Nathaniel Hillyer. Egleston.

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lowest stratum of Chinese society, and accept as the regular
order of nature, poverty, submission to superiors, resignation to
stint, and a mechanical pursuit of the vocations of their fathers.
They are the only class of Chinese who are disposed, and who
need, to come to America./ The pressure of the dense population
of China concentrating 'upon the class to which they belong,
entailing stint and starvation, overcomes the conservatism of
their race, the social disapproval of their society, their super
stition, and their attachment to their country. Merchants who
find enormous profits in supplying and guiding the labor of the
immense body of laborers, and in ministering to their peculiar
wants and passions, a^e the only representatives of the higher
classes among them. / They are almost exclusively employed in
woolen mills, fish canneries, and sugar manufactories; they
form a majority of the employes in sack and boot factories,
and in fruit-canning establishments. With each year they ac
quire facility in some operation of industry peculiar to our society.
That their serviceableness is due to imitativeness is evidenced by
the wages in the woolen mills of California. In New England
there are ten or more classes of operatives. Wages vary with
each class, and range from $5.34 to $11.00 per week. In Cali
fornia, the Chinese operatives, constituting ninety per cent, of
the workmen in such mills, receive a uniform compensation of
$5.25 per week (see table, p. 263).

These male laborers bring no families with them. However
long their stay, no individual of these thousands of laborers
shows an inclination to acquire a wife and family. As general
is the absence of any intention to acquire property, or of the
faintest desire to become more than mere laborers upon this
continent. The laborer intends to save a little fortune and then
return to China ; but the majority spend their earnings in opium
and gambling, and die in America. These laborers congregate
in "Chinatown "in the towns, and in the Chinese quarters on the
plantations. Except in the cities, where they occupy sections
abandoned by the whites, they house themselves in rough huts
of five and six rooms. Such huts no respectable white family could
occupy without a feeling of social degradation. They sleep in


bunks or in lofts, from six to twenty in a house, and cook over
a furnace or broken stove. The cellars beneath are either opium
dens or the quarters of the only women in Chinatown, the pros
titutes who minister to the apathetic passions of this laboring
population. In the city of San Francisco, the Chinese popula
tion of twenty thousand, with the exception of a few washermen,
is crowded into less than twelve blocks. In these habitations
they live ; from these they go out to work. As a consequence,
the cost of lodging is reduced to the utmost minimum for the
average Chinese laborer in California, not over half a dollar,
certainly not over one dollar, a month. The dietetic habits
of the Chinese are upon as low a plane. Mr. Seward, in an
article in this REVIEW for June, 1882, states that they eat as
u good " food as the whites. This may be true in our country
in case the word "good" is used in the sense of wholesome;
but it is absolutely erroneous if it is meant that their food,
either in abundance or variety, is equal to that of white
families. The ordinary diet of the vast body of Chinese
laborers consists of tea and rice, and a few varieties of vege
tables. In California, they consume very generally brandy and
pork as ordinary food. With this diet they live luxuriously
compared with the style of living enjoyed by the corresponding
class in China. The common foods of America, bread, butter,
milk, sugar, and coffee, without which the table of the meanest
American laborer would be stinted j the dried fruit, the various
meats and delicacies which add so much to the well-being and
content of our laboring classes, never appear upon the tables in
the Chinese quarters. The absence of these ordinary foods is no
deprivation which moves the Chinese laborers to discontent ; it
does not prompt them to exercise self-denying thrift, or to seek
to better their condition. Their diet and their mode of life are
their deliberate preference. Their dress is scantier than that
of the humblest white workman. The Chinese laborer endures
such discomforts from the weather as would be intolerable to a
white man ; but centuries of penury have bred it into his nature
to bear such discomfort without thought and without rebellion.
It is safe to say that the average cost of food and shelter to the
Chinese laborer in California is not more than $5.00 per
month, and that this siitn enables him to live in a satisfactory
manner. The result of this standard of living has been that
throughout the State, in all employments in which no other


qualities than those of strength, laboriousness, patience,
docility, steadiness, and imitativeness are required, the Chinese
have underbid white laborers, and have wholly or partially
supplanted them. In those employments wages were uniformly
lowered in 1880. It is true that wages are higher in most
callings in California than in other States, but not much higher
in proportion to the cost of living. Chinamen were readily ob
tained for $20.00 per month the year around, they to board
themselves. It is rare that a white man is paid less than
$20.00 a month, with board. Reasonable wages are $1.00
a day and board. As a consequence of the cheapness of the
services of the Chinese, many of the river-bottom farms had, in
1880, and in many cases still have, their Chinese quarters of
from two to half a dozen huts. In these dwelt a small com
munity of Chinese, who did the ordinary work of the farm
during all seasons of the year, and who bore the same relation
to the industries of the farm which, before the Civil "War, was
borne by the inhabitants of the negro quarters to the industries
of the plantations of the South.

The question arises, what is the significance of this substitu
tion with regard to our industrial, social, and political future
what did this substitution mean ? Had it continued, would it
merely have caused certain fields of labor to be occupied by
Chinese and others by whites, without working any effect upon
the condition of the white laborer and upon his home life, and
upon the distribution of wealth, comfort, and intelligence in our
society f Here is a mass of male laborers. The individual in
tends an indefinite stay in California, limited only by the inten
tion of returning home when he has accumulated a certain
amount of money. Those who return are replaced immediately
by others from the same class and bent upon the same errand.
One-half of them, however, succumb to the fascination of gam
bling and opium. The superstition of the Chinaman requires
that he shall not make a permanent home in California. That
alone would have restrained the laborer from binding him
self to the soil of this continent by a family ; and that alone
would have operated as an effectual barrier for a century to come
to the introduction of the institution of the family into this
population of 70,000 laborers. From 1870 to 1880, these laborers
were entering San Francisco at the rate of from 1000 to 2000
per month. The price of unskilled labor in the provinces of


China is from $3.00 to $4.00 per month, or at the rate of
from ten to thirteen cents per day. It is safe to say that in less
than ten years Chinese laborers would have to come to America
readily for the prospect of getting constant employment at
even $10.00 per month, without board, double or triple the
wages obtainable in their own land. Especially would this have
been the case when the cost of passage amounted only to the
possible savings of a few months. Within that time China could
and would have furnished us with from one to three hundred
thousand male laborers annually.

It remains to be considered what would be the consequence
of the influx of a population of laborers, content to remain mere
laborers, unencumbered by families, satisfied with the mode of
life described, and willing to work for wages lower than any
known to our civilization, at least in England and America.
"Would it tend to elevate humanity, sustain our civilization, and
strengthen the foundations of our institutions ? In the solution
of these questions is to be found the fundamental and decisive
objection to the influx of this laboring class.

This influx would certainly tend to a great and rapid massing
of wealth on the Pacific sea-board for a generation or century,
at least. Transportation made extremely speedy and cheap, ob
structive legislation avoided, demonstrations of popular dislike
among the working people prevented, the influx would increase
indefinitely to meet any possible industrial development. Cali
fornia would take front rank among manufacturing countries.
Chinese laborers now form ninety per cent., at least, of the laborers
in the few woolen mills she possesses. That fact alone demonstrates
the especial fitness and serviceableness of Chinese as the ordinary
operatives in manufactories. Manufactures would multiply.
Labor abundant, wages approximating near to $10.00 per month,
and operatives submissive, never given to strikes, with few
personal aims and ambitions to distract them and to make them
independent, the manufacturing establishments of California
would underbid the world.

/"This would be the first and the conspicuous result of the
unlimited influx of the Chinese. But, correlatively with this
material development, social change would be in progress j a
change roughly stated as consisting in the gradual differentia
tion of classes, attended by the exaltation of one part of society
and the hopeless degradation of the other and the greater- part.


It would consist of the division of society into a class of wealthy
owners of land and manufactories with the professional classes
they would sustain, on the one hand ; and on the other, side by
side with the class of Chinese laborers, a class of wretched whites
doomed to labor for a pittance sufficient to sustain them and
their families in the style of their competitors only, or, in other
words, in helpless and galling destitution^XThe process of this
change, if allowed to continue, would necessarily be complex. It
would appear, however, in two well-defined successive stages.
The first stage would be fourfold in its processes. It would
consist, first, in the substitution of this laboring class for our
own white labor, in existing fields of industry, in whatever em
ployments required only physical exertion and a low grade of
skill j second, in the occupation by these laborers of new labor
fields opened by the white business classes of California, to the
exclusion of the Eastern and European immigrant ; third, in
dragging down the white laborers who remained in California
and also remained manual laborers, to a level, in their standard
of living, with the standard of living uniformly adopted by this
class; and, fourth, in pushing up the multitude of whites who
retained property to the position of a class elevated immeasur
ably above the class of laborers.

This first stage, with its fourfold processes, had fairly com
menced in 1880. 1 In California, the wages of Chinese workmen
were less by from ten to forty per cent, than the wages of whites
engaged in the same grade of labor. Where they proved service
able they were employed, and when once employed they were
uniformly retained. Were it . a cigar manufactory into which
they were introduced, they were never replaced by whites,
because in case hard times made it possible to obtain whites at
then existing Chinese rates, or on terms that warranted the
change, Chinese laborers could always be got at lower rates.

Furthermore, as industries were developed, the new labor fields
were being filled more and more generally by Chinese laborers.
The white laborers supplanted in the fields of labor successively
occupied by the Chinese, were either leaving the State, or were
ascending to the ranks of small land and property holders, there
to enjoy the advantage of the cheap labor in developing their
lands and modest manufactures 5 or they found other occupations.
These classes left their places to be filled, not by the immigrants
of their own race, nor yet by their children, but by this Chinese


population of male laborers. Of this fact the census of 1870
furnishes evidence^, 'The following table gives the percentage of
Chinese in the principal fields of manual labor in that year in
California : *

Per cent.

Employes in Cotton and woolen mills 52 &

Fishermen 27$,

Miners 25

Agricultural laborers 10

Nursery-men, gardeners, etc 25

Domestic servants 28

Laborers 20 fo

Laundrymen 71 ^

Traders, dealers 7&

Hucksters 17 A

.Railroad employes 22 $>

Employes in boot and shoe manufactories 15&

Employe's in cigar and tobacco factories 89 &

From 1870 to 1880, the number of Chinese in various callings
increased, but of the extent the census of 1880 furnishes us no
information. That census, as far as published, gives the numbers
of those in the various callings born in Great Britain, Ireland,
Germany, Scandinavia, and British America, but classes persons
of all other nationalities together. As persons of other nation
alities constitute nearly one-third of the persons of this class,
the figures are of little service for this inquiry. However, the
census shows that in the manufactories of boots and shoes,
forty-seven and nine-tenths of the employes come under the
last class. Those are known to be mainly Chinese. In the com
paratively undeveloped stage of the industries of California in
the year 1870, or not more than ten years after the establish
ment of extensive manufacturing and agricultural industries
upon the Pacific coast, it could not be expected that many
fields should be exclusively occupied by Chinese laborers.
While the industries were still in process of development,

* The figures of the census include in the case of manufactures all engaged
in them, whether in the capacity of employers, overseers, clerical employes,
or employes in the engine-room and yards, as well as the mere manual oper
atives. As Chinese are employed in the capacity of manual operatives only,
it is clear, therefore, that they made in 1870 a far larger proportion of such
operatives than appears on the face of the census. Hence my statements in
parts of this article that Chinese form a majority of employes in certain
employments is not inconsistent with the census of 1870. It is based on
personal observation.

VOL. cxxxix. NO. 334. 19


services were required which, could be rendered by white
laborers only 5 but the fact that already in cigar-making and
in woolen manufactories the operatives (manual laborers) were
almost exclusively Chinese, indicates the tendency in these indus
tries of California at that time, while they were still in their
inchoatic stage.

Meanwhile, those of the laboring population who could not
emigrate in consequence of insufficient means, or who did not
emigrate in consequence of inertia, and who remained common
laborers, found themselves in competition with a class of laborers
outnumbering them, and a class who could and who did inevit
ably underbid them. They found the average rate of wages
diminishing steadily, and for California, compared to the cost
of living, abnormally. The major part of the increase of the
whites found new fields for their activity in developing new
industries and new mining regions 5 or in employments where
the new country demanded a more active, hardy, and energetic
class of laborers than the Chinese. But into these new fields
the Chinese constantly followed the whites. When these fields
were conquered, competition by the Chinese commenced, and the
whites were compelled to ascend to the higher ranks, to move
away, or, as yet in the minority of cases, to sink to the level of
the Chinese in the wages received and in the standard of
domestic establishments maintained. / Had the immigration
of Chinese continued, as the expansion of industries became
less rapid and the population more dense, the competition of the
laboring classes for work would have forced wages down with
reference, not to the cost of living to the white man with his
family, but to the cost of living to the Chinaman unincumbered
with a family. It is a law of political economy that wages will
fall until the demand for labor equals the supply. In case the
supply of labor in California should have increased beyond the
needs of the existing industry, wages would have declined through
competition. But the Chinese would have inevitably obtained
employment. They would have diminished their demands until
work was given them, and the superior cheapness of their
services would have inevitably secured them whatever employ
ment the industries of the State could have afforded. The white
laborer, if he still clung to his family, would have been com
pelled to sink to brutal destitution and to the misery and degra
dation of ignominious and irredeemable poverty.


The first stage in the social metamorphosis would have been
accomplished. An impassable barrier would have been intro
duced between the manual laborers among the whites and that
portion of the white population still in possession of property.
On the one side would be the various grades of the property-
owning whites, from the man with his modest homestead to
the manufacturer with his millions j on the other, the white
laborers reduced to the lowest stage of destitution. Side by
side with the white laborers would be the swarming multitude
of Chinese, keeping wages down to the level they had reached.

Now, however, the second stage in the process would set in.
This stage would be characterized by the relegation of property-
holding whites gradually, but inexorably, to the class of property-
less laborers, a corresponding narrowing of the property-holding
and affluent classes, and the correlative augmentation of the
magnitude of the fortunes of those individuals and families who
retained their foothold in those higher classes. The vicissitudes
of fortune would steadily lessen the numbers of the property-
holding classes. Those who lost their wealth through misfortune,
mismanagement, or extravagance, would sink to the class of
laborers. If they managed to maintain a precarious foothold
upon the higher social level by force of the old connections,
sympathies, and habits, their children would inevitably fall to
the lower level, there to remain in hopeless and miserable
poverty. Coincident with this cause, another would be in oper
ation to the same end. As generation after generation passed,
the smaller property-owners would succumb to the competition
of those who wielded larger wealth. Small capital cannot com
pete in any field of industry with large. With this precipitation
of individuals and families to indigence, the fortunes of the
narrowing class of the wealthy would increase in absolute mag
nitude. Possessing exclusively the land and the materials to
which labor is applied in the creation of wealth, and enjoying
unlimited efficient labor of the cheapest character, their wealth
would steadily augment. Wages leaving no margin for accu
mulation, the avenues to property through industry and thrift
that now steadily renew the fortunes of the multitudes of citi
zens who meet with reverses, would be closed. Thus the class
of property-holders could not receive recruits from the property-
less laboring classes. Even were small sums accumulated by
almost incredible self-denial, there would be little, if any,


opportunity for investment. As for real estate, the first field of
investment, land would be owned in large tracts by wealthy
classes, who, enjoying the fruits of an extremely cheap labor,
would feel no such pressure as would cause them to sell their
lands, least of all in small parcels, and to plebeian purchasers.
Industries, the second field of investment, would be conducted
on such a gigantic scale, that the little capitalist could not suc
cessfully enter the field of competition. The third field of
investment, consisting of the various little trades and callings
to which small capital alone is applicable, trades and callings
that are requisite to supply the manifold wants of a prosperous
laboring and middle class, would be unavailable in consequence
of the destruction of the middle classes and the impoverishment
of the laboring classes. The middle classes would not exist,
while the masses would supply their simplest physical wants
only. They would not have the means or the incomes to pay
for those satisfactions and to indulge those desires to which the
multitude of these little business enterprises peculiar to our
industrial society minister. The fall from the property-holding
to the propertyless class would be terribly precipitate. Mistakes
or misfortunes would be irreparable. The millions of our
citizens of little property, citizens possessing homesteads or little
fortunes, men who had commenced with their hands alone for
capital, would cease to exist as such. They would either pass
up by increased prosperity to the higher classes, or sink down,
through mistakes, misfortune, or competition, to the propertyless
and hence the laboring classes. But of this latter class none
would rise to replenish the middle class. Thus, the present great
middle class would disappear. Society would consist of a single
unbroken rank of aristocratic wealth with the professions, and
a common unbroken level of laborers, toilers, and bondsmen in
reality. The former class would become smaller in proportion to
the whole population, but yet it would become richer and more
powerful in its hold upon the regular means of political influ
ence. The latter class would form a majority, and a constantly
increasing majority.

This social change, which can now be foreseen as possible upon
the Pacific coast, is the natural result of the operation of certain
social and economical causes. Were such change to result from
the unrestricted immigration of these male laborers to our coast,
is it not true that our race would have been dragged down, while


the Chinese would not have been elevated ? The happy condition
of our middle class would have been destroyed. The multitude
of small property-holders, who are conservative in consequence
of their property, and who preponderate in our society, would
have been deprived of their possessions. The mass of our popu
lation would have been depressed to destitution. Hard and
incessant labor, securing but a bare subsistence, would be their
ignominious lot. Even were the only result the reduction of our
population of mere manual laborers, consisting of the operatives
in the various manufactories and the hands in the harvest fields,
to such a level of wages and to such a grade of living, the result
would be calamitous. These manual laborers, as society grows
denser, must form an immense class in our society. They must
in time number one-quarter or more of our population. If the
males are to receive for their labor wages approximating to those
acceptable to Chinese males, namely, $10.00 or $15.00 a month
without board, the condition of the laboring classes of America
must become, at least, one of comparative degradation.

It might be that the obverse side of our civilization would be
exceedingly brilliant. The class of enormous affluence, possess
ing ample leisure and enjoying an unstinted use of the multi
tudinous instruments and sources of culture with which our
civilization is equipped, might develop - a most exquisite and
powerful literature and art. When Roman literature began to
produce its masterpieces, its master- workmen were exclusively
from among the aristocracy. Their means furnished the leisure
and opportunities for the pursuit of literature. The wealth of
the republic had long centered in the aristocratic land-holders
mainly by force of competition of cheap labor in the form of slave
labor. Its artistic and literary career was brilliant, and the fond
memories of mankind center around that brilliant passage in
human history. Yet on the reverse side of the civilization of the
Roman Republic and Empire, the degradation and failure of

Online LibraryNathaniel Hillyer. EglestonThe North American review (Volume 139) → online text (page 26 of 60)