Prostitutes and Picture Brides: Chinese and Japanese Immigration, Settlement, and American Nation- Building, 1870-1920 (Working Paper #70)

Catherine Lee, Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and University of California – Los Angeles

Abstract: By examining the historical period from 1870-1920, this presentation will explore why most Chinese women were excluded from immigrating to the United States because they were assumed to be prostitutes while many Japanese women were allowed to immigrate as picture brides. Lee argues that the U.S. did not pass the Page Law of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 or issue the Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1907 for geopolitical reasons alone, as some scholars have argued. Using archival evidence, she contends that attempts to resolve the competing logics in “settling the west,” which called for cheap labor and the permanent settlement of families on the West Coast, explain why the United States responded to the immigration of Chinese and Japanese women differently. These discrepant responses were a product of geopolitics, economic conditions, and class relations in the U.S, along with state and national fears over miscegenation and desires to maintain the imputed racial purity of a “white” national identity. In turn, U.S. immigration laws and policies helped to determine permanent settlement of immigrant communities and the racial and gendered character of the nation. This presentation suggests that nation-building is not simply the “imagining” of a community but is instead a negotiated process involving geopolitics, political economy, and cultural meanings of gender, race, and ethnicity.

Working Paper #70»