The History of Chinese Immigration in the United States: Background information when reading Spider Love Song and Other Stories

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Spider Love Song and Other Stories

by Nancy Au

Spider Love Song and Other Stories by Nancy Au X
Spider Love Song and Other Stories by Nancy Au
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Paperback:
    Oct 2019, 184 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
Buy This Book

About this Book

The History of Chinese Immigration in the United States

This article relates to Spider Love Song and Other Stories

Print Review

Black and white photo of immigrants milling through San Francisco's Chinatown circa 1900Large-scale Chinese immigration to America began in the mid-1800s, partly in response to economic instability in China during the Taiping Rebellion, a civil war that lasted from 1850-1864. Like many others, Chinese immigrants were also drawn by the California Gold Rush.

After the gold rush ended, many Chinese people stayed on in the U.S. to work jobs or start their own businesses. During this time, the Chinese gained a reputation as hard workers who would perform cheap labor. The truth was that many Chinese workers were exploited and given little or no choice in the conditions of their labor, being paid substantially less than white workers and forced to take on more dangerous tasks. When economic depression hit the country in the 1870s, white laborers would come to view the Chinese as competition. This set the stage for Congress passing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

This act drastically limited Chinese immigration, preventing Chinese laborers from entering the U.S. and only making exceptions for certain individuals, such as students and tourists. Initially, the Exclusion Act was only passed for 10 years, but it was subsequently extended in 1892 and 1902, and made indefinite in 1904. As a result, the Chinese population in America declined sharply over the last decade of the 19th century and first decade of the 20th. Chinese people in the U.S. suffered additional restrictions during this time, such as being required to carry identity certificates, and those trying to enter the country were often deported or detained. The Angel Island Immigration Station, opened in 1910, was known for processing European immigrants quickly but holding Chinese immigrants in unsanitary conditions for weeks or even months.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was finally repealed in 1943 as a means of strengthening the U.S. alliance with China during World War II. Chinese immigration remained highly limited for long after this, with a set quota of only 105 visas per year. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, however, which threw out the quota system discriminating against immigrants based on nationality, would contribute to revived Chinese immigration to the U.S. in the coming decades.

Both before and after the Exclusion Act, Chinese laborers played a significant role in building major parts of U.S. infrastructure, including the Central Pacific Railroad running between Sacramento and Utah, which joined with the Union Pacific in 1869 to become the first transcontinental railroad in the country. In Nancy Au's story "Lincoln Chan: Pear King," which appears in her collection Spider Love Song and Other Stories, the main character's father likes to talk about how their forebears constructed levees on Andrus Island, alluding to the work done in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in the 1880s to make its wetlands habitable and farmable. Au's title references a second-generation Chinese American pear farmer from the area, after whom her main character is named. The man's family still maintains the farming tradition he established. This real-life story shows the deep multi-generational ties Chinese Americans have formed to various regions of the U.S. despite continual social and legal discrimination.

San Francisco's Chinatown, courtesy of Immigration to the United States

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Elisabeth Cook

This article relates to Spider Love Song and Other Stories. It first ran in the November 13, 2019 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Things We Lost to the Water
    Things We Lost to the Water
    by Eric Nguyen
    Spanning over 30 years, Eric Nguyen's debut novel Things We Lost to the Water is epic in scope but ...
  • Book Jacket: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
    The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
    by Dawnie Walton
    Within the general arc of many well-established and chronicled historical events is oral history's ...
  • Book Jacket: Monkey Boy
    Monkey Boy
    by Francisco Goldman
    Francisco Goldman's Monkey Boy exists in the liminal space between memoir and fiction. Like Goldman ...
  • Book Jacket: The Girl in His Shadow
    The Girl in His Shadow
    by Audrey Blake
    The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake is a fast-paced historical novel set in Victorian-era England...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Ariadne
by Jennifer Saint
A mesmerizing debut novel about Ariadne, Princess of Crete for fans of Madeline Miller's Circe.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Morningside Heights
    by Joshua Henkin

    A tender and big-hearted novel about love in the face of loss, from the award-winning author of The World Without You.

Who Said...

Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

H I T Best P

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.