Winner of the Ray Allen Billington Prize
Winner of the Ellis W. Hawley Prize
Winner of the Caroline Bancroft History Prize
Winner of the Sally and Ken Owens Award
Winner of the Vincent P. DeSantis Book Prize
“A powerful argument about racial violence that could not be more timely…White nationalists targeted Chinese immigrants as threats to their homes and jobs and blamed the American government for failing to seal the borders.”
-Richard White, author of The Republic for Which It Stands
“A riveting, beautifully written account…that foregrounds Chinese voices and experiences. A timely and important contribution to our understanding of immigration and the border.”
-Karl Jacoby, author of Shadows at Dawn
“Lew-Williams particularly excels at invoking the psychological effects of the law on Chinese people living in the United States.”
In 1885, following the massacre of Chinese miners in Wyoming Territory, communities throughout California and the Pacific Northwest harassed, assaulted, and expelled thousands of Chinese immigrants. The Chinese Must Go shows how American immigration policies incited this violence, and how this gave rise to the concept of the “alien” in America.
Our story begins in the 1850s, before federal border control established strict divisions between citizens and aliens-and long before Congress passed the Chinese Restriction Act, the nation’s first attempt to bar immigration based on race and class. When this unprecedented experiment failed to slow Chinese migration, armed vigilante groups took the matter into their own hands. Fearing the spread of mob violence, policymakers redoubled their efforts to seal the borders, overhauling immigration law and transforming America’s relationship with China in the process. By tracing the idea of the alien back to this violent era, Lew-Williams offers a troubling new origin story of today’s racialized border.
“The Chinese Must Go shows how a country that was moving, in a piecemeal and halting fashion, toward an expansion of citizenship for formerly enslaved people and Native Americans, came to deny other classes of people the right to naturalize altogether…The stories of racist violence and community shunning are brutal to read. Lew-Williams particularly excels at invoking the psychological effects of the law on Chinese people living in the United States after the exclusion acts passed.”-Rebecca Onion, Slate
“In her skillful retelling of the history of white workers’ violence against Chinese immigrants and the formulation of laws to first restrict, and then exclude, Chinese laborers from the United States in the mid-late 19th century, Beth Lew-Williams weaves a story of racial discrimination and nativism that continues to resonate today.”-Andrea Worden, South China Morning Post
“With scrupulous research and conceptual boldness, Lew-Williams applies the nuances of a ‘scalar’ lens to contrast anti-Chinese campaigns at local, regional, and national levels, producing a social history that significantly remakes the well-established chronology of Chinese exclusion by highlighting the role of anti-Chinese violence and vigilantism in advancing immigration controls on the Chinese from goals of restriction to exclusion.”-Madeline Y. Hsu, author of Asian American History: A Very Short Introduction
“The Chinese Must Go presents a powerful argument about racial violence that could not be more timely. It shows why nineteenth-century pogroms against the Chinese in the American West resonate today. White nationalists targeted Chinese immigrants as threats to their homes and jobs and blamed the American government for failing to seal the borders.”-Richard White, author of The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865–1896
“Moving seamlessly from the local to the international, The Chinese Must Go offers a riveting, beautifully written new account of Chinese exclusion, one that foregrounds Chinese voices and experiences. A timely and important contribution to our understanding of immigration and the border.”-Karl Jacoby, Columbia University
“An original and compelling analysis of Chinese exclusion in the second half of the nineteenth century, analyzing how the outbreak of anti-Chinese violence in 1885 was both caused by and helped shape American immigration policies.”-Ray Allen Billington Prize Jury
“Simultaneously a beautifully paced, moving read-a powerful and deeply humane account of the emergence of the racialized border, the consequences of which have echoed down to the present.”-Ellis W. Hawley Prize Jury
About the Author
Beth Lew-Williams is a historian of race and migration in the United States. She is Associate Professor of History at Princeton University. The Chinese Must Go won five book awards, including the Ray Allen Billington Prize and the Ellis W. Hawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians and the Caroline Bancroft History Prize.