History Ph.D. Dissertations


The Chinese Question: California, British Columbia, and the Making of Transnational Immigration Policy, 1847-1885

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Rebecca Mancuso

Second Advisor

Scott Martin (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Vibha Bhalla (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Eber Dena (Committee Member)


This work examines the nineteenth-century anti-Chinese movement in California and British Columbia and its effects on transnational immigration restrictions in the United States and Canada. Although not directly adjacent, California and British Columbia’s relatively isolated positions on the West Coast fostered economic and cultural ties that kept them closely connected. These connections included unified opposition to Chinese immigrants who challenged the era’s racial ideology of Anglo-American and Anglo-Canadian supremacy. By 1880, California was home to 71% of the Chinese in the United States while 99% of Canada’s Chinese lived in British Columbia. The American and Canadian governments largely ignored Chinese immigration but California and British Columbia implemented local, state, and provincial policies denying the Chinese political participation and equal treatment in the legal system. California and British Columbia embarked on a campaign to convince their federal governments to limit Chinese immigration – a campaign that included the sharp rhetoric of regional politicians and biased government reports painting the Chinese as incapable of grasping the nuances of American and Canadian citizenship. The transnational anti-Chinese effort finally caught the attention of federal lawmakers who reversed long-standing traditions of open immigration and enacted the first national immigration restrictions of either country by specifically targeting the Chinese. These acts ultimately embedded racial characteristics as prerequisites for entry into the laws of both nations.