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The Chinese

History: The Chinese in the New World
The first Chinese people probably arrived here sometime during the late 1700s. They sailed on European ships because they had been hired to work. But Chinese people had explored and traveled long before that. Even before the eighth century, Chinese ships had sailed in the Red Sea and around the Persian Gulf. Some historians believe that if the Chinese had continued exploring they might have discovered Europe and the New World before anyone else.

By 1850, when gold was discovered in California, many Chinese came to seek their fortunes in the New World. By 1870 there were 63,000 Chinese working in America. They were welcomed warmly at first but then Californians began to resent the Chinese and showed signs of hatred. Life at home in China was difficult so many of the people preferred to stay in this country to try to make enough money to return home and have a good life.

The Chinese were good and dependable workers. They worked in mining and construction. Early on, they lived in rural areas in the West. They lived in small groups that became successful Chinatowns. In these areas, the Chinese were free to own businesses and homes. Chinatowns were born in other cities besides San Francisco as the Chinese moved east to cities like Boston and New York. After the laws against immigration of the Chinese were changed in 1965, many more Chinese moved to the U.S. Instead of workers, this time at least half of the newcomers were professionals who left China because of political problems there. They came to live good lives in America, not just in Chinatowns but anywhere.

Influences on Culture
The Chinese have contributed to all areas of American life, especially in the sciences. In 1957, Chen Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee were the first Chinese
Americans to win the Nobel Prize for Physics. Chinese medicine is based on concepts of yin and yang, a balanced circle of harmony that has impacted on much of American medicine today.

Writer Chin Yang Lee’s novel Flower Drum Song was made into a classic musical in 1959. Writer Amy Tan had great success with several of her books, including The Joy Luck Club. Cellist Yo Yo Ma is among the world’s most gifted musicians and Ruth Ann Koesun was the first Asian American woman to join a national ballet company. David Henry Wang’s play M. Butterfly won a Tony Award for Best Broadway Play of 1988. Actor, B.D. Wong, won a Tony Award for his performance and he continues to star on television.

On the Screen
Americans at the movies have seen fascinating views of Chinese America in films such as Chan is Missing (1981), and The Joy Luck Club (1993). Martial arts star Bruce Lee and his son, Jet Li, made many successful movies about kung fu. Actor Jackie Chan is a box office hit. Newsperson Connie Chung was the first woman to anchor a weeknight net- work news show.

Chinese American I.M. Pei, one of the world’s most famous architects, designed buildings including the National Gallery of Art. Maya Ying Lin was just 21 years old when she won a competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in
Washington, D.C.

Americans love the food they think of as Chinese food. The fact is that some of the more famous Chinese dishes, like chow mein and chop suey, didn’t come here from China. They were invented in America. But, per- haps the most famous of all Chinese food from America, is the fortune cookie. After the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco destroyed Chinatown, it was rebuilt. Much of the new design was planned as it was described in The San Francisco Chronicle with, "Oriental charm and attractiveness." The fortune cookie, with its message of wisdom inside, was created to add exotic charm to the dining experience of Chinatown. And, if you’ve ever wondered why the Chinese use chop sticks, the answer is energy. Because China had fuel shortages, people needed to keep cooking time short. They cut food into tiny pieces to cook fast. Since the pieces were bite-size, there was no need to invent things like a fork or knife to cut food.

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