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At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 [Paperback]

Erika Lee
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 19, 2003 0807854484 978-0807854488 1
With the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese laborers became the first group in American history to be excluded from the United States on the basis of their race and class. This landmark law changed the course of U.S. immigration history, but we know little about its consequences for the Chinese in America or for the United States as a nation of immigrants.

At America's Gates is the first book devoted entirely to both Chinese immigrants and the American immigration officials who sought to keep them out. Erika Lee explores how Chinese exclusion laws not only transformed Chinese American lives, immigration patterns, identities, and families but also recast the United States into a "gatekeeping nation." Immigrant identification, border enforcement, surveillance, and deportation policies were extended far beyond any controls that had existed in the United States before.

Drawing on a rich trove of historical sources--including recently released immigration records, oral histories, interviews, and letters--Lee brings alive the forgotten journeys, secrets, hardships, and triumphs of Chinese immigrants. Her timely book exposes the legacy of Chinese exclusion in current American immigration control and race relations.

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Editorial Reviews


"Lee addresses a multiplicity of issues and deftly weaves together several themes that, in the past, had been treated separately." - Sucheng Chan, University of California, Santa Barbara

Book Description

"The author's openness and sensitivity to the inherent problems and flaws with the government records of the Chinese immigrants . . . demonstrates her seriousness and carefulness as a scholar, and her skillful dissecting of a body of enormously complicated materials makes the book a remarkable historical study. With its elegant style and clear language, this book can be appreciated not only by scholars and graduate and undergraduate students but also by the general public."--Journal of American History

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (May 19, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807854484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807854488
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #196,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Erika Lee is the granddaughter of Chinese immigrants who entered the United States through both Angel Island and Ellis Island. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and received her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.

She teaches immigration history at the University of Minnesota, where she is also the Rudolph J. Vecoli Chair in Immigration History and Director of the Immigration History Research Center. (

Passionate about preserving the histories of America's diverse immigrants, Erika has written several articles and two award-winning books. She is the recipient of the Theodore Saloutos Prize in Immigration Studies, the History book award from the Association of Asian American Studies, the Non-Fiction Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the Western History Association Caughey Prize.

She is currently completing a global history of Asians in the Americas called "Chasing Dreams: The Story of Asians in the Americas from the 16th Century to the Present."

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chinese immigration West Coast of United States March 12, 2009
This is a wonderful book which tells the story of the west coast immigration journey which involved a controversial path. The Chinese Exclusion Act that was enacted in 1882 and updated periodically until 1943 was passed to restrict Chinese immigration into the United States. That legislation limited immigration on the basis of nationality or race for the first time. During the twentieth century, various other Asian ethnic groups were added to the excluded list to limit immigration from different parts of the Far East.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the 1943 Magnuson Act which permitted Chinese nationals already residing in the country to become naturalized citizens. It also allowed a federal quota of 105 Chinese immigrants per year, although significant Chinese immigration did not occur until the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965. I suggest you read further at [...]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book March 3, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Erika Lee argued that the American implementation of exclusion policies towards Chinese played a significant role in transforming the United States from a nation of immigrants to a `gatekeeping nation'. Her book is divided into four parts: Part one deals with the events leading up to the eventual Exclusion Act of 1882 by addressing the public paranoia of invading Chinese `hordes' as well as the attitudes of Immigration Officials towards Chinese; Part two discusses the restrictive nature of the exclusion policies that specifically targeted Chinese as well as how Chinese circumvented these oppressive laws with the aids of lawyers, judges, non-Chinese (that is, European) friends and various others; Part three examines the inefficiency of the exclusion policies as the policies failed to sufficiently curb amount of Chinese entering the United States but rather resulted in corrupt Immigration Officials as well as smugglers creating a `black market' for immigration and thus labelling Chinese as one of the first `illegal' immigrants in the process; Part four analyses the immediate consequences of the Exclusion Act of 1882 by explaining that the exclusion policies resulted in Chinese illegally entering the United States which caused Government Officials to raid Chinese residence and places of business at anytime as well as construing that the vigilant surveillance of Chinese by Government Officials, indeed the general public, created an ambience of fear for Chinese communities. Furthermore, Erika Lee's extensive use of both primary and secondary sources made this book especially compelling. Lee cited hundreds of primary and secondary sources which she integrated beautifully in her book.

Overall, I believe her argument to be just and well formulated.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars book for college August 3, 2012
By Jess
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I got this book for an immigration course I'm taking at college. I'm super excited to read it and I'm very pleased with the condition that the book is in.
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0 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Missing Something February 11, 2012
This title isn't terrible. But it sure isn't interested in a deep analysis. The author does no service to her topic with such boring and biased writing. Anther irrelevant snore by an unknown self-proclaimed academic. It seems anything will get published these days. Chinese immigrants of the past deserve better than this weak treatment.
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19 of 77 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars diatribe December 5, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Erika Lee is a very angry woman. Her diatribe on American immigration policy equates anyone who is concerned about porous borders , the enforcement of laws in a nation of laws, and containment of disease as being a racist. It's hardly fair. And it detracts from her history of immigration legislation and enforcement. Yes, the Chinese Exclusion Act was reprehensible. Yes, we were and are a nation filled with racial prejudices and hatreds.

Immigration restrictions on other ethnic groups, according to Lee, were reflections of a racist policy towards Asians. She admits that the numbers of Asian immigrants was historically small and generally confined to the west coast. She then invests California, and San Francisco in particular, with an enormous amount of political power which was used to restrict immigration throughout the country. Lee is not convincing in her contention that the immigration issue was driven purely by an irrational racist beliefs and concerns over invading Asian hordes. She did not fully explain how the United States Congress, 3,000 miles distant, and generally unaffected by Asian immigration would develop a policy arising out of racism towards a group of which they were barely aware.

Exclusion based upon race is wrong. Looking different, having different cultural traditions, and not speaking the dominant language of English were and are roadblocks for all immigrants, not just the Chinese. Lee is a constant apologist for behaving as an outsider while expecting to be treated as an insider. Blaming national policy decisions on racial attitudes is too simplistic. Lee could have made an argument which addressed the nativistic xenophobia that was prevalent in the Gilded Age which was partly due to the arrival of masses of southern and eastern European immigrants.
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