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In Session: Legal Change and Professionalization around the Pacific Rim: China, the British Empire, and the United States, 1850-1930
3: Unequal Under the Law: Comparative Experiences of Chinese and Irish Immigrants in Anglophone Pacific Settler-Colonial Societies, 1852-1901
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
New York University, United States
In the second half of the nineteenth century, many Chinese and Irish were brought into contact and exchange with one another. Tens of thousands of Chinese and Irish joined the mining rushes in the US West, Australia, British Columbia, and New Zealand, and were indispensable to the construction of transcontinental railroads in North America. While Chinese and Irish made valuable contributions to the development of these anglophone settler-colonial societies, many within the dominant Anglo-Scottish population perceived both groups as racially inferior and subjected them to prejudice and discrimination. However, the experiences of Chinese and Irish diverged in significant ways. Chinese immigrants, unlike Irish immigrants who enjoyed the legal status of "white," experienced legal segregation on goldfields, federal immigration restriction laws, bars on naturalisation, and prohibitions on voting, serving on juries, and holding political office. This paper uses a comparative approach to enrich understanding of the significance of law and race on the experiences of Chinese and Irish immigrants in the US West, Australia, British Columbia, and New Zealand over the second half of the nineteenth century.