Between 1849 and 1882, California’s Gold Rush provided an abundance of opportunities for immigrating workers from China. Mining for gold spurred the need for cheap labor in large quantities, and it could not be panned fast enough for capitalists in the region. One solution helped to solve the issue when Chinese men answered ads overseas newspapers to work in the US.
Once they arrived they went to work quickly and sent their earnings back home to their families. Some of them were fortunate enough to be able to bring their wives. However, most assumed small living quarters that catered to single or unaccompanied men and a bare bones type of lifestyle that meant working long hours and little time for anything else. As the immigration continued and gold mining began to dry up, Chinese immigrants began to fill other positions with low wages such as railroad work and labor jobs provided by small business owners.
The situation of employing migrant workers immediately met with resistance by jealous white workers convinced of an idea the immigrating Chinese were intending to take all of Americans job opportunities. Fights and racist insults were flung daily upon the Chinese immigrant workers. As a result a majority of Chinese immigrants both permanently relocated and transient moved to areas of cities where they formed their own communities or “China Towns”. They did this to ward off violence and intimidation while at the same inadvertently setting up a self contained community that provided for the needs of Chinese workers and their families.
Two entrepreneurs, Lung On and Ing Hay capitalized on the need for health and welfare services for Chinese communities. They provided herbs and medicines but also a way for Chinese to obtain goods imported from their homeland China. Dr. Hay’s reputation grew into one of infamy due to his ability to treat illnesses that most American doctors were inexperienced in dealing with. Business boomed and it brought people far and wide to the little town of John Day, an outpost stop along the trade route west. The company, Wah Chung & Co., also served as a social center that offered other services for Chinese communities such as employment offices, networking, and a general store.
The California gold rush brought opportunities for Chinese who immigrated to the US but also enabled the establishment of communities to help other Chinese populations. Even though the jobs meant long hours and little pay, America offered a better way of life for the Chinese who settled there. From there many more contributions were made and today Chinese are recognized as any other citizen and the Chinese heritage of the United States is often celebrated throughout the country.