Chinese American

Chinese Americans
華裔美國人 or 美籍華人;
华裔美国人 or 美籍华人
I. M. Pei Vera Wang Elaine Chao
Roger Tsien Jin Chris Lu
Roger Tsien
Michelle Kwan Jeremy Lin Anna May Wong
Jeremy Lin
Total population
1.2% of the U.S. population (2009)
Regions with significant populations
New York City metropolitan area, San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles metropolitan area, Baltimore-Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Seattle metropolitan area, Chicago metropolitan area, Greater Boston, Greater Houston

Predominantly English, varieties of Chinese:
Mandarin Chinese (Standard Chinese), Hokkien, Yue Chinese (Yuehai Cantonese, Taishanese), Wu Chinese[2] (Taihu Wu, Oujiang Wu), and Min Chinese (Min Nan, Min Dong[3]).


Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Taoism,[4]

Related ethnic groups

Taiwanese American, Overseas Chinese

Chinese Americans (Chinese: 華裔美國人 or 美籍華人; Chinese: 华裔美国人 or 美籍华人) represent Americans 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 Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and their descendants but also immigrants and descendants of overseas Chinese people who migrated to the United States from places as diverse as Malaysia, Singapore, and other countries in southeast Asia.[5] The Chinese American community is the largest ethnic group of Asian Americans, consisting of 22.4% of the Asian American population. They constitute 1.2% of the United States as a whole. In 2006, the Chinese American population numbered approximately 3.6 million.[6]



Chinese railroad workers in the snow greet a train – 19th century

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in 1820 according to U.S. government records. 325 men are known to have arrived before the 1848 California Gold Rush[7] which drew the first significant number of laborers from China who mined for gold and performed menial labor.[8][9][10] There were 25,000 immigrants by 1852, and 105,465 by 1880, most of whom lived on the West Coast. They formed over a tenth of California's population. Nearly all the early immigrants were young males with low educational levels from six districts in the Guangdong province.[11]

However, the Chinese faced racial discrimination in the form of anti-Chinese sentiment and legislation, and Chinese people were banned from immigrating between 1885 and 1943, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect. Since the repeal of the Act in 1943, immigration of Chinese continued to be heavily restricted until 1965. During the 1970s, the vast majority of ethnic Chinese immigration into the United States was from Hong Kong, followed by Taiwan, with relatively few immigrants coming from mainland China. 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.[12] Cantonese, historically the language of most Chinese immigrants, is the third most widely spoken non-English language in the United States.[13]


Census Bureau 2000, Chinese in the United States.png

According to the 2009 American Community Survey, the three metropolitan areas with the largest Chinese American populations were the Greater New York Combined Statistical Area at about 666,000 people, the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland Combined Statistical Area at about 562,000 people, and the Greater Los Angeles Combined Statistical Area at about 495,000 people. New York City is home to the highest Chinese American population of any city proper (446,714), while the city of Monterey Park, California in Los Angeles County has the highest percentage of Chinese Americans of any municipality, at 47.7% of its population.

The ten states with the largest estimated Chinese American populations, according to both the 2010 Census, were California (1,253,100; 3.4%), New York (577,000; 3.0%), Texas (157,000; 0.6%), New Jersey (134,500; 1.5%), Massachusetts (123,000; 1.9%), Illinois (104,200; 0.8%), Washington (94,200; 1.4%), Pennsylvania (85,000; 0.7%), Maryland (69,400; 1.2%), and Virginia (59,800; 0.7%). The state of Hawaii has the highest concentration of Chinese Americans at 4.0%, or 55,000 people.

The New York City Metropolitan Area, consisting of New York City, Long Island, and nearby areas within the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, is home to the largest Chinese American population of any metropolitan area within the United States, enumerating 665,714 individuals as of the 2009 American Community Survey Census statistical data,[14] and including at least seven Chinatowns. Continuing immigration from Mainland China, both legal[15] 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.

San Francisco, California has the highest per capita concentration of Chinese Americans of any major city in the United States, at an estimated 19.8%, or 157,747 people, and contains the second-largest total number of Chinese Americans of any U.S. city. San Francisco's Chinatown was established in the 1840s, making it the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest neighborhood of Chinese people outside of Asia,[16][17] composed in large part by immigrants hailing from Guangdong province and also many from Hong Kong. The San Francisco neighborhoods of Sunset District and Richmond District also contain significant Chinese populations.

Other metropolitan areas with large Chinese American populations include Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Houston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Dallas, Portland, San Diego, Sacramento 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).

New York City's Lower East Side, San Francisco's North Beach and Los Angeles' Olvera Street 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. For example, the number of Chinese Americans, including college professors, doctors, professionals, and students, has increased over 200% from 2005 to 2010 in Providence, Rhode Island, a small city with a large number of colleges.

Income and social status of these Chinese-American locations vary 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 Park and San Marino are both Chinese American communities lying geographically close to each other but they are separated by a large socio-economic and income gap.

Influence on American culture

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is among the several Chinese Americans to have won the Nobel Prize. The others are Tsung-dao Lee, Samuel C. C. Ting, Daniel Chee Tsui, Chen Ning Yang, Roger Y. Tsien and Charles K. Kao.

Some of the noteworthy Chinese contributions include building Western half of the Transcontinental railroad and levees in the Sacramento River Delta; the popularization of Chinese American food; technological innovation and entrepreneurship; and the introduction of Chinese and East Asian culture to America, such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Kung fu.

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.[18] Similarly education and the civil service were the most important path for upward social mobility in China.[18][19] The first Broadway show about Asian Americans was Flower Drum Song.[20]

In most American cities with Chinese populations, the new year is celebrated with cultural festivals and parties. In Seattle, the Chinese Culture and Arts Festival is held every year. Other important festivals include the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Analysis indicated that most non-Asian Americans do not differentiate between Chinese Americans and East Asian Americans generally, and perceptions of both groups are nearly identical.[21] 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.[22] The study did find several positive perceptions of Chinese Americans: strong family values (91%); honesty as business people (77%); high value on education (67%).[21]

Chinese American children waving from a bus at a picnic in Los Angeles, 1936


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 to the United States must take an oath of loyalty to the United States but are not required to formally renounce their former citizenship.[23] However, the People's Republic of China does not recognize dual citizenship and considers the naturalization of a person as an American citizen to imply a renunciation of PRC citizenship. On the other hand, the Republic of China does not view naturalization in other countries as an automatic renunciation of Chinese nationality.


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 California.[13] Over 2 million Americans speak some variety of Chinese, with Standard Chinese becoming increasingly more common due to immigration from mainland China and Taiwan.[13]

In New York City 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.[24] 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 Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai.

Although Chinese Americans grow up learning English, some teach their children Chinese for a variety of reasons: preservation of an ancient civilization, preservation of a unique identity, 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.[citation needed]


Elaine Chao was the first Chinese American member of a President's Cabinet, having served from 2001–2009 as Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush.
Gary Locke is the only Chinese American to have served as a state governor (for Washington). He is also the first Chinese American Commerce Secretary, serving in Barack Obama's administration.

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 China, the Republic of China, the United States, 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[citation needed] 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.[25]

In recent decades, many Chinese Americans have started pursuing careers in politics and succeeded in getting elected and/or appointed into political office. In particular, several prominent Chinese Americans have in recent years served as members of the President's cabinet and other federal offices. Elaine Chao became the first Chinese American cabinet member in American history when she was appointed in 2001 to serve as Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush, a position she held until 2009; she also was the first female Asian American to serve in a cabinet post in American history. In addition, Gary Locke became the first Chinese American governor when he was elected to this position for the state of Washington. He currently serves as Secretary of Commerce. Steven Chu became the first Chinese American Secretary of Energy. Judy Chu became the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress as the Representative for California's 32nd district on July 15, 2009. Others include Mike Eng, Hiram Fong, Daniel Akaka, March Fong Eu, Matt Fong, Thomas Tang, Norman Bay, Leland Yee, John Liu, Charles Djou, David S. C. Chu and David Wu.

During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese Americans, like all overseas Chinese, generally speaking, were viewed as capitalist traitors by the People's Republic of China 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. ^ "S0201. Selected Population Profile in the United States . Population Group: Chinese alone or in any combination". U.S. Census Bureau.;ACS_2009_1YR_G00_S0201PR:035;ACS_2009_1YR_G00_S0201T:035;ACS_2009_1YR_G00_S0201TPR:035&-_lang=en&-redoLog=false&-format=. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Every Culture - Multicultural America: Chinese Americans
  5. ^ Ng, Franklin (1998). The Taiwanese Americans. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 2, 118, 126. ISBN 9780313297625 
  6. ^ "Selected Population Profile in the United States". U.S. Census Bureau.;ACS_2007_1YR_G00_S0201PR:035;ACS_2007_1YR_G00_S0201T:035;ACS_2007_1YR_G00_S0201TPR:035&-_lang=en&-redoLog=false&-format=.. Retrieved 2011-05-28. 
  7. ^ Bill Bryson, Made In America,page 154
  8. ^ Ronald Takaki (1998). Strangers From a Different Shore. Little, Brown and Company. p. 28. ISBN 0316831093. 
  9. ^ Iris Chang (2003). The Chinese in America. Penguin Books. pp. 34–35. ISBN 0670031232. 
  10. ^ Peter Kwong and Dusanka Miscevic (2005). Chinese America. The New Press. p. 44. ISBN 1565849620. 
  11. ^ International World History Project. Asian Americans. Accessed 2007-07-07.
  12. ^ 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 -
  13. ^ a b c Lai, H. Mark (2004). Becoming Chinese American: A History of Communities and Institutions. AltaMira Press. ISBN 0759104581.  need page number(s)
  14. ^ "New York-Newark-Bridgeport, NY-NJ-CT-PA Combined Statistical Area". American Community Survey. U.S. Census Bureau. 2009. Retrieved 2010-10-01 
  15. ^ "Yearbook of Immigration Statistics: 2010 Supplemental Table 2". U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved 2011-04-10. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ United Parcel Service Community Site
  18. ^ a b 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
  19. ^ Semple, Kirk (21 August 2008) "Among Chinese-Americans, a Split on Sports" The New York Times page B-2
  20. ^ Berson, Misha. "A 'Drum' with a Difference". American Theatre magazine, Theatre Communications Group, 2002. Retrieved November 9, 2010
  21. ^ a b Committee of 100 (2001-04-25). "Committee of 100 Announces Results of Landmark National Survey on American Attitudes towards Chinese Americans and Asian Americans". Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  22. ^ Matthew Yi, et al.. "Asian Americans seen negatively". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  23. ^ U.S. State Department
  24. ^ García, Ofelia; Fishman, Joshua A. (2002). The Multilingual Apple: Languages in New York City. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 311017281X. 
  25. ^ "Asian-Americans lean toward Kerry". Asia Times. 2004-09-16. Retrieved 2007-09-22. 

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 [1] from the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program.
  • Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, Frank H. Wu, Basic Books, 2003, hardcover, 416 pages, ISBN 0-465-00640-3

External links

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