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Chinese Emigration to America, Chinese Seamen in the United Kingdom, and the Exclusion of the Chinese from Both Countries


The reasons for Chinese Emigration to America and elsewhere were largely economic. Chinese people were forced to emigrate in order to survive. China’s economic problems were largely caused by the British, the Germans and the Americans who throughout the nineteenth century were increasingly dominated China’s economy. The nineteenth-century Opium Wars waged by the British forced China to open its frontiers to a drugs trade that would cripple China’s people both physically and financially. The English wanted tea but did not want to pay for it. If China could be made to pay for goods from Britain, then that would more than cover the cost of the tea. China needed no import from abroad, so the need was created by making China a nation of drug addicts. Eventually tea itself was grown in British India and so Chinese tea was no longer needed. China’s economic plight led to migration and the destination of choice was the United States. In the middle of the nineteenth century there were a few thousand Chinese who came to supply labour to California. But, the project to exclude the Chinese from America, from citizenship, from being American, was nation-wide, and transcended class and ethnic boundaries. The exclusion project started around 1850, and was partly accomplished by 1870, with the Naturalization Act which denied the right to naturalization to Chinese, and nominally concluded with the Exclusion Act of 1882. During the 1940s Liverpool in the UK was the home of the Chinese Merchant Seamen's Pool which consisted of tens of thousands of Chinese seamen who ploughed the Atlantic for Britain. Thousands died at sea to keep the Allied nations fed and armed. Despite their contribution to the "war effort" Chinese sailors were maltreated and severely underpaid by British shipping companies. They were paid far less than British sailors. And at one point the Shanghai seamen protested and took industrial action. This act of defiance was not forgotten by the British authorities and Holt shipping company's Blue Funnel line. While none of these seamen wrote down their stories, as far as we know, and while no-one attempted to tell their story at the time, we are fortunate in having a photographic trace of their passage through Liverpool during the War. Photographs of Chinatown were taken in May 1942 during the Second World War by Bert Hardy. They were commissioned by the illustrated news magazine Picture Post but were never published. The collection was subsequently bought by the Getty Foundation. The custody of the photographs has now been entrusted to the Open Eye Gallery in here in Liverpool. After the war, thousands of Chinese men who had settled in Liverpool legally, many of them married to Liverpool women and who had fathered children, were deported. The Home Office and the Holt shipping company had not forgotten the demands for fair pay made by these seamen during the war. Their landing papers were revoked, they were rounded up at night by police and Home Office officials, and put into cargo ships roughly converted with bunk beds and sent back to a China in turmoil and to an uncertain fate. Their Liverpool properties were appropriated by the city council, and their families maintained a silence for over half a century. The story was only revealed 10 years ago with the opening of the UK government files on the matter in the UK The National Archives at Kew.
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hal-02176162 , version 1 (07-07-2019)


  • HAL Id : hal-02176162 , version 1


Gregory B. Lee. Chinese Emigration to America, Chinese Seamen in the United Kingdom, and the Exclusion of the Chinese from Both Countries. Transatlantic relations at the turn of the 21st century, Mar 2016, Lyon, France. ⟨hal-02176162⟩
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