southeast Asia where the Chinese have attain outstanding economic success and instead of being a marm or emulated
their beat and fear I wonder and I pondered about this question when I was writing the last chapter of my book where I had selected examples of a few Chinese who had achieved record success in diverse fields. For a moment I thought what if the knowledge that the Chinese were making rapid upward strides causes them to be envy and hate it rather than a mockery and light. Now this is the plausible one possible reaction. So I hope that more knowledge of human response can help us avoid some of the friction. What can the Chinese do to ward off feelings. What foresight can be brought to bear to perpetuate
or improve the warm relations that the Chinese now enjoy with the American people. Problems are going to arise also within the Chinese community themselves. When hostilities threatened from without the Chinese banded together and they fashioned their own way of life by excluding the larger society and keeping their contacts to a minimum. In years bygone where the Chinese migrated 7000 miles from his little village in southern China to a China Town in San Francisco he went into a very closely knit society where life was essentially the same except perhaps for his means of livelihood.
Today's Chinese has gained acceptance in every segment of American life and with external threats removed the Chinese now move quickly into American society and immediately they become fish on land. They must learn a new language. They have to pick up new ideas. They have to adopt a new way of dress. They have to accept new customs and new ways of doing things. Instead of a gradual process the transition is rapid and radical. It's also upsetting and disorganized. The Chinese are not going to encounter problems experienced by other minority groups. They've been insulated before they insulated themselves.
The number was small enough and they could do this so that they were on notice. But now there's going to be change. Perhaps the Chinese can bridge the transition better than others. If so why. What sustains them. What helps them. When I think that perhaps the Chinese have a cultural tradition and a cultural heritage which helps them it gives them pride in their being Chinese I don't think. I think among the Chinese no one is ever ashamed that he is Chinese. I mean you can always point to something and say well look this is our history this is our custom. We have had sages we have had the great ages of art and also Chinese reverence for learning I think has aided them a lot in other words whether they no matter what. Even though the only
avenue open for them for a job was a laundryman or restaurant and they still want to have an acquired an education so that when the job opportunities open. The Chinese were willing and they were ready and able to do a job and do it well and they proved themselves each time that they could do a job. Now all the other minorities of course have not had this preference for learning and so they're not able to take advantage of the opportunity when it does strike. Now I hope in this discussion to follow. You will have questions and I'm very anxious to have your ideas and I'm sure that we can benefit from mutual exploration of the subject. And again I want to say I'm very honored to be invited to speak here today and I hope that you will have questions that I could further expand on the subject. Specifically what you're interested in.
The Institute on Man and Science
Chinese People in the United States
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Institute on Man and Science
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This item is part of the Chinese Americans section of the AAPI special collection.
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For series info, see Item 3566. This prog.: Chinese People in the United States. Betty Sung, author of The Mountain of Gold
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Producing Organization: Institute on Man and Science
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-33-18 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:27:33
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Chicago: “The Institute on Man and Science; Chinese People in the United States,” 1969-01-17, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 13, 2022,
MLA: “The Institute on Man and Science; Chinese People in the United States.” 1969-01-17. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 13, 2022. <>.
APA: The Institute on Man and Science; Chinese People in the United States. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from