Chinese Exclusion

If every American could visit China, the question of Chinese immigration would soon be settled upon a permanent basis, for no one can become acquainted with the Chinese coolie without recognizing the impossibility of opening the doors of our country to him without injustice to our own laboring men, demoralization to our social ideas, injury to China’s reputation among us and danger to our diplomatic relations with that country.

I made it a point to inquire among the Chinese whom I met, in order to ascertain the real sentiment back of the boycott. I had heard of students being subjected to harsh regulations at ports of entry, of travelers humiliated by confinement in uncomfortable sheds and of merchants treated rudely, and I supposed that these things had aroused the resentment. I found, however, that the things complained of were more difficult to deal with and the concessions demanded impossible to grant.

In order to understand the boycott one must know something of Chinese history. As China has never had representative government, the people have been compelled to bring their complaints before officials by petition, and where the petition has been ignored, they have been accustomed to bring such pressure to bear as was within their power, and the boycott has often been resorted to as a means of compelling action upon the part of officials. They, therefore, conceived the idea of a boycott against American goods for the double purpose of urging their own government to favorable action and of calling the attention of the American government to their complaint. Our officials are doing what they can to convince the Chinese government of the injustice and folly of the boycott, and the Chinese officials with whom I conversed seemed anxious to co-operate with our’ minister and consuls. Immediate action upon the part of our congress, whether favorable or unfavorable to the Chinese, will remove the excuse for a boycott and our government should not be influenced in its action by any threats affecting trade, for the subject is too grave a one to be determined by commercial considerations.

The Americans who are doing business in China are naturally anxious to cultivate friendly relations with the Chinese merchants, and just before we reached Hong Kong the American business men residing there cabled home a statement of the minimum changes in the exclusion act asked for by the Chinese merchants. I had the privilege of attending a dinner at which a number of the leading Chinese merchants of Hong Kong presented their views, and it may be worth while to give here an abstract of their demands as drawn out by cross-examination.

They desire—First, that the word laborer shall be clearly and distinctly defined, “according to the highest standard English and be limited to such class or classes of persons as originally intended to be designated by both governments.”

Second, that all regulations and legislative measures affecting Chinese immigration shall be communicated to and approved by the Chinese government before going into force, and that when in force, they should not be altered without consent of the Chinese government.

Third, that American consuls stationed in China shall have full power to grant certificates of admission to persons not included in the prohibited classes, such certificates to be conclusive except in cases of actual fraud.

Fourth, that the American consul in China shall without delay issue certificates of admission to such Chinese not included in the prohibited classes as shall obtain passports from the Chinese govern-ment.

Fifth, that the Chinese governments shall be permitted to appoint one European medical practitioner to act in conjunction with a medical officer appointed by the United States at the port of departure and that no one shall be rejected as diseased unless certified to be so by both medical officers.

Sixth, that Chinese once admitted into the United States shall enjoy the same rights and protection accorded to the subjects of the most favored nation, and in ease of ill treatment shall be entitled to dam-ages from the government.

Seventh, that Chinese passing through the United States en route for another country shall enjoy the same privileges as the subjects of the most favored nations.

Eighth, that Chinese residing in the United States shall not be required to register unless such registration is required of the subjects of the most favored nation.

Ninth, that Chinese laborers shall be admitted into the Hawaiian and the Philippine Islands, provided that the legislatures or local authorities of such islands are willing. (While this proviso is satisfactory to the Hong Kong merchants, it seems to have been objected to by the Chinese of Amoy and Canton.)

Tenth, that any Chinese detained at an American port of entry for purposes of inquiry shall be permitted to engage legal assistance and furnish bond for appearance; should the decision be unfavorable, he shall have the right to appeal to the highest court of justice, and in case of any technical or formal error in his passport or certificate, he shall be allowed to correct the same without undergoing deportation.

Eleventh, that any Chinese residing in the United States shall have the right to bring his parents, wife, family and minor brothers and sisters to reside with him.

Twelfth, that Chinese lawfully admitted to the United States but deported because of failure to register shall be readmitted on satisfactory proof of possessing in the United States property or bona fide debt up to the required amount.

The second demand could not be complied with, without putting the enforcement of the exclusion act so largely in the hands of the Chinese government as to very much cripple it.

The third demand is reasonable. Our country ought to be bound by the act of its own consuls, except in case of fraud, and those who are to be excluded ought to be notified before incurring the expense of a trip across the ocean.

The fourth demand should not be complied with unless the Chinese government assumes pecuniary responsibility for any errors in the issuing of the passport and for the subject’s compliance with the regulations provided by our government.

The fifth demand is absurd, because it virtually transfers to a European physician appointed by the Chinese government the power to decide on the health of the immigrant. While, according to the language of the demand, the Chinese appointee would act in con-junction with an American physician, a favorable report by the Chinese appointee would admit the immigrant in spite of an adverse report by the physician appointed by our government. It is perfectly proper that a physician appointed by the Chinese government should be permitted to be present at the examination, and it is only fair that the examination should be made at the port of departure, but it is necessary that the examination should be in the hands of physicians appointed, and removable, by our government.

The tenth demand is for the most part reasonable. A Chinaman detained for purposes of inquiry should be allowed to secure counsel and furnish bond, and if the error in his certificate is technical or formal, he should be allowed to correct it on such terms as are equitable, but it would hardly be wise to permit appeal to the supreme court unless some vital principle is involved.

Demands six, seven and eight are based upon the theory that Chinese in the United States should be treated in every respect like subjects of other nations, and this overlooks two material facts: First, that certain classes of Chinese are prohibited from coming to the United States; and, second, that the Chinese who do come to the United States come for reasons different from those which influence immigrants from Europe. (I shall consider the second reason later.) The fact that some Chinese are excluded while others are admitted makes it necessary to enforce rules against the Chinese that are necessary against immigrants from other nations. While no humiliating conditions ought to be imposed, still our country is justified in enforcing such rules and regulations as will prevent fraud and evasion. This cannot be considered an act of un-friendliness because our nation adopts the same principle in dealing with its own people. For instance, the voters in the cities are required to register from time to time, often at great inconvenience, while registration is not required in rural districts, the discrimination being regarded as necessary to prevent election frauds in the cities. In like manner,. Chinese may be required to register, even though registration may be inconvenient, if experience shows registration to be necessary to prevent evasion of the immigration law.

In the case of travelers it ought to be possible to provide for such a certification of passports as to relieve Chinese tourists, whether passing through, or visiting in, the United States from annoyance or vexation. It goes without saying that they should be protected as completely as tourists coming from any other country. Every encouragement should be given to travel between countries, for an exchange of views and ideas between nations is as wholesome and as necessary to progress as social intercourse between individuals.

The ninth demand, while strenuously insisted upon by the Chinese, involves questions of the first magnitude. It is a question whether Chinese could be admitted into Hawaii and then excluded from other states and territories, and in the case of the Philippines, our country should be slow to establish a policy there before the length of our occupation is determined.

It will be noticed that the purpose of the first, eleventh and twelfth demands is to increase the number of Chinese in the United States. The eleventh contemplates the indefinite enlargement of the family of each resident by the addition of first, one wife; second (possibly), two parents, not to speak of an uncertain number of children, brothers and sisters. While to the Chinese who are accustomed to the patriarchal system, the admission of parents, brothers and sisters would seem a very natural demand, it would hardly seem reasonable to Americans unless it was limited to the classes excepted from the exclusion act.

The real interest, however, centers in the first demand, viz., that the definition of the term laborer shall be enlarged. I questioned several of the Hong Kong merchants in regard to the matter, and found that they desired especially the admission of clerks and skilled laborers. They contended that a Chinese merchant could not conduct a store in the United States without Chinese help and that to exclude clerks was virtually to exclude merchants. When questioned as to the number of clerks needed, they estimated that there were about four thousand merchants in the United States and that each merchant would need from six to ten clerks. When surprise was expressed at the number, it was explained that some had to cook and do housework. It was even argued that Chinese shoemakers and tailors were also necessary to provide clothing and footwear for the Chinese residing in the United States. There was a division of opinion as to whether laundry men should be classed as merchants and entitled to clerks. But excluding laundry men and counting eight clerks to the store, this one change in. definition would open the door to about thirty-two thousand, almost a fifty per cent increase, according to the estimate made by the Hong Kong merchants, of seventy thousand Chinese now in the United States. Whether the admission of clerks could be so regulated “and restricted as to make it possible to grant this demand in whole or in part is a question which I am not prepared to answer without further information as to the location of the merchants, the character of their business and the sentiment of the local community.

The admission of skilled laborers is one upon which it is easier to form an opinion. The Chinese are not only an industrious people, but they are capable of becoming skilled artisans. They could supply every factory in the United States with skilled workmen and still have millions to spare. Nearly all the reasons which apply to the xclusion of the coolie, apply to the skilled laborer, and they can, therefore, be considered together.

It developed during the dinner that while the demands expressly recognized the improbability of coolies being admitted, most of the Chinese present favored the entire repeal of the restriction law. They resented any discrimination against their people as unfriendly and unwarranted. One Chinaman of prominence, in another city, went so far as to intimate that such discrimination would not be permitted if China had a large army and navy and. was able to enforce her rights.

As the whole question turns on the admission of the Chinese laborer, let us consider, first,, the difference between the European immigrant and the Chinese immigrant and, second, the general objections to the admission of Chinese workmen.

The Chinaman, unlike the European, regards America as only temporarily his home, preserves his national customs and peculiarities and finally returns, carrying his savings with him. He is not attracted by our institutions and brings with him no love of American ideals. To him the United States is a field to be exploited and nothing more. The European casts in his lot with us, mingles with the population and in a few generations his identity is lost in our composite race. He has neither peculiarities of thought or dress to distinguish him from those among whom he labors, and his children are soon an indistinguishable part of the community. Not so with the Chinese. They are not only distinguished by their dress; language and habits, but they remain entirely separate and apart from those among whom they dwell. This difference is not only due to the wide dissimilarity in history, tradition and habit, but also to the absence of any permanent or patriotic interest in the land in which they sojourn.

The plane of living and the rate of wages are surprisingly low in China. When we were crossing the Yellow River I noticed a number of coolies unloading stone and inquired their wages. They received one hundred and fifty cash, or about seven and a half cents gold, per day. When this compensation is compared with the wages paid in the United States for the same kind of labor, it is easy to understand why Chinese laborers are drawn to our country. In discussing the immigration question with a Chinese official, I asked him what he paid his coachman. He replied that the head coachman received what was equivalent to $10 in gold per month, while the subordinates received from $3.50 to $5. Out of these wages they must pay for their own food. There is considerable difference in the efficiency of labor, but making due allowance for that, the Chinaman could in some occupations make twice as much in America as at home and yet work for half what Americans receive.

Long experience has taught the Chinaman to economize until he has reduced living to the minimum. Our guide in one city fixed $1 (50 cents gold) as the weekly cost of living for one person, but many live upon less. In traveling from Pekin to Hankow we were compelled to provide our own meals, and the very competent cook whom we secured was regularly receiving $1 a week in gold.

A ride through the streets of a Chinese city furnishes ample evidence of the economy of the people. The small measures used, the tiny piles of edibles exposed for sale, the little bundles carried from the market—these explain why cash, running about ten to ,a cent, can be used as currency. Oranges are often sold without the peeling, the peeling being sold separately, and peanuts seem to be counted instead of measured. At Canton we saw one man trudging home from market with a satisfied air, carrying two pig tails tied together with a piece of grass. The well-to-do have many delicacies, like birds’ nest soup and shark fins, some of which we tasted at the luncheon given by the viceroy at Nanking and at the Hong Kong dinner; and among those who can afford it, elaborate dinners are quite common, but among the masses the food is of the cheapest and coarsest kind.

In the matter of fuel the same scrupulous economy is exercised. Every dead leaf and twig is scraped from the ground and even the weeds are condemned to fiery punishment for presuming to grow upon such precious soil.

It would require generations to bring our people down to a plane upon which they could compete with the Chinese, and this would involve a large impairment in the efficiency in their work.

It is not just to the laboring men of the United States that they should be compelled to labor upon the basis of Chinese coolie labor or stand idle and allow their places to be filled by an alien race with no thought of permanent identification with our country. The American laborer not only produces the wealth of our nation in time of peace, but he is its sure defender in time of war. Who will say that his welfare and the welfare of his family shall be subordinated to the interests of those who abide with us but for a time, who, while with us, are exempt from draft or military burden, and who, on their return, drain our country of its currency? A foreign landlord system is almost universally recognized as a curse to a nation, because the rent money is sent out of the country; Chinese immigration on a large scale would give us the evil effects of foreign landlordism in addition to its other objectionable features.

When I pointed out the fact that Chinese did not, like other immigrants, contemplate permanent residence in the United States, a Chinese official replied that they would become citizens if the law permitted it, and to the objection that they would even then remain distinct from the rest of the people, he answered by advancing arguments in favor of amalgamation. He claimed that the descendants (called Eurasians) of Chinese who had intermarried with Europeans were brighter than the average children of either race. I did not have an opportunity to test the accuracy of these conclusions, but it is evident that amalgamation has not been carried on to any great extent either in China or in the countries to which the Chinamen have gone. The instances of intermarriage are so rare that they do not affect the general problem.

The fact that the Chinese do now, and would probably if admitted to citizenship, form an unassimilated, if not an indigestible, element, _separated from the remainder of our population by a race line, raises another objection to their admission as laborers. They make good servants, learning quickly and obeying conscientiously. Americans who have employed them testify to their trustworthiness and industry. If they were permitted to freely enter the United States, it is likely that they would soon solve the domestic labor problem, of which we hear so much, for as cooks, waiters and house boys they are an unqualified success. But what would be the effect upon our civilization of such a stratification of society? At present we have no racial distinction between employer and employé (except that presented by the negro problem), and one race problem is enough. If we were to admit Chinese coolies, we would find it more and more difficult to induce white people to enter into competition with them and manual labor would bear an odium which ought not to be placed upon it. We need to teach the dignity of labor and to lessen the aversion to it; a coolie class would make it difficult, if not impossible, to make progress in the work of cementing our society into one harmonious whole. If American ideals are to be realized there must be no barrier between the rich and the poor, no obstacles in the way of advancement from manual labor to intellectual work. China has suffered immeasurably because of the complete separation of her educated classes from her laborers.

A sentimental argument is sometimes advanced to the effect that we have no moral right to exclude any who seek to come among us.

Whether this argument has any force depends, first, on the purpose of the immigrant, and second, upon our power to assimiliate. If his coming is purely commercial and he has no ambition to improve us by his coming or to profit morally and intellectually by contact with us, he cannot demand admission upon moral or sentimental ground. And even if his paramount reason for coming were a desire to learn of us, it would still be necessary to consider how far we could go in helping him without injury to ourselves. While visiting the sick is most meritorious, one who gave all his time to such work, leaving no time for sleep, would soon be a physical wreck; feeding the hungry is most commendable, but one who gave away all of his substance, reserving nothing for his own nourishment, could not long serve his fellows. In like manner, our own power to help the world by the absorption of surplus population has certain natural and necessary limitations. We have a mission to fulfill and we cannot excuse ourselves if we cripple our energies in a mistaken effort to carry a burden heavier than our strength can support.

Students ought to be invited to our country; we can afford to make the welcome cordial and access to our institutions easy, for there is no better way of influencing other countries for good than through their young men and young women who, gathering new ideas in America, carry them back and apply them in their own country. A small part of the money now spent in building warships to protect us from imaginary foes would, if spent in the education of the children of foreigners, make us friends abroad who would constantly lessen the probability of war. The newspapers have given currency to the report that our government contemplates returning to China a part of the indemnity exacted because of the Boxer attack, and the Chinese are much gratified at the rumor. It is coupled with the statement that the return of the money would be conditioned upon the expenditure of the money for education. I can conceive of no greater favor that our country can bestow upon China than to make permanent provision for schools which will give the Chinese youth an opportunity to acquire the most modern instruction in literature and in physical and political science. If the sum to be returned were divided and the larger part given for the endowment of a series of universities in China, while the smaller part endowed a .college ,at Washington, under the control of the Chinese embassy, it would do more to extend our commerce, our ideals and our prestige than a hundred times that sum expended on a military establishment or a navy.

There is one argument against the admission of coolies which ought to commend itself to the Chinese as well as to the Americans, viz., that the standing of China among us is prejudiced by the fact that she is judged by her lowest and most ignorant classes. There has always been an educated class in China, and while the number belonging to it has been limited and the scope of education narrow as compared with the scope of education in the western world, still there have been culture and refinement. Artists have appeared from time to time, as well as artisans skilled in porcelain, metal working, carving, decoration, etc. There have been merchants of standing and integrity (in fact, integrity is the rule among Chinese merchants.) If China could be known by these or even by the averaging of her superior and inferior classes, she would stand higher among the nations. But she is known now, except in diplomatic circles, by the coolies who are carried by contractors from one place to another until local sentiment leads to their exclusion. And, I may add, that it has led to their exclusion from Australia and that the question of exclusion from the Transvaal has been discussed in the English parliament.

This argument received respectful attention when presented to some of the prominent Chinese, for they recognize the injury which has been done to the nation’s reputation by having the Chinese people known by their worst representatives.

There is a fourth argument, the force of which was admitted at the Hong Kong dinner by the merchants who had resided in the United States, viz., that the admission of coolies (and it would apply to skilled mechanics also) would involve the nations in constant diplomatic controversy over race conflicts. If it is human for Chinese to desire to improve their condition by immigration to the United States, it is also human for American laborers to resent enforced idleness when presented as an alternative to a lower scale of living. With any large increase in the number of Chinese laborers in the United States, it would be necessary to incur the expense of an increased army and police force to preserve order, and even then it would be difficult to prevent occasional violence, and violence in the United States would lead to retaliation upon Americans residing in China. These race riots in our country and in China would not only strain the relations between the nations but would nullify our attempt to create a favor-able impression upon Chinese students and embarrass the work of our missionaries in China.

It is better to be frank and candid with the Chinese government. There are twenty times as many Chinese in America as there are Americans in China, and we give to China as much in trade advantage as we receive from her, not to speak of the money which Americans voluntarily contribute to extend education and religion in the Celestial empire. China has no reason to complain, for we have been generous in dealing with her. We can still be not only just, but generous, but it would be neither kindness to her nor fairness to our own people to invite an immigration of such a character as to menace our own producers of wealth, endanger our social system and disturb the cordial friendship and good will between America and China.