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Chinese Americans Face Stereotypes, Good and Bad


Students welcome New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to their pre-kindergarten class at the Brooklyn Chinese American Association Early Childhood Education Center, May 27, 2014, in New York.

Students welcome New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to their pre-kindergarten class at the Brooklyn Chinese American Association Early Childhood Education Center, May 27, 2014, in New York.


The first large group of Chinese immigrants came to the United States in the middle 1800s. At that time, some Chinese moved to the American west to build a railroad across the country. Many others worked in mines or on farms.

Chinese immigrants helped the U.S. economy. However, most Americans saw the Chinese as competitors.

William Wei

William Wei

William Wei teaches history at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He says Chinese immigrants were not treated well. They had to live together in poor neighborhoods, or do hard work in laundries and restaurants that did not pay very much.

Mr. Wei says the American public did not believe Chinese immigrants could ever be part of their society.

In fact, in 1882 the US Congress approved and the president signed the Chinese Exclusion Act. The law barred Chinese people from moving to the United States and becoming citizens. It was the first and only US law to ban a specific ethnic group.

The US government cancelled the ban during the 1940s after China became an American ally in World War II. Yet the government limited the number of Chinese migrants to just 105 per year.

Finally, in 1965, the government ended the system restricting Chinese immigration.

Frank Wu

Frank Wu

​Frank H. Wu leads the Hastings College of the Law at the University of California. He says the history of Chinese immigrants in the United States helps explain why so many Chinese Americans are well-educated.

“The Chinese people who were able to immigrate were talented, they were students on scholarships, they were people who had great potential,” he says.

Mr. Wu says many Chinese Americans are pleased the American public considers them smart, good citizens who fit well into the country.

But, he adds, even positive stereotypes about Chinese Americans cause problems.

Mr. Wu says the United States includes people of many races, and one race should not be considered better.

He says white Americans may also blame other minorities for not being as successful as the Chinese.

“Some Americans say: ‘Look what we did to the Chinese. We discriminated against them, committed violence against them, excluded them from our country, yet they still have achieved. Therefore, if your minority has not succeeded in our land of opportunity, it is clearly your fault.’”

Mr. Wu says such thinking leads people to think victims are responsible for their abuse.

Charles Gallagher of LaSalle University added that all Chinese Americans are not good in school. One who does not succeed as easily may feel he or she does not really belong.

Helen Zia

Helen Zia

Helen Zia is a Chinese American writer. She says US policy makers may believe the Chinese are successful, so the government does not have to help those who are poor or suffering.

And, Ms. Zia says, some people may believe Chinese Americans are too successful.

“If we are perceived as being able to endure everything,” she says, “it also means that we can be perceived as being able to take over everything.”

I’m Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I’m Christopher Cruise.

Michael Lipin reported this story from Washington. Kelly Jean Kelly wrote it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this Story

competitors - n. ones selling goods or services in the same market as another

endure - v. to deal with something unpleasant

laundries - n. a business where clothes, towels, sheets, etc. are washed and dried

perceived - v. regarded as being such

stereotypes - n. often unfair and untrue beliefs that many people have about all people with a particular characteristic

Now it’s your turn to use these Words in This Story. In the comments section, write a sentence using one of these words and we will provide feedback on your use of vocabulary and grammar.

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