Chinese % of US Population by State, 1870 vs. 2010


Looking at the map above we can see the huge transformations that have occurred in the US Chinese population over the past century and a half. The first major Chinese immigration into the United States started with the beginning of the California Gold Rush in 1848. They mainly lived and worked in Western states, for example making up over quarter of the population in Idaho in 1870, where they were generally employed in mining and railroad construction. These first Chinese immigrants were overwhelmingly male, coming over as contractors and competing with western white laborers for jobs. This created a racist anti-Chinese labor movement, which succeeded in 1882 in getting the Chinese Exclusion Act passed. This act restricted Chinese labor and immigration into the country, and many Chinese went back to China, moved to cities like San Francisco, or spread out across the country to start laundries or restaurants, some of the few industries they were allowed to work in under the Exclusion Act.

The alliance between the United States and China during World War II led to the repeal of the Exclusion Act in 1943. Chinese immigration to America increased dramatically during the following decades. Today Chinese make up 1.07% of the total US population. California is still a state with a large Chinese population, as are other western states like Washington and Nevada, but the East Coast also has gained many new Chinese centers, such as New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Overall, the Chinese population is much larger as a proportion of the US population today than it was in 1870, but at the same time that population has become more evenly spread out across the country.

Data Source:

Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011.


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