An enthusiastic group of Greeters met at the New-York Historical Society to learn about the trade and immigration history between China and the United States.
Susan Meeker, our docent, took us back in time with her wealth of information. Pictures and displays brought her words to life.
We started in 1784, when the Empress of China ship left New York harbor for China to bring back much-loved treasures: tea, porcelain, wallpaper, silks and Shanghai roosters! America sent back furs, silver from Mexico and American ginseng, a plant widely used in Chinese medicine, as trade.
In the early 19th century, Chinese immigrants weren’t allowed U.S. citizenship, yet we were happy to use them as a cheap source of labor for projects including our transcontinental railroad. Pictures showed massive cliffs where many Chinese laborers died working with explosives. When the railroad was finished, we asked those who had survived to leave!
By 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed – the first time race and class were written into law. The Exclusion Act was replaced by a series of severely restrictive immigration laws for many countries. The final law was the 1924 Immigration Act which allowed just 105 Chinese immigrants each year.
Angel Island opened in 1910. It was a bleak, intimidating “Immigration Station” in San Francisco Bay, where Chinese men and women were separated from each other and detained for up to two years. Life-sized pictures of the detainees were poignant and unnerving.
When communists took over mainland China in 1949, the United States suspended diplomatic ties for decades. In 1972, the exchange of ping pong players (known as Ping Pong Diplomacy) marked a thaw in U.S. – China relations. This paved the way for a visit to Beijing by President Richard Nixon.
The last part of the exhibit was a relief compared to much of the shameful memorabilia we’d seen. Enclosed in a glass case was a majestic, bejeweled Chinese dragon from an 1888 parade in California. This powerful dragon seemed to be sending a message to the United States: We shall persevere – just you wait!