Congress Enacts the Page Law

Originally designed to prohibit Chinese contract workers and prostitutes from entering the United States, this federal law eventually excluded Asian women in general.

Summary of Event

On February 10, 1875, California congressman Horace F. Page introduced federal legislation designed to prohibit the immigration of female Asian prostitutes into the United States. Passed by Congress on March 3 as “An Act Supplementary to the Acts in Relation to Immigration,” the Page law evolved into a more general restriction against vast numbers of Chinese immigrants into the country, whether they were prostitutes or not. It subjected any person convicted of importing Chinese prostitutes to a maximum prison term of five years and a fine of not more than five thousand dollars. Page law of 1875
Congress, U.S.;Page law of 1875
Chinese immigrants;and Page law[Page law]
Immigration;and Page law[Page law]
Bailey, David
Loring, H. Sheldon
Mosby, John S.
Women;and Page Law[Page Law]
[kw]Congress Enacts the Page Law (Mar. 3, 1875)
[kw]Enacts the Page Law, Congress (Mar. 3, 1875)
[kw]Page Law, Congress Enacts the (Mar. 3, 1875)
[kw]Law, Congress Enacts the Page (Mar. 3, 1875)
Page law of 1875
Congress, U.S.;Page law of 1875
Chinese immigrants;and Page law[Page law]
Immigration;and Page law[Page law]
Bailey, David
Loring, H. Sheldon
Mosby, John S.
Women;and Page Law[Page Law]
[g]China;Mar. 3, 1875: Congress Enacts the Page Law[4780]
[g]United States;Mar. 3, 1875: Congress Enacts the Page Law[4780]
[c]Immigration;Mar. 3, 1875: Congress Enacts the Page Law[4780]
[c]Civil rights and liberties;Mar. 3, 1875: Congress Enacts the Page Law[4780]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Mar. 3, 1875: Congress Enacts the Page Law[4780]
[c]Women’s issues;Mar. 3, 1875: Congress Enacts the Page Law[4780]
Page, Horace F.

An amendment to the Page law prohibited individuals from engaging in the “coollie trade,” the importation of all illegal Chinese contract laborers. Punishment for that type of violation, however, was both less severe and much more difficult to effect, given the large numbers of immigrant Asian men in the United States at that time. As a consequence of this division of penalties, the law was applied in a most gender-specific manner, effectively deterring the immigration of Asian women into the United States. During the seven years following the implementation of the law, the average number of Chinese women who entered the United States dropped to one-third of its previous level.

An elaborate bureaucratic network established to carry out the Page law’s gender-specific exclusions was a catalyst for the decline in Chinese immigration rates. American consulate officials supported by American, Chinese, and British commercial, political, and medical services made up the law’s implementation structure. Through intelligence gathering, interrogation, and physical examinations of applicants, the consulate hierarchy ferreted out undesirable applicants for immigration and those suspected of engaging in illegal human trafficking.

This investigative activity evolved well beyond the original intent of the law’s authors. Any characteristic or activity that could be linked, even in the most remote sense, to prostitution became grounds for denial to immigrate to the United States. Most immigration applications came from women from the lower economic strata of Chinese society. Low economic status therefore became a reason for immigration exclusion. The procedure was a complicated one.

Many roadblocks were placed in the way of prospective immigrants. Acquiring permission to immigrate took much time and effort. Passing stringent physical examinations performed by biased health care officials was often impossible. Navigating language barriers through official interviews aimed at evaluating personal character often produced an atmosphere of rigid interrogation, bringing subsequent denial of the right to immigrate. Such a complex system aimed at uncovering fraudulent immigrants placed a hardship upon those wishing to leave China.

Because Hong Kong Hong Kong;emigration from was the main point of departure for Chinese emigrating to the United States, all required examinations were performed there with a hierarchy of American consulate officials determining immigrant eligibility. In a sense, the Page law actually expanded consulate authority beyond any previous level. Such increased power of the consular general in implementing the law provided an opportunity for possible abuses of power.

In 1878, the U.S. consul general in Hong Kong, John S. Mosby, accused his predecessors of corruption and bribery. According to Mosby, David Bailey and H. Sheldon Loring had been guilty of embezzlement. Both men were accused of setting up such an intricate system to process immigration applications that bribery soon became the natural way to obtain the necessary permission to do so. Mosby went on to charge that Bailey had amassed thousands of dollars in extra income by regularly charging additional examination fees, regardless of whether examinations were performed. Mosby also accused Bailey of falsifying test results and encouraging medical personnel to interrogate applicants in order to deny immigration permission to otherwise legal immigrants.

Most of the allegations of corruption concerned the fact that moneys allotted by the federal government for implementation of the Page law were far below the amounts that Bailey required to administer the law. Given that situation, the U.S. government scrutinized Bailey’s conduct. No indictments came from the official investigation, however, and Bailey, who had previously been promoted to vice-consul general in Shanghai, remained in that position. Later examinations of Bailey’s tenure in Hong Kong Hong Kong;emigration from have suggested that he was, if anything, an overly aggressive official who made controlling the immigration of Chinese women to the United States a top priority of his tenure there rather than an opportunity for profit.

Bailey was replaced in Hong Kong by H. Sheldon Loring. Loring did not enforce the Page law with as much vigor as his predecessor and allowed a slight, but still insignificant, increase in the annual numbers of Chinese immigrants. Nevertheless, Loring did enforce the law in an efficient manner, publicly suggesting that any ship owner who engaged in the illegal transport of women would be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. Even so, Loring was accused of sharing Bailey’s enthusiasm for the unofficial expensive design of the immigration procedure.

During Loring’s tenure, questions about his character surfaced, mostly on account of his past relationships with individuals who engaged in questionable business practices in Asia. By the time that Mosby replaced him, such questions had become more than a nuisance. The new U.S. consul to Hong Kong Hong Kong;emigration from began to describe his predecessor as a dishonest taker of bribes. Once again, the official dynamics of such charges brought forth an official inquiry from Washington. Like the earlier investigation of Bailey, however, this investigation produced no official indictment against Loring. The only blemish concerned an additional fee that Loring had instituted for procuring official landing certificates. However, as precedents for such fees existed, Loring, like his predecessor, was exonerated of all charges.

After deciding that his predecessors were indeed corrupt, but unable to prove it, Mosby enforced the Page law with relentless energy. Keeping a posture that was above accusations of corruption, Mosby personally interviewed each applicant for immigration, oversaw relations between the consulate and the health examiners, and eliminated the additional charges for the landing permits. In the end, the numbers of Chinese immigrants that he allowed remained similar to those of Loring and below those of Bailey, with the numbers of Chinese female immigrants continuing to decline. Aside from being free from charges of corruption, Mosby’s tenure in office was as authoritative and unilaterally considerate as those of his predecessors.


Regardless of the personalities of the consulate officials in charge of implementing the Page law, the results were the same: The numbers of Chinese who immigrated to the United States decreased dramatically between the 1875 enactment of the law and the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 , which superseded it. Furthermore, the law’s specific application to Chinese women ensured a large imbalance between numbers of male and female immigrants during the period under consideration. In the long run that imbalance negatively affected Asian American families who had settled in the United States. The barriers that the Page law helped to erect against immigrant Chinese women made strong nuclear family structures within the Asian American community an immigrant dream rather than a reality.

Further Reading

  • Cheng, Lucie, and Edna Bonacich. Labor Immigration Under Capitalism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Examines the development and intent of political movements among immigrants in the United States before World War II.
  • Foner, Philip, and Daniel Rosenberg. Racism, Dissent, and Asian Americans from 1850 to the Present. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. A documentary history that traces the political and social segregation of immigrants. Indicates the existence of more than one view among people not of Asian descent on the position of Asians in the United States. Extensive historiographical essay, index.
  • Gordon, Charles, and Harry Rosenfield. Immigration Law and Procedure. Albany, N.Y.: Banks Publishers, 1959. An excellent history of immigration and immigration law. Covers the period from the 1830’s to the 1950’s, with special discussions of Asian immigrant experiences.
  • LeMay, Michael C., and Elliott Robert Barkan, eds. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. History of U.S. immigration laws supported by extensive extracts from documents.
  • Peffer, George Anthony. “Forbidden Families: Emigration Experience of Chinese Women Under the Page Law, 1875-1882.” Journal of American Ethnic History 6 (Fall, 1986): 28-46. Solidly documented research article showing the relationship between the Page law and engendered immigration of Chinese during the first seven years of its existence.
  • _______. If They Don’t Bring Women Here: Chinese Female Immigration Before Exclusion. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Study of the special problems faced by female Chinese immigrants in the years leading up to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
  • Tung, William L. The Chinese in America, 1820-1973. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1974. Provides chronological and bibliographical references on the changing status of Chinese in American society. Contains good primary source materials.

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