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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/December 1889/New Phases in the Chinese Problem

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 36‎ | December 1889


THE whirligig of politics, rather than that of time, undoubtedly brought about the hasty passage by Congress of the so-called "Chinese Exclusion Act." Being simply "a supplement" to the act of May 6, 1882, which expires by its own limitation on the 6th of May, 1892, it can of course only be regarded as a temporary measure; and unless other legislation of like character, but more well considered and permanent in its operation, is had before May 6, 1892, the country will then be as open to the free and unrestricted immigration of the Chinese as it was prior to the treaty of 1881, and the act to execute its provisions to which this is a supplement. The passage of this measure by Congress, and its approval by the President, suggest new phases in the Chinese problem. First among them all is, Will exclusion exclude, as provided in the machinery of this act? To find an intelligent answer to this question, it is necessary first to understand the causes and motives which impel the Chinese to migrate from their native country. Until this phase of the question is fairly presented, the difficulties involved in excluding the Chinese by legislative methods will not be rightly estimated by Congress or by the country at large.

With an area of 1,297,999 square miles, China possessed a population in 1882, according to the best accepted authorities, of 380,000,000, or a fraction less than 300 people to the square mile. This average, large as it is, gives no adequate idea of the real density of the population in the nine important provinces of China. In 1812 the Chinese census gave 850, 705, and 671 inhabitants to the square mile in the three provinces of Kiangsu, Nganhwsu, and Chehkiang respectively. These averages have since increased largely, but there are no reliable data from which to give the present population per square mile in these or other provinces. The struggle for life under such conditions of overpopulation must necessarily be severe beyond description. But when we add to this the fluctuations of rainfall, involving frequently occurring periods of drought and flood, and consequent famine and misery, we begin to perceive the true causes of Chinese emigration.

The famine of 1878, growing out of the drought of the four preceding years, it is estimated, swept from nine and one half to thirteen millions of inhabitants out of existence. "At all epochs," says the Abbé Huc, "and in the most flourishing and best-governed countries, there always have been, and there always will be, poor; but unquestionably there can be found in no other country such a depth of disastrous poverty as in the Chinese Empire. Not a year passes in which a terrific number of persons do not perish of famine in some part of China, and the number of those who live merely from day to day is incalculable. Let a drought, an inundation, or any accident whatever occur to injure the harvest in a single province, and two thirds of the population are immediately reduced to a state of starvation. You see them forming themselves into numerous bands—perfect armies of beggars—and proceeding together, men, women, and children, to seek in the towns and villages for some little nourishment wherewith to sustain for a brief interval their miserable existence. Many fall down by the wayside and die before they can reach the place where they had hoped to find help. You see their bodies lying in the fields and at the road-side, and you pass without taking much notice of them, so familiar is the horrid spectacle."

"Calamities of this kind occur every year in some place or other; and those who have made any savings are able to get through the crisis and wait for better days; but others, who are always in much greater numbers, have no choice but to expatriate themselves or die of famine."

In 1855 Sir John Bowring, the "British Resident at Canton," in reply to inquiries from the Registrar-General in London, gave some interesting facts concerning the Chinese, which were subsequently published by the Statistical Society. Speaking of the emigration from China, he said:

"The constant flow of emigration from China, contrasted with the complete absence of immigration into China, is striking evidence of the redundancy of the population; for, though that emigration is almost wholly confined to two provinces, viz., Kwangtung and Fookien, representing together a population of probably from 34,000,000 to 35,000,000, 1 am disposed to think that a number nearer 3,000,000 than 2,000,000 from these provinces alone are located in foreign countries. In the kingdom of Siam it is estimated that there are at least 1,500,000 Chinese, of which 200,000 are in the capital (Bankok). They crowd all the islands of the Indian Archipelago. In Java, we know by correct census there are 136,000. Cochin-China teems with Chinese. In this colony we are seldom without one, two, or three vessels taking Chinese emigrants to California and other places. Multitudes go to Australia, to the Philippines, to the Sandwich Islands, to the western coast of Central and Southern America; some have made their way to British India. The emigration to the British West Indies has been considerable, to the Havanna greater still. The annual arrivals in Singapore are estimated at an average of 10,000, and 2,000 is the number that are said annually to return to China."

"There is not only this enormous maritime emigration, but a considerable inland efflux of Chinese toward Manchuria and Thibet; and it may be added that the large and fertile islands of Formosa and Hainan have been to a great extent won from the aborigines by successive inroads of Chinese settlers. Now these are all males; there is not a woman to 10,000 men; hence, perhaps, the small social value of the female infant. Yet the perpetual outflowing of people seems in no respect to diminish the number of those who are left behind."

Sir John Bowring not only testifies to this perpetual outflow of Chinese emigrants, but he paints in vivid colors the causes which lead to these results. He says: "There is probably no part of the world in which the harvests of mortality are more sweeping and destructive than in China, producing voids which require no ordinary appliances to fill up. Multitudes perish absolutely from want of the means of existence; inundations destroy towns and villages, and all their inhabitants; it would not be easy to calculate the loss of life by the typhoons and hurricanes which visit the coasts of China, in which boats and junks are sometimes sacrificed by hundreds and by thousands. The late civil wars in China must have led to the loss of millions of lives. The sacrifices of human beings by executions alone are frightful."

It is such a condition of things, and such causes as these, that induce the laboring classes of Chinese to emigrate to other countries. Considering the incentive which exists in these densely populated districts to escape from the misery which marks their existence, and to seek new lands where their condition may be bettered, the dangers that threaten from such inexhaustible sources of human supply become easy of appreciation.

It may well be inferred that a line of public policy on the part of any other nation intended to shut out such a class of immigration as this must be literally "iron-clad" in its construction, and must involve measures of defense practically as stern, unrelenting, and costly in their character as are the measures of defense against invasion commonly taken among nations at war with each other.

So far, Chinese immigration in other countries has been sufficiently powerful to break down all the barriers that have been reared against it. Wherever they have gained a foothold there they have continued to go, there they have increased and multiplied. Wherever they have gone, in earlier or later times, prolonged contact with them and competition in the field of labor have developed the same race antipathies that exist between the American people on the Pacific coast and the Chinese to-day.

Since 1860 200,000 Chinese have landed in Chili and Peru. Nearly 400,000 have found their way into the United States through the port of San Francisco since the Chinese immigration first began. The numbers that have migrated to Australia, the Sandwich Islands, and other countries have been enormous. The larger part of this emigration from China has occurred since the walls of Chinese exclusiveness were battered down by English and French cannon in 1858. It is clear that, while China was then opened to the commerce and intercourse of the world, so the world was likewise opened to the free flow of the yellow tide of Chinese immigration, sweeping with constantly augmented and resistless force in every direction. We have seen the incentive of poverty and misery at home that underlies and induces Chinese emigration. We have seen that with them it is either expatriation or starvation. We have seen that massacre and cruelty can not change their purpose or intimidate them, and we may well ask ourselves the question whether the mild type of legislation embodied in the "Scott Exclusion Act" can be more effective in this direction. Assuming that it will be sustained by the Supreme Court of the United States, assuming that it will effectually stop the landing of Chinese in our ports, how far will it prove effective in barring the entrance of Chinese along the thousands of miles of frontier that intervene between British Columbia on the north and Mexico on the south? Is it to be presumed that Chinese cunning and perseverance, inspired by their wretched condition at home, and the incentive of good wages, constant employment, and a more comfortable mode of life here, will not overcome all obstacles that this hasty and crude kind of legislation has set up against them? Is it to be presumed that a law that imposes upon them no penalty other than that of being sent back if they are detected, will keep them out, when the fear of death has been found wholly ineffective to do so? Will exclusion exclude under such conditions as these? Moreover, can any law ever be enacted by an American Congress that would not shock the Christian world by the inhumanity of its penalties, that will ever be effective in excluding them from our soil? For violations of State and municipal laws the jails and prisons have been crowded with Chinese for months and years, and all to no purpose. The constant perpetration of the same offenses manifests but too plainly the utter inutility of dealing with the Chinese by any such methods as these.

The race that is reared under the fear of the "cangue," the "bastinado," and limb and bodily torture of hideous ingenuity as punishments for trivial offenses, can not be restrained or terrorized by prison penalties as ordinarily provided under American laws. Much less can they be prevented from attempting to gain entrance into the country by the mere fear of being sent back if detected. And it may well be believed that thousands upon thousands would still continue the attempt, in willing exchange for free board and lodging in a well-kept American prison, with hard labor, were that penalty made to attach to the act.

Under such circumstances as these, will exclusion exclude, in the way and manner provided in the "Scott Exclusion Act"? More than this, can any remedy for Chinese immigration be devised that does not look to the stationing of an army of thousands of men along our northern and southern borders, and at a cost bordering upon the permanent prosecution of a defensive war, except by treaty co-operation on the part of the British provinces on the north and Mexico on the south?

The inefficiency of this hasty political measure of exclusion is only equaled by the public disgrace involved in the manner of its inception and enactment, which the most radical believer in the policy of Chinese exclusion can not fail to admit constitutes the most shameful page in American history.

If we are to assume that this or any other legislation that may be had by Congress can be made to result in effectual Chinese exclusion, the problems that present themselves for consideration are hardly less interesting and deserving of study than if this class of immigration were to be tolerated indefinitely. Already there are probably more than 200,000 Chinese upon American soil. In mode of life, costume, religion, clannishness, social vices, and language, they may be said to have evinced no perceptible change during the forty years that have elapsed since they found lodgment here. Had they, during all this period, remained in the heart of the Chinese Empire, they could not have been more intensely Chinese in all respects than they are to-day with all their experience of contact with American civilization. True, they have been the gainers to the extent of the knowledge and skill they have acquired in the field of skilled labor and the use of machinery, but it has made no impression upon their race-habits and instanced no sign of assimilation with the race which surrounds them.

We are accustomed to regard our own ethnological stock as the dominant race of mankind; and yet, wherever the Chinese have colonized among us, we have yielded the ground before their advancing hosts, and have surrendered to them a dominance in law, social habits, and religion. While all other races which combine to form the American people proper yield common obedience to the laws, and may be regarded as a common brotherhood in social and political citizenship, the Chinese have remained a law unto themselves, and in the estimation of the Christian communities in which they have established themselves they are the same unchanged and unchangeable heathen race that they were when they landed upon our shores. Such have been the results of nearly forty years of contact of the two races. If we consider this period too short a time in which to look for contrary results, what shall we say of the fact—for fact it is—that in the Philippine Islands, where the Chinese have been colonized now for nearly three hundred years, precisely the same results have come about—no better and no worse? Not only have they maintained their race characteristics, but in every instance they have proved themselves to be the stronger, in so far as the acquisition of material wealth and advantage are concerned, maintaining all the while their religion against all efforts at conversion.

"In 1871," says the Baron von Hübner, "the entire English trade with China, amounting to £42,000,000 sterling, was transacted through English firms." Since that time, he adds that, "with the exception of some great influential English firms, all the same trade has passed into the hands of Chinese merchants." In Macao similar results have obtained.

When the Manchus conquered China, they swept all before them and introduced Manchu habits and customs. But steadily these innovations gave way to Chinese influences. "You may now," says the Abbe' Hue, "traverse Manchuria to the river Amoor without being at all aware that you are not traveling in a province of China. The local coloring has been totally effaced. The Manchu Tartars have almost totally abdicated their own manners, and adopted instead those of the Chinese."

Has Chinese colonization in San Francisco shown any different results? Let us see. That portion of San Francisco known today as Chinatown was originally the residence and business center of the town. Its natural advantages made it the choice of the early American settlers, and as such it would doubtless have remained to-day had it not been for the advent of the Chinese. These latter, seeing also its advantages, located themselves there. As they increased in numbers, Christian civilization with instinctive repugnance retreated before them, until, within this entire district, once literally San Francisco itself, there is not a vestige of American civilization remaining save in the abandoned homes, churches, and other private and public buildings, each one of which fairly swarms with hordes of unclean and unsavory Chinese. A missionary writer, the Rev. Mr. Gibson, an advocate of Chinese immigration for Christianizing purposes, tells the story in his book, "The Chinese in America," of the abandonment of the "First Baptist Church" in San Francisco to the Chinese:

"What was lately the First Baptist Church of San Francisco is now a crowded Chinese tenement-house, full of all manner of filthiness, shame, and sin. Where but lately was the altar of the living God, now smokes the incense of idolatry. That sacred temple, where once the voice of prayer and praise to God was heard, now echoes with idolatrous chants and bacchanalian songs. Instead of standing firm against the incoming hosts of idolatry and sin, the Church of Christ has beaten an ignominious retreat, has surrendered without a struggle one of the strongest fortifications and retreated in disorder before the advancing hosts of idolatry." Thus, here as elsewhere, they have established their supremacy, defied all laws for their government and the suppression of their vices/and erected themselves into an imperium in imperio, conquering and still to conquer.

If the further coming of this race be successfully prevented, it will probably be contended that, among the new generations which are to be born here, and which will be entitled to all the rights and privileges of American citizenship by reason of that fact, the influences of Christian civilization will be so powerful as to obliterate race habits and vices, and substitute those of our own race for their own. There has been no test of this under these special conditions, and therefore there can be nothing foretold with precision in regard to it. We can not lose sight of the fact, however, that the children born of Chinese parents in San Francisco so far are as distinctly Chinese in race, habits, superstitions, vices, and costume as were their fathers before them. Thus far there has not been a perceptible change in them. As in every other country where they have colonized the same results have followed, why should we look for different results here? It will be said that they are quick to learn, and capable of excelling in all classes of skilled labor, and therefore they should be equally responsive in exchanging their race habits and civilization for our own. However plausible such a theory may sound, forty years' experience in San Francisco testifies to the contrary. A people of traditions, the lives, work, and history of whose generations are and always have been but a repetition of each other, they seem incapable of change except in the acquisition of such mechanical skill and knowledge as can be made subservient to their material advantage.

The successful exclusion of further Chinese immigration, and thereby the complete isolation of the Chinese who are among us from their countrymen at home, will certainly offer a more favorable field for Christian missionary work than has heretofore existed. But that which has been accomplished thus far certainly does not inspire confidence that much is to be gained in that direction. Mr. Gibson, the most prominent of all missionary workers among the Chinese in California, testified in 1876 to the effect that, out of one hundred and fifty thousand Chinese in California, but two hundred and seventy-one had, up to that date, been baptized and received into Christian church communion. And he failed entirely to note how many of these had fallen from grace, and gone back to their original faith and practices. He failed also to give the simple truth to the world that, for every "soul so hopefully converted and saved"—to use his own words—thousands of young men had been ruined by the presence of the Chinese through the introduction and spread of the opium habit, the dissemination of hereditary disease through their innumerable dens of prostitution, the destructive influences of their lottery and gambling dens, and the general demoralization of the field of labor.

Is there not something that always has and always will successfully resist efforts at Christianization of the Chinese? Let us resort again to the testimony of that devout and earnest missionary, the Abbé Hue, than whom no one has ever written more clearly and truthfully of the habits and characteristics of the race:

"In the five ports open to Europeans, religious liberty really does exist, and it is protected by the presence of consuls and ships of war. Yet the number of Christians does not increase more rapidly than in the interior of the empire. In Macao, Hong-Kong, Manila, Singapore, Penang, Batavia, though they are under the dominion of Europeans, the great mass of the population consists of Chinese, who for the most part are permanently settled in these cities, and hold in their hands the great interests of agriculture, commerce, and industry. It is certainly not the fault of persecution of the European authorities that hinders them from embracing Christianity. Yet the conversions are not more numerous than elsewhere. ...

"The Chinese are so completely absorbed in temporal interests, in the things that fall under their senses, that their whole life is only materialism put in action. ...

"Lucre is the sole object on which their eyes are constantly fixed. ... A burning thirst to realize some profit, great or small, absorbs their faculties, the whole energy of their being. They never pursue anything with ardor but riches and natural enjoyments. God, the soul, a future life, they believe in none of them, or rather they never think about them at all."[1]

The Chinese maxim is "Pon-toun-kiao" ("Religions are many, reason is one: we are all brothers"). This phrase is on the lips of every Chinese, and they bandy it from one to the other with the most exquisite urbanity. It is indeed a clear and concise expression of their feelings on religious questions. In their eyes, a worship is merely an affair of taste and fashion, to which no more importance is attached than to the color of garments.

Let it not be forgotten that we are dealing with a race which holds among other singular tenets the abhorrent doctrine that woman plays no other part in nature than as an indispensable necessity for the propagation of mankind; that she has no soul, but is merely a necessary animal adjunct in the human race, serviceable for its perpetuation, for the gratification of the animal passions of men, for the common drudgery of the household or field labor, but not worthy of education and not eligible to salvation as taught by any scheme of future existence within their belief or knowledge. Let us make no mistake about this. It is in proof in the writings of Chinese missionaries and travelers of every nationality. It is the one point on which they all agree. It is the belief and teaching upon which the practice of infanticide prevails in China, in which the female child is invariably the victim and the sacrifice. Bought and sold, kidnapped and forced into a life of prostitution and helpless misery, woman is indeed among the Chinese an object of pity and commiseration. The evidences are constantly before our eyes in our own country, wherever the Chinese are gathered in communities, that her lot here is in no way ameliorated, nor have her Christian surroundings so far, in any perceptible degree, tended to work her elevation or emancipation. It is a work that must first be successfully begun and carried out before we may indulge in the idle dream of Chinese conversion to the doctrines of Christianity. It is another—if not the most important factor—in the Chinese problem which we are called upon to solve, in so far as the Chinese who are to remain among us are concerned, and adds perhaps the most serious complexity to the puzzle.

The children born upon our soil so far are in the main illegitimate, and in all cases are, by the very nature of their surroundings, barred out from possible education in common with the children of our population in general. There can therefore be no common school system which in its proper sense can be made applicable to them. What then occurs? Either they must be debarred from being educated at the public expense, or a school system must be devised for their own separate teaching. In the latter case there will no longer be a common school system, but a line of class distinction will at once be drawn, and the virtual introduction of the caste system will begin. "Will not this even build higher still the barrier between Christianity and idolatry, and will not the way of conversion be made still more difficult than before?

It has been truly said of the Chinese as they exist in the San Francisco colony that "they are not only not amenable to law, but they are governed by secret tribunals unrecognized and unauthorized by law." These tribunals "levy taxes, command masses of men, intimidate interpreters and witnesses, enforce perjury, regulate trade, punish the refractory, remove witnesses beyond the reach of the courts, control liberty of action, and prevent the return of Chinese to their home in China without their consent." And this system grows out of the inherent quality of the Chinese mind. It is part and parcel of their natures to be their own masters, to acknowledge no law or rule of action not of their own making. It is this quality of mind, this ancestral inheritance, that must be eradicated and changed before the Chinese can be made to stand upon an equality before the law with other American citizens. It adds another to the many complications of the Chinese problem which is before us for solution, and as it involves a change of natural proclivities which can not be brought about except by the slow evolutionary process through successive generations, it becomes possibly the most serious complication of all. But literally these complications are endless, and do not admit of further elaboration in this paper. They suggest the conclusion that the Chinese question, whether exclusion excludes or not, is so far from being finally disposed of, that it is now assuming its gravest and most important aspect. While we may well wish that the Chinaman might have been permitted to remain at home to enjoy his opium cum dignitate, yet regrets on this point are worse than useless, and the question now is, that, having him, like the poor, always with us, what shall we do with him?


  1. Since the foregoing was written, Canon Taylor, of the English Established Church, in an article in the "Fortnightly Review," entitled "The Great Missionary Failure," furnishes the following interesting statistical information: "China is perhaps the most disheartening case. The population is reckoned at 382,000,000. The annual increase by the excess of births over deaths would be about 4,580,000. Last year the Church Missionary Society baptized 167 adults. At this rate it would take the Church Missionary Society 27,000 years to overtake the gain to heathenism in a single year! If the population were stationary, it would take more than 1,680,000 years to convert the Chinese Empire. If the progress is slow, the expenditure is lavish. Last year in Ceylon 424 agents of the Church Missionary Society spent £11,003 16s. 7d. in making 190 adult converts out of a population of nearly three millions, but the relapses were more numerous than the converts, as there was a decrease of 143 in the native Christian adherents. In China 247 agents of the same society spent 14,875 3s. in making 167 converts out of a population of 352,000,000. In northern India (Bengal, Bombay, and the Northwest Provinces) 715 agents made 173 converts, at a cost of £34,186 2s. 5d. And many converts are paid. In Hong-Kong there are 94 communicants and 35 paid native agents. In Egypt and Arabia there are 10 communicants and 7 paid native agents. In Yoruba, after forty years of labor, not five per cent of the people are converted, human sacrifices are not discontinued, while the native Christian adherents decreased last year by 885."