Searching for the Gold Mountain
In the 1840s,
the news circled the globe: There was gold in California, and
fortunes could be made by anyone who seized the opportunity. Within
weeks, dreamers from all over the globe came streaming into America's
port cities, hoping to stake a claim and strike it rich. China
was not immune to this new gold fever. Word of a mountain of gold
across the ocean arrived in Hong Kong in 1849, and quickly spread
throughout the Chinese provinces. By 1851, 25,000 Chinese immigrants
had left their homes and moved to California, a land some came
to call gam saan, or "gold mountain".
the Chinese had never been strangers to emigration. For long centuries,
Chinese travelers had crisscrossed the world and made new homes
for themselves in faraway lands. Colonies of Chinese merchants,
bankers, miners, and artists established themselves in countries
from Polynesia to Peru, bringing their families with them and
building thriving communities. In America, though, things would
turn out differently.
Chinese immigrants arrived in California, they found that the
gold mountain was an illusion. Mining was uncertain work, and
the gold fields were littered with disappointed prospectors and
hostile locals. Work could be scarce, and new arrivals sometimes
found it difficult to earn enough to eat, let alone to strike
it rich. Even worse, they soon discovered that they were cut off
from their families: With no source of money, the immigrants could
not pay for their wives and children to make the long voyage from
China, and could not go back home themselves. As the dream of
gold faded, these men found themselves stranded in a strange new
land far from home. It was a land that did not welcome them, a
land that afforded them few means of survival, and a land in which
they were very much alone.
do you think this isolation had on the Chinese immigrants? What
kind of community could they make for themselves?
about the gold rush in California, visit The
Chinese in California, 1850-1925: California and Westward Expansion.