GLOSSARY: Ancestors, Part 2


Chinese Six Companies: By late 1860s,Chinatowns were dominated by companies which represented the 6, and later 7, districts in Kwangtung Province, from which the Chinese came.

Chinese Republic: The Imperial system of China was a millennia old, and the Ching dynasty, Manchu empire, which had ruled China for over 280 years, tottered and was overthrown in the revolution of 1911. A republic was set up, with the charismatic figure of Sun Yat-sen briefly at its head. With the collapse of old institutions, new attitudes influenced the lives of Chinese at home and aboard. The Ching dynastyrequired Chinese to wear a queue as a symbol of their loyalty.

Contract Labor: A system whereby an individual creates a contract with an employer to work for a determined length of time at whatever labor tasks the owner dictates. When the Central Pacific Railroad failed to find a sufficient work force within the U.S., its owners sent recruiters to China to sign up men on a contract basis. The company paid its Chinese contract workers two-thirds the wage that the Central Pacific Railroad gave its unskilled white workers.

Dred Scott Decision: In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all African Americans, both slave and free, were barred from citizenship. Dred Scott, the plaintive in this case, sued for his freedom based on the argument that in the 1830s his owner had taken him from Missouri, where slavery was legal, and to Wisconsin Territory, where the institution was outlawed by terms of the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Scott sued for his freedom following the death of his master. The decision, that Scott could not be an U.S. citizen because of his race, negatively impacted the issue of citizenship for other communities of color in the country, including the Chinese.

Chinese Exclusion Acts: A federal law in 1882 prohibited Chinese immigration for 10 years, excepting certain classes such as merchants, or relatives of persons born in the United States. In 1892, the legislation was extended for 10 years more; in 1902 the ban was made permanent. In 1943 amidst War World II, in recognition of America's alliance with China, Congress repealed the act in order, as President Roosevelt said, to "correct a historic mistake and silence the distorted Japanese propaganda."

Feng-sui: The Chinese belief in geomancy which stems from Taoist belief about the invisible forces in nature and the need for buildings and sites to be positioned properly in harmony with the cosmic compass, or forces of nature.

Foreign Miners' taxes: By 1851, Chinese men working the gold digs in California's mining districts grew more numerous. Under pressure from white miners, the State legislature passed a license tax on foreign miners in 1852. Initially set at $3 a month, it was raised to $4 in 1853 and $6 in 1856. Under the law, the tax collector kept for himself a portion of the monthly fee. Taxmen were authorized to seize and sell the property of those miners who failed to pay.

Miscegenation laws: Throughout the United States, laws prohibited marriage of people of different races. Such laws prevented Chinese men and women from marrying any person not of their race. Since the number of Chinese men in the American West significantly outnumbered the number of Chinese women, miscegenation laws seriously reduced their chances to marry and raise a family.

"Paper son": One exception in the Exclusion Act was children born in China who could claim the right to enter the United States because their parent was an American born Chinese. Such children proved their eligibility "on paper." In the patriarchal society children making such a claim were generally sons rather than daughters.

Pearl River Delta: The Pearl River is located in southeast China, in the Kwangtung (Guangdong) Province, close to the ports of Canton and Hong Kong. This region was the point of origin of the majority of Chinese immigrants.

Queue: a waist long pigtail worn by men and mandated in China during the last Imperial dynasty at the time of early Chinese immigration. See curriculum WEB site for further information. "Golden Legacy": http://www.kqed./org//Cell/golden/que.html

Ticket on Credit: In contrast to the "coolie" trade of Chinese laborers shipped to South America and the Caribbean, most Chinese peasants emigrating to America following the discovery of Gold in California, paid for their journey through the Credit Ticket system. Businessmen or merchants paid the cost of the voyage. This debt had to be repaid by the laborer over time. The lender's demands for repayment were often very difficult to meet.

Transcontinental Railroad: On May 10, 1869, two railroad lines, the Union Pacific, which began in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Central Pacific, which started in Sacramento, California, met at Promontory Point, Utah. This event, celebrated throughout the United States, marked the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Although the official photographs taken on this occasion did not include Chinese railroad workers, an estimated 12,000 of them worked for the Central Pacific Railroad preparing the right of way and laying the railway line over, around, and tunneling through the granite walls of the Sierra Mountains.

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