Contrary to popular folklore, the Chinese "coming to" America during the 1800's would better be described as "escaping to" America. Britain had decimated China in an effort the strip the country of its natural resources, most notably porcelain, silk, spices and tea. Today's drug cartels can never compare in size and scope to the drug cartel of the British East India Company. British exports of opium to China skyrocketed from an estimated 15 tons in 1730, to 75 tons in 1773, shipped in over two thousand "chests", each containing 140 pounds (67 kg) of opium. 1 The Chinese fought hard to keep opium out of their country but Britain had flooded the land with the drug in an effort to bring China to its knees. Under Britain's harsh hand many Chinese became addicts, an estimated 2 million Chinese were habitual users.
The forces that drove thousands of Chinese to California were
the direct result of the imperialist plunder and domination of
China. Britain, France and the United States had carved China
up into "spheres of influence" for foreign trade, opium
traffic, and missionaries. In 1842 China lost the Opium War with
England, and in 1856 China suffered a further defeat in the Arrow
War (the "Second Opium War") with England and France.
As a result of these wars, China was forced to buy opium and to
pay war reparations to England and France, and open its borders
to unrestricted exploitation. Foreign-owned manufacturing crushed
local industry. And to pay reparations to the colonial powers,
the Chinese government had to levy huge tax increases on their
people. The impoverished conditions of the Chinese people, who
were overwhelmingly peasants, became even worse and peasant rebellions
After the Taiping Rebellion, 1851-1864 there was more reason for the Chinese to leave their country than to stay. Driven out by imperialism, they escaped to America. California being the closest route to America, they first came to San Francisco, known as Dai Fow "the Big City." Sacramento was known as the "Second City," or Yee Fow.
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1. (Lo-shu Fu, A Documentary Chronicle of Sino-Western relations, Vol. 1 (1966), page 380)