Hey, do you know anything about Chinese immigration to America, especially paper sons and illegal immigration, before 1910, when Angel Island facility opened? I'm writing a story on a character who is Chinese and has to illegally emigrate from China to America by pretending to be a rich, legal man's deceased son to join his father in the late 1880s. Also, how much did the average Chinese farmer make in terms of wen and money? Thanks
Roughly speaking, you’re talking about 28 years between the Chinese Exclusion Act and the opening of Angel Island. This ask will be reblogged to @ushistoryminuswhiteguys, because it’s slightly better suited there, but I’ll answer here anyways.
That said: the larger influx of “Paper Sons” spikes after 1906. This is because in 1906, a fire sweeps San Francisco after the great Earthquake, and it’s the fire that destroys public birth records at the City Hall of Records. Because of this, Chinese men already living in the United States start to claim that they are born American citizens whose birth certificates were lost in the fire.
Chinese men already living in the SF area obtained U.S. birth certificates, claimed citizenship, and then claimed sons that were still in China. Because those men now had American citizenship, their paper “sons” could therefore also be eligible for American citizenship.
Earlier “paper son” arrangements relied on testimonies and documentation that could be sold:
While trying to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the courts and U.S. Immigration documented the identities of existing Chinese in America. Much of the documentation was based on oral evidence given by existing Chinese residents during court challenges. Included in these documents were details of family history and village life. This set of documentation became the first set of “paper son” certificates sold to people in China.
Those declared sons on paper would be sold as “slots”
Prior to 1882, you don’t really need a paper son certificate, and prior to 1906, it’s not quite as easy to fake a paper son unless you’re referring to someone who was definitely born in the US.
The first immigrants from China to California were in 1848, so you’re talking about someone who is an American born Chinese man who can’t be much older than 33ish in 1882, (so about 39-40 in 1888-1889)***, has the money/means with which to sponsor a paper son, and managed to meet all the requirements of the Exclusion Act, plus the 1888 Scott Act (prohibiting Chinese residents from being able to leave and then return to the U.S.). This rich man wouldn’t be able to leave to get his “son,” and the son wouldn’t be able to arrive without certification from the Chinese Government.
***Naturalization would have been impossible due to the Naturalization Act of 1790, prohibiting Naturalization for non-white peoples in the U.S.
The Exclusion Act outlined that the Chinese government would provide documentation stating that an immigrant was not a “laborer”:
That in order to the faithful execution of articles one and two of the treaty in this act before mentioned, every Chinese person other than a laborer who may be entitled by said treaty and this act to come within the United States, and who shall be about to come to the United States, shall be identified as so entitled by the Chinese Government in each case, such identity to be evidenced by a certificate issued under the authority of said government, which certificate shall be in the English language or (if not in the English language) accompanied by a translation into English, stating such right to come, and which certifi- cate shall state the name, title or official rank, if any, the age, height, and all physical peculiarities, former and present occupation or profession, and place of residence in China of the person to whom the certificate is issued and that such person is entitled, conformably to the treaty in this act mentioned to come within the United States. Such certificate shall be prima-facie evidence of the fact set forth therein, and shall be produced to the collector of customs, or his deputy, of the port in the district in the United States at which the person named therein shall arrive.
So in sum, it’s not really terribly likely from 1882-1906. Perhaps if this man was a merchant with documentation from the Chinese government who collaborated that the son was indeed his - pretty much only merchants had been able to bring both their wife and children to the U.S.
The only exception I can think of would be this:
SEC.13. That this act shall not apply to diplomatic and other officers of the Chinese Government traveling upon the business of that government, whose credentials shall be taken as equivalent to the certificate in this act mentioned, and shall exempt them and their body and house- hold servants from the provisions of this act as to other Chinese persons.
Otherwise I’m not sure it’s very believable - just because it was so difficult outside of very specific circumstances like being in the employ of a government official, or pretending to be the son of a documented Chinese merchant.
If you can push it back or forwards a few years (either pre-1882, or post-1906), then you have more wiggle room. I don’t have the average Chinese farmer’s salary of the time, except to say that Southern China (and the Qing dynasty as a whole) was suffering from the aftermath of two Opium Wars, the Nian Rebellion, the Taiping Rebellion, etc.
Feel like that helped? Tips appreciated for Asian History - Keep History Diverse!