Seated Man with Chinese Servant

Unidentified photographer
Sixth-plate daguerreotype, c. 1855

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri; gift of the Hall Family Foundation, 2005.37.103

This unidentified man and his Chinese servant were photographed during the early years of the California Gold Rush. During the thirty-year period before the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, more than one hundred thousand Chinese immigrated to the United States.

For many, “Gold Mountain”—the Chinese name for California—presented an extraordinary opportunity. Jobs were more plentiful in the West than at home, and some achieved a degree of economic independence. Yet most Chinese people endured tremendous hardship and discrimination in their new home.

In response to the public outcry regarding “yellow peril,” the Chinese were denied basic civil rights, forced into segregated areas, and ultimately, in 1882, refused entry into the United States. Before then, the Chinese—recruited to work on the transcontinental railroad’s construction or in the mining industry—fulfilled the demand for inexpensive labor.