The "Bachelor" Society

Chinese laborers began coming to the United States in the late 1840s, drawn by the rumors of gold and the promise of high wages at a time of civil war and economic stagnation in China. Chinese emigrants also went to Indochina, Singapore, other Southeast Asian countries and South America, but the discovery of gold in California made the United States the gim san, or Gold Mountain, a magnet that attracted more than a quarter-million Chinese during the mid-nineteenth century

The primary objectives of these early Chinese immigrants, most of whom were male, were to tao jin (dig gold) or fa cai (strike rich), and to return home to join their families and enjoy the rest of their lives in relative dignity and wealth. Most Chinese immigrants never realized these dreams, and many spent their lives in poverty and loneliness because of intense anti-Chinese feelings in America, the "flower-flag country." Discriminatory laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented most of them from establishing families in the United States. Dreams deferred, the immigrant sojourners gradually dispersed across the country, gathering in "Chinatowns," poor neighborhoods in major cities where most of the residents were single men, a "bachelor society." Chinese immigrants were brought east to New Jersey from San Francisco to work in laundries and subsequently arrived in Philadelphia.

Opportunities for these Chinese were limited to the most difficult and unrewarding occupations: operating hand laundries, working in restaurants and running small specialty shops. Most of the workers found it difficult to save money because of the need to send their resources home to their families. "Chinaman's chance," an expression which described this employment discrimination, became a euphemism for "no chance at all."

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