The Chinese question The gold rushes and global politics

Mae M. Ngai

Book - 2021

"How Chinese migration to the world's goldfields upended global power and economics and forged modern conceptions of race. In roughly five decades, between 1848 and 1899, more gold was removed from the earth than had been mined in the 3,000 preceding years. But friction between Chinese and white settlers on the goldfields of California, Australia, and South Africa catalyzed a global battle over "the Chinese Question": Would the United States and the British Empire outlaw Chin...ese immigration? This distinguished history of the Chinese diaspora and global capitalism chronicles how a feverish alchemy of race and money brought Chinese to the West and reshaped the nineteenth-century world, from Europe's subjugation of China to the rise of the international gold standard and the invention of racist, anti-Chinese stereotypes that linger to this day. Drawing on ten years of research across five continents, prize-winning historian Mae Ngai argues that Chinese exclusion was not extraneous to the emergent global economy but an integral part of it"--

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Subjects
Published
New York, NY : W. W. Norton & Company, Inc 2021.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xx, 440 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 379-418) and index.
ISBN
9780393634167
0393634167
Main Author
Mae M. Ngai (author)
  • Introduction : Yellow and gold
  • Two gold mountains
  • Two gold mountains
  • On the diggings
  • Talking to white people
  • Bigler's gambit
  • The limits of protection
  • Making white men's countries
  • The roar of the sandlot
  • The yellow agony
  • The Asiatic danger in the colonies
  • The richest spot on earth
  • Coolies on the Rand
  • The price of gold
  • The Asiatic danger in the colonies
  • The Chinese diaspora in the West
  • Exclusion and the open door
  • Becoming Chinese, becoming China
  • Epilogue : The specter of the yellow peril, redux.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Esteemed historian Mae Ngai presents a global view of Chinese miners in the nineteenth-century gold rush, considers the intersection of macroeconomics and racial politics, and underscores the ingenuity, resilience, and agency of immigrant laborers. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 and in the Victorian midlands of Australia and the Transvaal of South Africa soon thereafter brought waves of Chinese immigrants to all three places. Chinese labor was essential to the frenzied effort to extract gold as quickly and cheaply as possible, but Chinese laborers were marginalized. Although the rough-and-tumble goldfields were sometimes egalitarian, racism and the perception of competition led to violence, exclusion laws, discriminatory taxes, and other egregious departures from notions of equality. And if the "Chinese question" was handled differently across the Anglo-American world, the racist stereotype of the coolie and the supposed dangers of Chinese immigration transcended national borders and remain pernicious even today. Ngai adeptly narrates both seismic shifts in the world economy and the nuanced dynamics of small communities, paying particular attention to the choices made by individual immigrants as they navigated harsh and unfair foreign environments. Every aspect of Ngai's inquiry is sharply relevant today on many fronts. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In the 19th century, gold rushes in California, Australia, and South Africa enticed thousands from around the world to leave their homes in search of riches, including many Chinese nationals. Ngai (history, Asian American studies, Columbia Univ.; The Lucky Ones) writes a detailed comparison of these three gold rushes; it touches on the impact on Indigenous peoples, but it focuses on the interaction between Chinese migrants and dominant white settler populations. Ngai identifies many similarities between the three gold rushes; for instance, the American, Australian, and South African governments all eventually put strict limits on Chinese immigration. Readers will also learn how Chinese miners brought their own knowledge and techniques to the gold rushes, and how they navigated survival in the foreign cultures they found themselves in. The book relies on primary sources and includes maps and archival photographs that provide fuller historical context. VERDICT Ngai's thoroughly researched work is essential for anyone studying the Chinese diaspora in the Anglo American world, or gold rushes generally. Readers interested in Chinese immigrants in the 19th-century United States should also consider Gordon H. Chang's Ghosts of Gold Mountain.—Joshua Wallace, Tarleton State Univ. Lib. Stephenville, TX Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Ngai (Impossible Subjects), a professor of Asian American studies at Columbia University, delivers a painstaking study of Chinese immigration to the U.S., Australia, and South Africa as gold rush fever swept the globe in the last half of the 19th century. Detailing increasingly labor-intensive mining practices, policies of exclusion and racial segregation, and the entrenchment of the "racist coolie stereotype," Ngai contends that "Chinese emigrants suffered marginalization, violence and discrimination but they also adapted and persevered." Extensive archival work reveals the earnings, possessions, and sometimes tragic fates of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese men who left home to pursue their fortunes. The wave of migration forced imperial China to engage with the world to a degree it had not done in the modern era, combating exclusionary laws that lasted until WWII in the U.S., and well into the 1970s in Australia and South Africa. Descriptions of the Zongli Yamen, the Qing government's foreign office, offer an intriguing, rarely seen perspective on the diaspora and China's response to humiliating global bigotry, which fueled a sense of grievance still evident in the country's nationalistic rhetoric. Though dense and scholarly, this impressive volume adds a vital chapter in the history of globalization. (Aug.) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"How Chinese migration to the world's goldfields upended global power and economics and forged modern conceptions of race. In roughly five decades, between 1848 and 1899, more gold was removed from the earth than had been mined in the 3,000 preceding years. But friction between Chinese and white settlers on the goldfields of California, Australia, and South Africa catalyzed a global battle over "the Chinese Question": Would the United States and the British Empire outlaw Chinese immigration? This distinguished history of the Chinese diaspora and global capitalism chronicles how a feverish alchemy of race and money brought Chinese to the West and reshaped the nineteenth-century world, from Europe's subjugation of China to the rise of the international gold standard and the invention of racist, anti-Chinese stereotypes that linger to this day. Drawing on ten years of research across five continents, prize-winning historian Mae Ngai argues that Chinese exclusion was not extraneous to the emergent global economy but an integral part of it"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

How Chinese migration to the world’s goldfields upended global power and economics and forged modern conceptions of race.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

In roughly five decades, between 1848 and 1899, more gold was removed from the earth than had been mined in the 3,000 preceding years, bringing untold wealth to individuals and nations. But friction between Chinese and white settlers on the goldfields of California, Australia, and South Africa catalyzed a global battle over “the Chinese Question”: would the United States and the British Empire outlaw Chinese immigration?This distinguished history of the Chinese diaspora and global capitalism chronicles how a feverish alchemy of race and money brought Chinese people to the West and reshaped the nineteenth-century world. Drawing on ten years of research across five continents, prize-winning historian Mae Ngai narrates the story of the thousands of Chinese who left their homeland in pursuit of gold, and how they formed communities and organizations to help navigate their perilous new world. Out of their encounters with whites, and the emigrants’ assertion of autonomy and humanity, arose the pernicious western myth of the “coolie” laborer, a racist stereotype used to drive anti-Chinese sentiment.The Chinese Question