In the mid-1800s, thousands of Chinese came to California to either work in the gold fields or later to build the railroad. By 1870 there were roughly 63,000 Chinese in the United States. Popular sentiment in the U.S. quickly turned against Chinese immigrants, leading Congress to ban further immigration with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
During the 1800s Chinese were mostly found in rural areas. In 1870, only 24 percent of California's Chinese resided in the San Francisco Bay Area. After the Exclusion Act, the Chinese American community went through a series of changes. By 1900, two-thirds of the state's Chinese lived in urban areas, and 45 percent of them were living in the Bay Area. Many ex-miners and railroad workers migrated to cities looking for jobs. More sinisterly, anti-Chinese riots in Seattle, Washington; Rock Springs, Wyoming; and other regions of the West drove hundreds of Chinese from rural areas to the relative safety of big cities like San Francisco for a modicum of protection from white racism.
In San Francisco, Chinese could find immigrants like themselves who spoke the same language, came from the same culture, and ate the same food. Secret societies known as tongs provided support, friendship, and sometimes illegal activities to partake in. Fongs made up of family members from the same villages in China were also formed. The Chinese Six Companies bound together the community's largest businesses and provided leadership. There were also temples and Chinese theaters. In addition, San Francisco offered job opportunities as the city was already one of the country's largest manufacturing centers. There was also work in Chinatown's ethnic economy in laundries or restaurants.
Almost all of these workers and inhabitants were men at the time. The Chinese in California were known as a bachelor society. Many had heard of the opportunities in the Golden State and left their families behind in China, believing that they could quickly make their fortune and then return home rich. In reality, few Chinese were able to fulfill these dreams.
Chinese women were few and far between. In 1852 there were 11,783 Chinese men and only seven women. By 1870 the numbers had gone up with 4,566 Chinese women out of a total of 63,199. Most of these women had come to America as prostitutes. In 1870, for example, 61 percent of Chinese women in California worked in this business. For their passage to America, they entered into contracts that were similar to indentured servitude. The contracts said that they had to repay their masters, and this debt was to be paid with work in the sex trade for a set amount of years. The problem was that the contracts stipulated that extra days and weeks of service would be added for sick days, pregnancies, and when women had their period. This often meant that the women could never get out of their debts.
Most prostitutes lived in working-class brothels. Even lower in status were those who worked in "cribs," small street-level rooms with bar-covered windows. From these windows, the women would call at men offering their services for different prices. Most women were treated like slaves and were open to all kinds of diseases suck as sexually transmitted diseases and opium addiction. Some were even beaten by their masters.
11.2 Students analyze the relationship among the rise of industrialization, large-scale rural-to-urban migration, and massive immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. (11.2.2)