Chinese coolies came to the United States both as free immigrants looking for work and as contract workers hired to build America’s firsttranscontinental railroad. They worked in gold mines, on the railroad, and on California levees, and their work ethic set a high standard.
The term “coolie” may have derived from the Hindi Kuli, an aboriginal tribal name, or kuli, a Tamil word meaning “wages.” Europeans used the term to refer to low-status laborers in their Asian colonies. Early nineteenth century Chinese workers in the United States were called “coolies,” which soon acquired a pejorative connotation.
Chinese workers in the United States during the 1849
In 1865, fifty Chinese immigrants were hired to work on the
Chinese and white miners sluicing for gold at Auburn Ravine in Northern California’s Placer County in 1852.
Coolies were also involved in the construction of a network of levees in California. During the 1870’s, they worked on more than one thousand miles of levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, turning swampland into fertile farmland. By the end of the decade, when the U.S. economy was in a slump and white workers went on strike, Chinese coolies were hired as “scabs,” and anti-Chinese sentiment increased. White workers began disparaging Chinese workers even more than before, characterizing them as petty criminals, carriers of
The federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred free immigration of Chinese for ten years, essentially stopping the influx of cheap Chinese laborers, who had proven to be clean, sober workers who worked harder, better, and longer and for less money than other workers. President
Aarim-Heriot, Najia. Chinese Immigrants, African Americans, and Racial Anxiety in the United States, 1848-82. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Chen, Yong. Chinese San Francisco, 1850-1943: A Trans-Pacific Community. Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000. Steiner, Stan. Fusang: The Chinese Who Built America. New York: Harper & Row, 1979. Teitelbaum, Michael. Chinese Immigrants. New York: Facts On File, 2005.
California gold rush
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
“Yellow peril” campaign