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Chinese Americans ( ) are Americansmarker of Chinese descent. Chinese Americans constitute one group of Overseas Chinese and also a subgroup of East Asian Americans, which is further a subgroup of Asian Americans. Within this community, the term Chinese American is often broadly defined to include not only immigrants from mainland China, Hong Kongmarker and Macaumarker and their descendants but also immigrants and descendants of people from Taiwanmarker and overseas Chinese people who have immigrated to the United States from places as diverse as Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Mexico.

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in 1820 according to U.S. government records. Fewer than 1,000 men are known to have arrived before the 1848 California Gold Rush which drew the first significant number of laborers from China who mined for gold and performed menial labor.

There were 25,000 immigrants by 1852, and 105,465 by 1880, most of whom lived on the West Coast. Most of the early immigrants were young males with low educational levels from the Guangdongmarker province.

Chinese people were some of the earliest immigrants to live in the U.S., but then were banned from immigrating between 1885 and 1943 - when the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed. Immigration of Chinese was heavily restricted until 1965. During the 1970s, the vast majority of ethnic Chinese immigration into the United States was from Hong Kongmarker, followed by Taiwan, with relatively few immigrants coming from mainland China, which almost completely banned emigration for most of the 1960s. During the 1980s, in part due to the liberalization of emigration restrictions in the mid-1970s, immigrants from mainland China formed a larger proportion of ethnic Chinese immigrating to the United States. Cantonese, historically the language of most Chinese immigrants, is the third most widely spoken non-English language in the United States.


Chinese immigration to the United Statesmarker has come in great numbers. Similar to other American immigration experiences, Chinese immigration has resulted in both hardship and success.


Legally all ethnic Chinese born in the United States are American citizens as a result of the Fourteenth Amendment and the 1898 United States v. Wong Kim Ark Supreme Court decision. Upon naturalization, immigrants must take an oath of loyalty to the United States but are not required to formally renounce their former citizenship. The People's Republic of Chinamarker does not recognize dual citizenship and considers naturalization of a person as an American citizen to implying a renunciation of PRC citizenship. The Republic of Chinamarker ("Taiwan") allows dual citizenship, and it does not recognize American naturalization, by itself, as renouncing citizenship.

According to the 2006 American Community Survey, 1,330,361 or 37% of Chinese Americans (including Taiwanese and multiracial people) are native-born citizens, and a further 1,319,137 or 59% of foreign-born Chinese Americans are naturalized citizens.

Major contributions

Influence on American culture

Analysis indicated that most non-Asian Americans do not differentiate between Chinese Americans and Asian Americans generally, and perceptions of both groups are nearly identical. A 2001 survey of Americans' attitudes toward Asian Americans and Chinese Americans indicated that one fourth of the respondents had somewhat or very negative attitude toward Chinese Americans in general. The study did find several positive perceptions of Chinese Americans: strong family values (91%); honesty as business people (77%); high value on education (67%).


Chinese immigrants to the United States brought many of their ideas, ideals and values with them. Some of these have continued to influence later generations. Among them is Confucian respect for elders and filial piety. Similarly education and the civil service were the most important path for upward social mobility in China.


The Chinese American community is the largest ethnic group of Asian Americans, comprising of 22.4% of the Asian American population. They constitute 1.2% of the United Statesmarker as a whole. In 2006, the Chinese American population numbered approximately 3.6 million.

As a whole, Chinese American populations continue to grow at a rapid rate due to immigration. However, they also on average have birth rates lower than those of White Americans, and as such their population is aging relatively quickly. In recent years, adoption of young children, especially girls, from China has also brought a boost to the numbers of Chinese Americans, although most of the adoptions appear to have been done by white parents.


The New York metropolitan areamarker, consisting of New York Citymarker and nearby areas within the states of New Yorkmarker, New Jerseymarker, Connecticutmarker, and Pennsylvaniamarker, is home to the largest Chinese American population of any metropolitan area within the United States, comprising significantly over 600,000 Chinese Americans as of 2009, and including at least 6 Chinatowns. Relentless and continuing massive immigration from Mainland China, both legal and illegal in origin, has spurred the ongoing rise of the Chinese American population in the New York metropolitan area; this immigration continues to be fueled by New York's status as an alpha global city, its high population density, its extensive mass transit system, and the New York metropolitan area's enormous economic marketplace.

Other metropolitan areas with large Chinese American populations include the San Francisco Bay Areamarker, Los Angelesmarker, Bostonmarker, Chicagomarker, Washington, D.C.marker, Houstonmarker, Seattlemarker, Philadelphiamarker, Dallasmarker, Portlandmarker, San Diegomarker, Sacramentomarker and Las Vegas.

In these cities, there are often multiple Chinatowns, an older one and a newer one which is populated by immigrants from the 1960s and 1970s. In some areas, Chinese Americans maintain close relationships with other Asian groups (i.e. Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese and so on).

Georgia is home to the fastest-growing Chinese community in the U.S., growing at a rate of 116.8% from 1990 to 2000.

New York City's Lower East Sidemarker, San Francisco's North Beach and Los Angeles' Olvera Streetmarker are good examples of Chinese-Americans intermingled with other races and cultures.

In addition to the big cities, smaller pockets of Chinese Americans are also dispersed in rural towns, often university-college towns, throughout the United States. Chinese Americans formed nearly 3 percent of California's population in 2000, and over one percent in the Northeast. Hawaiimarker, with its historically heavily-Asian population, was nearly 10 percent Chinese American.


Chinese, mostly of the Cantonese variety, is the third most-spoken language in the United States, almost completely spoken within Chinese American populations and by immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, especially in Californiamarker. Over 2 million Americans speak some variety of Chinese, with Standard Mandarin becoming increasingly more common due to immigration from mainland China and Taiwan.

In New York Citymarker at least, although Mandarin is spoken as a native language among only ten percent of Chinese speakers, it is used as a secondary dialect among the greatest number of them and is on its way to replace Cantonese as their lingua franca. In addition, the immigration from Fujian is creating an increasingly large number of Min speakers. Wu Chinese, a Chinese language previously unheard of in the United States, is now spoken by a minority of recent Chinese immigrants, who hail from Jiangsumarker, Zhejiangmarker, and Shanghai.

Although Chinese Americans grow up learning English, some teach their children Chinese for a variety of reasons: pride in their cultural ancestry, desire for easy communication with them and other relatives, and the perception that Chinese will be a very useful language as China's economic strength increases.

Life in America

Chinese American children waving from a bus at a picnic in Los Angeles, 1936
Chinese Americans have made many large strides in American society. Today, Chinese Americans engage in every facet of American life including the military, elected offices, media, academia, and sports. Over the years, many Chinese Americans have blended the American lifestyle with a more natively Chinese one.

Perhaps the most common landmark of the Chinese impact in America are the prolific Chinese restaurants that have cropped up in every corner of the U.S. Along with these culinary traditions, Chinese heritage is celebrated not only by most Chinese American; the most prominent of these is the Chinese New Year celebration.

Chinese American income and social status varies widely. Although many Chinese Americans in Chinatowns of large cities are often members of an impoverished working class, others are well-educated upper-class people living in affluent suburbs. The upper and lower-class Chinese are also widely separated by social status and class discrimination. In California's San Gabriel Valley, for example, the cities of Monterey Parkmarker and San Marinomarker are both Chinese American communities lying geographically close to each other but they are separated by a large socio-economic and income gap.


In most American cities with Chinese populations, the new year is celebrated with cultural festivals and parties. At other times of the year, Chinese cultural festivals provide a gathering point for the Chinese community, and help to educated others. In Seattlemarker, the Chinese Culture and Arts Festival is held every year.

Other important festivals include the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival.


Chinese Americans are divided among many subgroups based on factors such as a generation, place of origin, socio-economic level, and do not have uniform attitudes about the People's Republic of Chinamarker, the Republic of Chinamarker, the United Statesmarker, or Chinese nationalism, with attitudes varying widely between active support, hostility, or indifference. Different subgroups of Chinese Americans also have radically different and sometimes very conflicting political priorities and goals. It is for this reason that Chinese Americans do not have any unified political groups or any unified political viewpoints.

In the days leading up to the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election, John Kerry was favored by 58% of Chinese Americans, with George W. Bush being favored by 23% of Chinese Americans and 19% undecided.

In recent decades, many Chinese Americans have started pursuing careers in politics, and succeeded in getting elected and/or appointed into political office. Among the most prominent is Gary Locke who became the first Chinese American state governor in U.S. history, and current Secretary of Commerce. Others include Mike Eng, Hiram Fong, Daniel Akaka, March Fong Eu, Matt Fong, Thomas Tang, Norman Bay, Elaine Chao, Leland Yee, John Liu, David S. C. Chu and David Wu. Under the Obama administration, Steven Chu became the 12th United States Secretary of Energy when confirmed by the Senate on January 20, 2009. Judy Chu became the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress as the Representative for California's 32nd district on July 15, 2009.

During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese Americans, like all overseas Chinese, generally speaking, were viewed as capitalist traitors by the People's Republic of Chinamarker government. This attitude changed completely in the late 1970s with the reforms of Deng Xiaoping. Increasingly, Chinese Americans were seen as sources of business and technical expertise and capital who could aid in China's economic and other development.


  1. International World History Project. Asian Americans. Accessed 2007-07-07.
  2. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security:2007 - Table 2 - Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status by Region and Selected Country of Last Residence: Fiscal Years 1820 to 2007 -
  3. Introduction:
  4. Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security:2007 - Table 2 - Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status by Region and Selected Country of Last Residence: Fiscal Years 1820 to 2007 -
  5. need page number(s)
  6. U.S. State Department
  7. Haiming Liu (2005) "Asian-American Ideas (Cultural Migration)" In Horowitz, Maryanne Cline (editor) (2005) New Dictionary of the History of Ideas Charles Scribner's Sons, Detroit, Michigan, volume 1, pp. 158-160, ISBN 0-684-31377-4
  8. Semple, Kirk (21 August 2008) "Among Chinese-Americans, a Split on Sports" The New York Times page B-2

Further reading

  • Chinese American Understanding: A Sixty-Year Search, Chih Meng, China Institute in America, 1981, hardcover, 255 pages, OCLC: 8027928
  • Chinese Americans and Their Immigrant Parents: Conflict, Identity, and Values, May Pao-May Tung, Haworth Press, 2000, paperback, 112 pages, ISBN 0-7890-1056-9
  • Chinese Americans: The Immigrant Experience, Dusanka Miscevic and Peter Kwong, Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, 2000, hardcover, 240 pages, ISBN 0-88363-128-8
  • Compelled To Excel: Immigration, Education, And Opportunity Among Chinese Americans, Vivian S. Louie, Stanford University Press, 2004, paperback, 272 pages, ISBN 0-8047-4985-X
  • The Chinese in America: A Narrative History, Iris Chang, Viking, 2003, hardcover, 496 pages, ISBN 0-670-03123-2
  • Being Chinese, Becoming Chinese American, Shehong Chen, University of Illinois Press, 2002 ISBN 0-252-02736-1 electronic book
  • ABC Struggles in the Church
  • On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese American Family, Lisa See, 1996. ISBN 0-679-76852-1. See also the website for an exhibition based on this book [7934] from the Smithsonianmarker Asian Pacific American Program.

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