When Knox wrote In the House of the Tiger, America was enveloped in anti-Chinese attitudes. Throughout the novel, readers are able to see that Knox portrays some Chinese men and women negatively as they participate in the Chinese slave system. However, the main focus of Knox’s novel was to make her American readers advocate anti-Chinese slavery as a way to change their anti-Chinese attitudes. Though Knox’s novel did not deliberately say Americans needed to reform thier prejudiced attitudes, what it did do was expose another extreme social issue that needed to be reformed in order so anti-Chinese Americans would not antagonize Chinese slaves, but feel impelled to support them in acquiring freedom. This information below is to help readers understand why America was anti-Chinese during the the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and why Knox felt influenced to write a novel to promote social change.
In the late 1800’s when gold was discovered in California, many Chinese men moved to the United States as an attempt to make a fortune. At the beginning of the year 1849 there were only fifty-four China men in California; however, as new spread about the discovery of gold, many Chinese men began immigrating rapidly to the United States. By 1876, there were 151,000 Chinese men living in the United States where about 116,000 resided in California .1
The immense influx of Chinese men into California happened because the shores of California during the 19th century were closer to China than the eastern portion of the United States. Another circumstance that heavily influenced the immigration of Chinese men was the fact that news of the gold discovery found southeastern China in poverty and ruin caused by the Taiping rebellion. In the United States, the Chinese men were welcomed because of their work ethic. Instead of working in the mines looking for gold, most Chinese men occupied “real work” at a reasonable wage. Chinese men were cooks, laundry men, carpenters, and servants who were ready and willing to do most jobs that required hard labor. If any Chinese men did not want to pursue any type of labored work, they could go to the mines and dig up gold dust from a white miner’s claim that was already abandoned. Chinese men were welcomed as long as the surface of gold was plentiful enough to make rich all who came. Though the Chinese were accepted with open arms from the United States, the welcoming attitude was not long to continue. As thousands of people came flocking to the mines for gold, California was unable to fulfill the promises of golden tales and riches. 2
Gold-seekers were disappointed, which led to many of them accusing Chinese men of stealing their wealth. Within time, California had driven out the Frenchmen, Mexicans, and the Chilenos forcefully with their anti-foreign perspectives. Chinese men were the last foreign targets California wanted to remove; therefore, Chinese men were driven out of the gold mines. Miners from California tried to go back to their old occupations; however, many were unemployed because numerous of jobs were occupied by Chinese men. To these unemployed men, the presence of thousands of Chinese, thrifty, industrious, cheap, and above all, un- American, was obviously the cause of their plight. Many American men believed the Chinese were injuring the working classes and degraded labor in the United States. It was claimed that Chinese men deprived white men of positions by taking lower wages and that they sent their savings back to China. Not only where Chinese men targeted but anyone who came to their defense was immediately accused of having mercenary motives or of being half-witted. Thus, the anti-Chinese sentiments increased even more because many American men believed Chinese men were “coolies.” Coolies were considered to be contract laborers that needed to work for a master in China for a certain number of years at a small wage. Because of this fictional idea, many American men claimed the terrible system was eating and corrupting the very vitals of American labor. 3
In the years following 1854, prejudiced and anti-Chinese movements overtook the United States radically. Various schemes were suggested on how to get rid of Chinese people from the United States. The idea of sending all Chinese people back to China was taken into consideration; however, the scheme was dropped because the United States would need to invest a lot of money. However, there were other ordinances and laws established to drive Chinese people out of the United States such as the pig-tail ordinance. In 1868, the Burlingame Treaty was entered between the United States and China. It provided for equal exemption from persecution of religious belief, the privilege of schools and college, and it agreed that every Chinese citizen in the United States would have every privilege that was expected by the American citizen in China. Though naturalization was especially expected, the provisions of the treaty aroused a storm of antagonism in the United States. During and after the Great Depression in 1873, many Chinese men were still occupying jobs in the areas of gardening, farming, laundering, cooking, and housework. Thus, thousands occupied the railroads and helped in the manufacturing business. Many laboring American men claimed the Chinese were stealing their source of income, and enriching China rather than the United States. Beside the prejudice due to race-feeling and ignorance, there were real causes of discontent against the Chinese. Chinese men engaged in the system of importing and selling women and girls into prostitution and domestic servitude to gain a profit. In addition, many Chinese men owned gambling businesses which was seen by most Americans as immoral, and considered another way the Chinese were taking away money from America. Also, Americans believed Chinese people were unsanitary as they would leave their homes dirty, which led to various infestations of vermin. From America’s perspective the Chinese pursued evil activities; however, there was never a sufficient excuse for the outrages that were perpetrated upon them.4
1 Norton, Henry K. “The Chinese.” Gold Rush and Anti- Chinese Race Hatred. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco. Web. <http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist6/chinhate.html>.