In the nineteenth century, thousands of Chinese people crossed the ocean to find work in the United States.
They began arriving in San Francisco in 1849. Many found work as laborers, while a small number worked in the opium trade.
San Francisco’s Chinatown became the site of numerous opium dens.
With the post-Civil War economy in decline, anti-Chinese animosity became politicized and the Chinese were blamed for depressed wage levels.
The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) was a federal law proposed by Republican Congressman Horace F. Page and signed by Republican President Chester Allen Arthur on May 6, 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was built on the earlier Page Act of 1875, which was the first restrictive federal immigration law in the United States prohibiting the entry of Chinese women. The ban was heavily enforced and it was a barrier for all East Asian women trying to immigrate, especially Chinese women. For this reason, early Chinatowns were largely bachelor societies.
Opium was used among the Chinese, but because of the urgent need to save money to send home, most of the newcomers took narcotics only on Sundays and other nonworking times. The tongs, the Chinese triad, supplied drugs to the local community. Opium-eradication campaigns drove opium smoking underground, but it was still fairly common in North America until around World War II.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the 1943 Magnuson Act when China had become an ally of the U.S. against Japan in World War II.
Related articles: History of the Chinese Diaspora in America
Topic: Chinese Opium-Smokers images, opium-smockers old photographs