The Chinese of America

October 4 – December 13, 1980

The exhibition, The Chinese of America 1785-1980,
comprising of 300 panels of photographs, graphics, and
texts, supplemented with artifacts, tells of the historical
experience of a people who, under trying conditions,
steadfastly pursued their right to be equal partners in
American society. Covering a span of two centuries, the
exhibition is divided into three major sections:

Part I, The Coming (1785-1882), recounts the arrival of
Chinese immigrants during the period of free immigration,
when the American West and the Hawaiian Kingdom,
to which most of them came, were developing lands
urgently needing skills and labor. The Chinese created
capital and helped to build an infra-structure for Western
economic development at a crucial period in American
history. They mined gold and other minerals, played a
major role in building the first trans-continental railroad
and the Western railroad network, and pioneered the West
Coast fishing industry. Chinese made up one-fifth of the
labor force in California as they reclaimed her marshlands,
developed her agriculture and worked in her fledgling
light industries. In Hawaii, they became the main
labor force on the sugar cane plantations.

Part II, The Exclusion (1882-1943), deals with the tragedy
of the Exclusion years. A combination of racist, economic,
and political factors led to the passage of the Chinese
Exclusion Act of 1882, later extended to Hawaii when
that territory was annexed to the U.S. in 1898. The entry
of Chinese laborers was banned. Chinese already in the
country were discriminated against. Forced out of many
fields they had pioneered, their talents and energies were
stifled. They were largely restricted to laundry, restaurant
and domestic work. Eventually, the modernization
and Americanization of the Chinese American community,
coupled with changes in America and China, led to
a lessening of anti-Chinese feeling in this country. The
“Exclusion Act” was repealed in 1943 during World War 11.

Part III, River of Many Streams (1943-present), describes
the modern Chinese American community and its increasing
participation in the mainstream of American’ life.
This community, with some 800,000 population is
complex and diverse. A great number are part. of the
American middle class, but others are economically disadvantaged,
clustered in the major Chinatowns where
they face poor housing, health and working conditions.
With a growing social consciousness and political awareness,
Chinese Americans are endeavoring to find solutions
to the problems inherited from the past. But more
and more the problems faced by Chinese Americans are·
those that are faced in common by all Americans-as
integral members of the pluralistic society of America.

The exhibition has been made possible
by the generous financial support
of the following institutions: The
National Endowment for the Humanities,
San Francisco Foundation,
Foremost-McKesson, Inc.; Chevron,
U.S.A., Inc; BankAmerica Foundation,
Walter and Elise Haas Fund,
Columbia Foundation, Zellerbach
Family Fund, Wells Fargo Foundation,
Califas (H.K.), Ltd.; Bank
of the Orient, Lazard Freres & Co.,
and San Francisco Publicity and
Advertising Fund.