Email this review


A choppy, jumbled, repetitive account of, first, the Chinese contributions to California's early development and, second, the discriminatory restrictions of 1882-1942--with some concluding material on advances and problems since. But almost all of the content, fortunately, can be found in a more coherent form elsewhere. Chen reviews the influx triggered by the gold rush and stimulated anew by the building of the Central Pacific railway; he challenges the unassimilable ""coolie labor"" image--and the ""dangerous"" numbers buildup; he ticks off the Chinese role in land reclamation, in wheat, fruit, and flower farming, in establishing the vineyards, in the cigar-making, woolen, and other industries. What does not quite emerge, though, is the sudden extent and importance of the Chinese presence--either as a positive force or a presumed threat; Chert, indeed, is much more concerned with placing anti-Chinese racism in the context of American racism generally (via great chunks of ill-digested history) than with clearly distinguishing the Chinese experience. Moving into the period of exclusion and the successive measures to that end, the text becomes even more garbled and less usable. We're repeatedly led to believe, for one thing, that the disputed election of 1876 (where the votes of three Southern states were claimed by both the Hayes and Tilden forces) somehow turned on the issue of Chinese immigration; and we're repeatedly told of steps to make Chinese ""not eligible for naturalization""--or, worse, vulnerable to deportation--without being reminded that, as nonwhites, they were ipso facto ineligible for citizenship. Apropos of the period since 1942, when exclusion officially ended, Chen takes note of the success and dispersal of the various Chinese elites (the native middle class, Taiwanese immigrants, etc.) and has a few interesting things to say about the social clime of today's lagging Chinatowns (the disproportionate number of elderly; the internal conflicts, especially between Peking-and Taiwan-oriented groups; the garment sweatshops, overcrowding, and youth gangs). Appended is a recap of Chinese history in each part of the US. What's valid here, however, must be patiently and cautiously extracted from a very messy text.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Harper & Row