Chinese Americans

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Chinese Americans

In the late 1850s, when gold was discovered in the northwest, a few hundred Chinese came to seek their fortune. By 1880, more than 3,000 Chinese lived in Washington Territory, building the railroad and working in lumber mills, canneries and coal mines. Chinese workers dug the first canal connecting Lake Union and Lake Washington. Chinese faced discrimination and were subjected to special taxes and restrictive laws. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act severely curtailed immigration, and the Chinese population here grew older, and diminished. Two events allowed the Chinese community to again thrive: 1) In 1943, restrictions were lifted on women emigrating from China and 2) The U.S. Congress lifted immigration restrictions in 1965.

Chinese Americans soon became doctors, dentists, lawyers and engineers. In 1962, Wing Luke was elected to the Seattle City Council – the first Chinese American in the mainland U.S. hold such a political post. Gary Locke, the son of Chinese immigrants, was elected governor in 1996. Chinese Americans are an important element in the fabric of our state’s cultural heritage and present-day life.


Green River Crossing, Washington, 1885. In the 1880s, Chinese workers were recruited to work on the railroad, often doing the most dangerous tasks. Of the 20,000 men who built the Northern Pacific branch line between Pasco and Tacoma, 15,000 were Chinese.