North California, US: The Gold Rush
At the start of 1848, there were three Chinese residents in California. The next year, gold was discovered: staggering numbers of Chinese started arriving in California, fleeing poverty and social unrest at home, and hungry for a new cource of income. As the Chinese had not built America’s Transcontinental Railroad yet, many of them were actually able to reach California before Americans from the East Coast could.
Tax and Theft
Responding to domestic protest against the competition from gold mining immigrants, California implemented a Foreign Miner’s Tax in 1850. This tax required non-US citizens to pay a monthly fee of USD20; the equivalent of more than USD500 today. Two years later, the tax was replaced by one that expressly singled out Chinese miners, charging them USD2 per month (USD80 today).
Worse, many Chinese who had managed to find gold were robbed. In order to protect their hoard, many melted down the gold and turned it into pots or other utensils, before covering them with black soot. Once the environment was safe, they would re-melt these ordinary items and recover the gold.
In spite of all the obstacles, the Chinese population in California had gone from three to 25,000 between 1848 and 1852. Another 25 years later, California counted around 116,000 Chinese, the majority of which came from the Szeyup region in Guangdong.
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