Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion chronicles the complex history of the Chinese in America, from the early days of the China trade to the history of Chinese immigration and the life of Chinese Americans. The title encapsulates the challenges of immigration, citizenship, and belonging that shaped both the Chinese American experience and the development of America as a nation. Americans desired trade with China even before independence, but in 1882 the nation’s borders shut for the first time to bar most Chinese. Under the Chinese Exclusion Act, all Chinese entering or re-entering the country had to prove their right to do so. This not only affected many aspects of life for American Chinese, but also significantly influenced US immigration policy. The act was repealed sixty years later during World War II, but immigration restrictions remained severe until reform in 1965.
Starting in the nineteenth century, Chinese Americans resisted and protested discriminatory legislation, including the Exclusion Act. They used the courts to fight for inclusion within American society, including birthright citizenship, access to education, and other rights. Despite prejudiced laws and social practices, Chinese in America developed thriving communities. Across the nation they opened businesses, maintained cultural traditions, and pursued political and social activities. Chinese students, exempted from the Exclusion laws, studied in the US in significant numbers throughout the years of Exclusion and after, pioneering, in the 1870s, the first “study abroad” program in the US.
Unfolding in political, economic, and social spheres, this multifaceted history is peopled with extraordinary individuals and influenced by domestic and world events. It is a story that includes Yung Wing, the first Chinese to graduate from an American university; Wong Chin Foo, a nineteenth-century lecturer and advocate for equal rights; Jade Snow Wong, an acclaimed ceramicist and cultural ambassador; and countless Chinese immigrants and American-born Chinese.
The exhibition features more than 200 images and objects, including artifacts, paintings, photographs, films, documents, dioramas, re-created environments, and interactive media that make the centuries-long history of the Chinese in America tangible and memorable. The exhibit draws upon extensive collections at the New-York Historical Society along with important loans from institutions such as the Museum of Chinese in America, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chinese Historical Society of America, Bok Kai Temple, and other institutions and private collections.
Learn more about the first American ship to sail for China, the early Chinese laborers hoping to strike it rich in California’s gold rush, the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to limit Chinese immigration, the experience of multiple generations of one New York City Chinese American family in the twentieth century…and see how this history contributed to shaping American society.
Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion exhibition at the New-York Historical Society was created with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.