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Brokering ServitudeMigration and the Politics of Domestic Labor during the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Andrew Urban

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780814785843

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814785843.001.0001

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Chinese Servants and the American Colonial Imagination

Chinese Servants and the American Colonial Imagination

Domesticity and Opposition to Restriction, 1865–1882

(p.99) 3 Chinese Servants and the American Colonial Imagination
Brokering Servitude

Andrew Urban

NYU Press

By the late 1860s, middle-class employers in eastern cities shifted their attention to the labor supply of Chinese immigrants in California, and the possible importation of male servants who were portrayed as invaluable assets to western homes. In this period, Democrats seized upon abolitionism and free labor ideology, which were previously associated with Republicans, to critique Chinese laborers as “coolies” and push for restriction. Chapter 3 argues that employers produced a version of Chinese servants’ difference that referenced how they were naturally submissive and mechanically efficient—and therefore ideal as domestics. Employers overlooked the more complicated structural dynamics that relegated Chinese immigrants to service work through racial discrimination and legal marginalization as migrants barred from naturalizing. In these contexts, this chapter also explores the doubts that surrounded Chinese restriction as a policy and how proponents of allowing Chinese immigrants to do work labeled menial and unworthy of citizenship linked the continued employment of Chinese servants to the Pacific Coast’s imperial advantages as the gateway to Asian labor supplies.

Keywords:   Chinese immigrants, California, “coolies”, free labor, service work, Chinese Restriction Act

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