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Rise of Industrial America
Chinese Immigration to the United States
Hinton Rowan Helper on Chinese Immigration

Hinton Rowan Helper was from North Carolina. In the 1850s, he became controversial in the South because of his opposition to slavery, especially in his book The Impending Crisis. In another book, The Land of Gold, from California As I Saw It, 1849-1900, Helper set forth his views on Chinese immigration. An excerpt from that book appears below. What were Helper's major arguments about Chinese immigration? How persuasive were those arguments?

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According to the most reliable estimates, there are at the present time about forty thousand Chinese in California; and every vessel that arrives from the Celestial Empire brings additional immigrants. From a fourth to a fifth of these reside in San Francisco; the balance are scattered about over various parts of the State--mostly in the mines. A few females--say one to every twelve or fifteen males--are among the number; among these good morals are unknown, they have no regard whatever for chastity or virtue. You would be puzzled to distinguish the women from the men, so inconsiderable are the differences in dress and figure. The only apparent difference is, that they are of smaller stature and have smoother features. They are not generally neat in their outward habit. . .

Is this Chinese immigration desirable? I think not; and, contrary to the expressed opinions of many of the public prints throughout the country, contend that it ought not to be encouraged. It is not desirable, because it is not useful; or, if useful at all, it is so only to themselves--not to us. No reciprocal or mutual benefits are conferred. In what capacity do they contribute to the advancement of American interests? Are they engaged in any thing that adds to the general wealth and importance of the country? Will they discard their clannish prepossessions, assimilate with us, buy of us, and respect us? Are they not so full of duplicity, prevarication and pagan prejudices, and so enervated and lazy, that it is impossible for them to make true or estimable citizens? I wish their advocates would answer me these questions; if they will do it satisfactorily, I will interrogate them no further. Under the existing laws of our government, they, as well as all other foreigners, are permitted to work the mines in California as long as they please, and as much as they please, without paying any thing for the privilege, except a small tax to the State. Even this has but recently been imposed, and half the time is either evaded or neglected. The general government, though it has sacrificed so much blood and treasure in acquiring California, is now so liberal that it refuses to enact a law imposing a tax upon foreign miners; and as a matter of course, it receives no revenue whatever from this source. But the Chinese are more objectionable than other foreigners, because they refuse to have dealing or intercourse with us; consequently, there is no chance of making any thing of them, either in the way of trade or labor. They are ready to take all they can get from us, but are not willing to give any thing in return. They did not aid in the acquisition or settlement of California, and they do not intend to make it their future home. They will not become permanent citizens, nor identify their lives and interests with the country. They neither build nor buy, nor invest capital in any way that conduces to the advantage of any one but themselves. They have thousands of good-for-nothing gewgaws and worthless articles of virtue for sale, and our people are foolish enough to buy them; but their knowledge of the laws of reciprocity is so limited, that they never feel in any need of American commodities.

Though they hold themselves aloof from us, contemn and disdain us, they have guaranteed to them the same privileges that we enjoy; and are allowed to exhaust the mines that should be reserved for us and our posterity--that is, if they are worth reserving at all. Their places could and should be filled with worthier immigrants--Europeans, who would take the oath of allegiance to the country, work both for themselves and for the commonwealth, fraternize with us, and, finally, become a part of us. All things considered, I cannot perceive what more right or business these semi-barbarians have in California than flocks of blackbirds have in a wheatfield; for, as the birds carry off the wheat without leaving any thing of value behind, so do the Confucians gather the gold, and take it away with them to China, without compensation to us who opened the way to it.
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