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Chinese Americans

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Chinese Americans
華裔美國人 / 华裔美国人
Percentage of Chinese Americans per state as of the 2010 United States census
Total population
5,238,790 (2021)[1]
1.58% of the total U.S. population (2021)
Regions with significant populations
Related ethnic groups
Chinese Americans
Traditional Chinese華裔美國人
Simplified Chinese华裔美国人
The Chinese American experience has been documented at the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan's Chinatown since 1980.

Chinese Americans are Americans of Chinese ancestry. Chinese Americans constitute a subgroup of East Asian Americans which also constitute a subgroup of Asian Americans. Many Chinese Americans have ancestors from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan,[4] as well as other regions that are inhabited by large populations of the Chinese diaspora, especially Southeast Asia and some other countries such as Australia, Canada, France, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Chinese Americans include Chinese from the China circle and around the world who became naturalized U.S. citizens as well as their natural-born descendants in the United States.

The Chinese American community is the largest overseas Chinese community outside Asia. It is also the third-largest community in the Chinese diaspora, behind the Chinese communities in Thailand and Malaysia. The 2016 Community Survey of the U.S. Census estimated the population of Chinese Americans of one or more races to be 5,081,682.[5] According to the 2010 census, the Chinese American population numbered about 3.8 million.[6] In 2010, half of the Chinese-born people in the United States lived in California and New York.[7]

About half or more of the Chinese ethnic people in the U.S. in the 1980s had roots in Taishan, Guangdong,[8] a city in southern China near the major city of Guangzhou. In general, much of the Chinese population before the 1990s consisted of Cantonese or Taishanese-speaking people from southern China, predominately from Guangdong province. During the 1980s, more Mandarin-speaking immigrants from Northern China and Taiwan immigrated to the U.S.[9] In the 1990s, a large wave of Fujianese immigrants arrived in the US, many illegally, particularly in the NYC area.[10] The Chinese population in much of the 1800s and 1990s was almost entirely contained to the Western U.S., especially California and Nevada, as well as New York City.


Chinese American miners in the Colorado School of Mines' Edgar Experimental Mine near Idaho Springs, Colorado, c. 1920

There are three major waves of recent Chinese immigration into America:

  1. First wave, beginning in 1815, sailors and merchants from Sino-U.S. maritime trade
  2. Second wave, 1949-1980s, where WWII allyship led to the repealing of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the passing of the Magnuson Act, legally allowing for Chinese Americans to naturalize
  3. Third wave, 1980s-present, when the PRC removed restrictions on emigration from China
Chinese American Shell Peedlers (1918)

First wave (1815–1949)[edit]

19th century arrivals, cause for migration[edit]

Nearly all of the early Chinese migrants were young men from rural villages of Toisan, as well as the eight districts in Guangdong Province.[11] The Guangdong province, especially Toisan, experienced extreme floods and famine in the mid-nineteenth century, as well as mass political unrest such as the Red Turban unrest. This prompted many people to migrate to America.[12]

The vast majority of the 19th century Chinese immigrants to the U.S. came from a small area of eight districts on the west side of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province. The eight districts consist of three subgroups—the four districts of Sze Yup, the district of Chung Shan, and the three districts of Sam Yup—each subgroup speaking a distinct dialect of Cantonese. In the U.S., people from Sze Yup generally worked as laborers; Chung Shan people specialized in agriculture; and Sam Yup people worked as entrepreneurs.[13]

California Gold Rush, Central Pacific Railroad construction[edit]

In the 1850s, Chinese workers migrated to work in the California Gold Rush,[14][15][16][17] and also to do agricultural jobs and factory work, especially the garment industry.[12] Some became entrepreneurs. Chinese often settled in ethnic neighborhoods called Chinatowns. In 1852, there were 25,000 Chinese migrants in America.

Chinese American fisherman, circa 1875

From 1860 until 1869, the Central Pacific Railroad recruited large labor gangs, with many laborers on five-year contracts, to build on the Transcontinental Railroad. Chinese laborers built the majority of the difficult route through the Sierra Nevada mountains and across Nevada. By 1869, there were at least 100,000 ethnic Chinese in the United States.[18] By 1887, less than four hundred thousand Chinese entered the United States, concentrated in California.[19]

Chinese Exclusion Acts[edit]

The Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868 between the United States and Qing China supported Chinese migration,[12] but the Page Law of 1875 banned all female Chinese migrants from entering the United States. Upon arrival to the U.S. Chinese men and women were separated from each other as they awaited hearings on their immigration status, which often took weeks. During this time the women were subjected to lengthy questioning that focused on their family life and origins. Their responses were then cross examined with others from their village, and any discrepancies were used to justify denial of entry. The stress of being separated from family caused many women to fall ill while they waited for a hearing. Some even committed suicide as they feared being denied access to the country. Once they were approved and allowed into the country, Chinese women migrants faced additional challenges. Many were coerced into prostitution, with over 60% of the adult Chinese women living in California in 1870 working in the trade. Some women were lured to the U.S. with the promise of marriage only to become sex slaves, while others went to the U.S. in order to reunite with their families. Ninety percent of the Chinese women who immigrated to the U.S. between 1898 and 1908 did so to join a husband or father. By 1900, only 4,522 of the 89,837 (5%) Chinese migrants were women.

In 1880, the diplomat James B. Angell was appointed to negotiate a new treaty with Qing China. The resulting Angell Treaty of 1880 restricted Chinese immigration and banned the naturalization of Chinese migrants.

Two years later, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited all Chinese from immigrating for 10 years, and required all Chinese people to carry identification. This was the first act to restrict immigration in American history. Then, six years later, the Scott Act of 1888 illegalized reentry to the United States after a visit to China, even for long-term legal residents.

In 1892, the Geary Act was passed to extend the Chinese Exclusion Act, and in 1902, the prohibition was expanded to cover Hawaii and the Philippines, despite the strong objections from the Chinese government and people.[12]

Only in 1898, as a result of the United States v. Wong Kim Ark Supreme Court decision, ethnic Chinese born in the United States become American citizens.

The Chinese Exclusion Acts remained part of the law until 1943. With relations already complicated by the Treaties of Wangxia and Tianjian, the increasingly harsh restrictions on Chinese immigration combined with the rising discrimination against Chinese living in the United States in the 1870s-early 1900s.[12]

Second Wave (1949–1980)[edit]

During and after World War II, severe immigration restrictions were eased as the United States allied with China against Japanese expansionism. Later reforms in the 1960s placed increasing value on family unification, allowing relatives of U.S. citizens to receive preference in immigration.

Third Wave (1980s–present)[edit]

As of 2023, illegal Chinese immigration to New York City has accelerated.[20] The Chinese American Planning Council has subsequently been established with headquarters on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.


There are a number of museums in the United States specifically focusing on and documenting the Chinese American experience, the most prominent being the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan's Chinatown, established in 1980; as well as others, including the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago, the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco, and the Chinese American Museum in Washington, D.C.



The chart on the right shows the total number of ethnic Chinese in the United States since 1850.[21][22]

Historical population
Percentage of Chinese population in the United States, 2000

States with the largest estimated Chinese American populations[edit]

The states with the largest estimated Chinese American populations, according to the 2010 Census, were California (1,253,100; 3.4%), New York (577,000; 3.0%), Texas (157,000; 0.6%), New Jersey (134,500; 1.5%), Massachusetts (123,000; 1.9%), Illinois (104,200; 0.8%), Washington (94,200; 1.4%), Pennsylvania (85,000; 0.7%), Maryland (69,400; 1.2%), Virginia (59,800; 0.7%), and Ohio (51,033; 0.5%). The state of Hawaii has the highest concentration of Chinese Americans at 4.0%, or 55,000 people.

Population centers of Chinese Americans[edit]

According to the 2012 Census estimates,[24] the three metropolitan areas with the largest Chinese American populations were the Greater New York Combined Statistical Area at 735,019 people, the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland Combined Statistical Area at 629,243 people, and the Los Angeles Area Combined Statistical Area at about 566,968 people. New York City contains by far the highest ethnic Chinese population of any individual city outside Asia, estimated at 628,763 as of 2017.[25] The Los Angeles County city of Monterey Park has the highest percentage of Chinese Americans of any municipality, at 43.7% of its population, or 24,758 people.

The New York metropolitan area, which includes New York City, Long Island, and nearby areas within the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, is home to the largest Chinese American population of any metropolitan area within the United States, enumerating an estimated 893,697 in 2017[26] and including at least 12 Chinatowns. Continuing significant immigration from mainland China is fueled by New York's status as an alpha global city, its high population density, its extensive mass transit system, and the New York metropolitan area's enormous economic marketplace. The Manhattan Chinatown contains the largest concentration of ethnic Chinese in the Western hemisphere;[27] while the Flushing Chinatown in Queens has become the world's largest Chinatown. As of 2023, illegal Chinese immigration to New York City, and especially to the Flushing, Queens Chinatown, has accelerated.[20]

Also on the East Coast, Greater Boston and the Philadelphia metropolitan area are home to significant Chinese American communities, with Chinatowns in Boston and Philadelphia hosting important and diverse cultural centers. Significant populations can also be found in the Washington metropolitan area, with Montgomery County, Maryland and Fairfax County, Virginia, being 3.9% and 2.4% Chinese American, respectively. Boston's Chinatown is the only historical Chinese neighborhood within New England. The Boston suburb of Quincy also has a prominent Chinese American population, especially within the North Quincy area.[28]

San Francisco, California has the highest per capita concentration of Chinese Americans of any major city in the United States, at an estimated 21.4%, or 172,181 people, and contains the second-largest total number of Chinese Americans of any U.S. city. San Francisco's Chinatown was established in the 1840s, making it the oldest Chinatown in North America and one of the largest neighborhoods of Chinese people outside of Asia,[29][30] composed in large part by immigrants hailing from Guangdong province and also many from Hong Kong. The San Francisco neighborhoods of Sunset District and Richmond District also contain significant Chinese populations.

In addition to the big cities, smaller pockets of Chinese Americans are also dispersed in rural towns, often university-college towns, throughout the United States. For example, the number of Chinese Americans, including college professors, doctors, professionals, and students, has increased over 200% from 2005 to 2010 in Providence, Rhode Island, a small city with a large number of colleges.

Income and social status[edit]

Income and social status of these Chinese American locations vary widely. As of 2012 about 333,333 people living in the United States with a Chinese background are not United States citizens.[31] Although many Chinese Americans in Chinatowns of large cities are often members of an impoverished working class, others are well-educated upper-class people living in affluent suburbs. The upper and lower-class Chinese are also widely separated by social status and class discrimination. In California's San Gabriel Valley, for example, the cities of Monterey Park and San Marino are both Chinese American communities lying geographically close to each other but they are separated by a large socioeconomic gap.

Cultural centers[edit]

The busy intersection of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue in the Flushing Chinatown (法拉盛華埠), Downtown Flushing, Queens, New York City. The segment of Main Street between Kissena Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue, punctuated by the Long Island Rail Road trestle overpass, represents the cultural heart of Flushing Chinatown. Housing over 30,000 individuals born in China alone, the largest by this metric outside Asia, Flushing has become home to the largest and one of the fastest-growing Chinatowns in the world.[32] Flushing is undergoing rapid gentrification by Chinese transnational entities,[33] and the growth of the business activity at the core of Downtown Flushing, dominated by the Flushing Chinatown, has continued despite the COVID-19 pandemic.[34] As of 2023, illegal Chinese immigration to the Flushing Chinatown has accelerated.[20]
Rank City State Chinese Americans Percentage
1 San Francisco California 172,181 21.4
2 Honolulu Hawaii 38,330 10.2
3 Oakland California 34,083 8.7
4 San Jose California 63,434 6.7
5 New York City New York 486,463 6.0
6 Plano Texas 13,592 5.2
7 Sacramento California 20,307 4.4
8 Seattle Washington 27,216 4.1
9 Boston Massachusetts 24,910 4.0
10 San Diego California 35,661 2.7
11 Philadelphia Pennsylvania 30,069 2.0
12 Stockton California 5,188 1.8
13 Los Angeles California 66,782 1.8
14 Portland Oregon 9,113 1.7
15 Chicago Illinois 43,228 1.6
16 Anaheim California 4,738 1.4
17 Houston Texas 29,429 1.3
18 Austin Texas 8,886 1.2
19 Pittsburgh Pennsylvania 3,402 1.1
20 Riverside California 2,985 1.0

Social status and assimilation[edit]

New York City is home to the largest Chinese American population of any city proper, over 600,000 as of 2017.[25] Although most Chinatowns in North America are shrinking due to assimilation of Chinese Americans into the suburbs, New York City is the exception. Multiple large Chinatowns in Manhattan, Brooklyn (above), and Queens are thriving as traditionally urban enclaves, as large-scale Chinese immigration continues into New York,[35][36][37][38][39] with the largest metropolitan Chinese population outside Asia,[40][41] comprising an estimated 893,697 uniracial individuals as of 2017.[42]

Some noteworthy historical Chinese contributions to America include building the western half of the Transcontinental Railroad, the levees in the Sacramento River Delta, Chinese American food, deep oil extraction in Texas, and the introduction of Chinese and East Asian culture to America, such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Kung fu.

Chinese immigrants to the United States brought many of their ideas, values, and culture with them. Some of these have continued to influence later generations, such as the Confucian respect for elders.[43] Similarly, education and the civil service were the most important path for upward social mobility in China.[43][44] The first Broadway show about Asian Americans was Flower Drum Song which premiered on Broadway in 1958;[45] the hit Chinglish premiered on Broadway in 2011.[46]

In most American cities with significant Chinese populations, the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is celebrated with cultural festivals and other celebrations. In Seattle, the Chinese Culture and Arts Festival is held every year. Other important festivals include the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Discrimination, prejudice, depression and suicide [edit]

17 to 20 Chinese immigrants were murdered during the Chinese massacre of 1871 in Los Angeles.
An illustration of the Rock Springs massacre of 1885, in which at least 28 Chinese immigrants were killed

Perceptions and stereotypes[edit]

A 2007 analysis indicated that most non-Asian Americans do not differentiate between Chinese Americans and East Asian Americans generally, and perceptions of both groups are nearly identical.[47] A 2001 survey of Americans' attitudes toward Asian Americans and Chinese Americans indicated that one fourth of the respondents had somewhat or very negative attitude toward Chinese Americans in general.[48] However, the study did also find several positive perceptions of Chinese Americans: strong family values (91%); honesty as entrepreneurs (77%); high value on education (67%).[47]

Anti-Chinese violence in the United States[edit]

Early Chinese Americans struggled to survive in the United States because of prejudice, discrimination, and violence.

In 1880, motivated by yellow peril and sensationalism surrounding the upcoming presidential election, a mob numbering 3,000 instigated an anti-Chinese riot in Denver, Colorado. A man named Look Young was lynched, and nearly all of Chinatown was destroyed. 185 Chinese men were held in jail for three days for their own safety. Most of the rioters arrested were dismissed, and the alleged murderers of Look Young were tried and found not guilty.[49][50]

In 1871, 17–20 Chinese immigrants were murdered in Los Angeles by a mob of around 500 men. This racially motivated massacre was one of the largest mass-lynchings in the United States, and it took place after the accidental killing of Robert Thompson, a local rancher.

The Rock Springs massacre occurred in 1885, in which at least 28 Chinese immigrants were killed and 15 other Chinese were injured. Many enraged white miners in Sweetwater County felt threatened by the Chinese and they also blamed them for their unemployment. As a result of competition for jobs, white miners expressed their frustration by committing acts of physical violence in which they robbed, shot, and stabbed Chinese in Chinatown. The Chinese quickly tried to flee, but in doing so, many of them ended up being burned alive in their homes, starving to death in hiding places, or being exposed to animal predators which lived in the mountains; some of them were successfully rescued by a passing train. A total of 78 homes were burned.

During the Hells Canyon massacre of 1887, at least 34 Chinese miners were killed. An accurate account of the event is still unavailable, but it is speculated that the Chinese miners were killed by gunshot during a robbery by a gang of seven armed horse thieves.

Other acts of violence which were committed against Chinese immigrants include the San Francisco riot of 1877, the Issaquah and Tacoma riot of 1885, the attack on Squak Valley Chinese laborers in 1885, the Seattle riot of 1886, and the Pacific Coast race riots of 1907. With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is believed to have started in the city of Wuhan, China, numerous incidents of xenophobia and racism against Chinese people and people who are perceived to be Chinese have been reported.

Depression and suicide[edit]

In 2008, researchers Georg Hsu and Yu Mui Wan published a paper citing severe stigma of mental illness in the Chinese American community as a barrier to diagnosis and treatment.[51] In a 1998 study of 29 diagnosed depressive Chinese American immigrants, more than half of respondents avoided labeling their symptoms as depression.[52] While patients were able to accurately identify and report depressive symptoms such as "irritability" and "rumination," patients were more likely to attribute their depression to somatic and physical symptoms than as a psychological state.[52]

Among Asian-American youth in 1980, suicide accounted for 20.8% of Chinese American female deaths.[53] Among males, it constituted 15.1% of deaths.[53] The study also reported that suicide rates among Chinese American elderly were higher than that of the national suicide rate for African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American.

A study published in the Journal of Aging and Health, stated that 18% to 29.4% of older Chinese adults in North America had at least a mild level of depression which was higher than other ethnic groups.[54] Further, the study reported that these depressive symptoms among older Chinese adults "tend to remain untreated."[54]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the various varieties of Chinese make up the third-most spoken language in the United States. It is almost completely spoken within Chinese American populations and by immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, especially in California.[55] In 2002, over 2 million Americans speak some variety or dialect of Chinese, with Standard Chinese (Mandarin) becoming increasingly common due to new immigration from China and supplanting the previous widespread Cantonese and Taishanese.[55]

In New York City, although Standard Chinese (Mandarin) was spoken as a native language among only 10% of American-born Chinese speakers, it is used as a secondary dialect to English.[56] In addition, the immigration from Fuzhou, Fujian brings in a significant[quantify] populace of Fuzhou people (Eastern Min), particularly Changle dialect speakers to major cities like New York City, San Francisco, and Boston.[citation needed] People from Fujian (Minnan region), Chaoshan, Taiwan and Southeast Asia mainly use Southern Min dialect (Hokkien and Teochew) as their mother tongue. Varieties of Wu Chinese, particularly Shanghainese and the mutually unintelligible Wenzhounese, are spoken by a minority of recent Chinese immigrants hailing from Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai.[when?][citation needed]

Although many Chinese Americans grow up learning English, some teach their children to speak Chinese for a variety of reasons: preservation of an ancient civilization, preservation of a group identity, preservation of their cultural ancestry, desire for easy communication with each other and their relatives, and the perception that Chinese is a very useful language. The official standard for United States public notices and signage is Traditional Chinese.[57]


Religions of Chinese Americans (2012)[3][58]

  Not declared (52%)
  Christianity (30%)
  Buddhism (15%)

The majority of Chinese Americans do not report a religious affiliation. 43% of Chinese Americans switched to a different religion and 54% stayed within their childhood religion within their lifetime. According to the 2012 Pew Research Center Asian-American Survey, 52% of Chinese Americans aged 15 and over said that they did not have any religious affiliation. This is also compared with the religious affiliation of Asian-American average of 26% and a national average of 19%.

Of the survey respondents, 15% were Buddhist, 8% were Catholic, and 22% belonged to a Protestant denomination. About half of Chinese Americans (52%)—including 55% of those born in the U.S. and 51% of those born overseas—describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated.[3][58]

There are also many Chinese people in New York City who identify as Jewish due to intermarriage with Jews.[59][60] Some posit that Judaism has similar habits to Confucianism[61] such as the emphasis on scholarship.[speculation?]

There is a significantly higher[quantify] percentage of Chinese Christians in the United States than there is in China, as Chinese Christians flee to the United States from Chinese Communist persecution.[62][63]

List of Chinese temples in the United States[edit]


Judy Chu (D‑CA 28th), the first female Chinese American elected to Congress

Chinese Americans are divided among many subgroups based on factors such as language, religion, generational status, age and socioeconomic status. Sometimes, these subgroups have conflicting political priorities and goals.

As of 2013, Chinese Americans were the least likely Asian-American ethnicity to be affiliated with a political party.[64]

Chinese Americans tend to be clustered in majority-Democratic states and have increasingly voted Democratic in recent presidential elections, following the trend for Asian Americans in general, excluding the Vietnamese Americans.[65] Polling just before the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election found John Kerry was favored by 58% of Chinese Americans and George W. Bush by only 23%,[66] as compared with a 54/44 split in California, a 58/40 split in New York, and a 48/51 split in America as a whole on Election Day itself. In the 2012 presidential election, 81% of Chinese American voters selected Barack Obama over Mitt Romney.[67]


Chinese American cuisine originated with this ethnic group. Many immigrants in the mid-20th century used Chinese restaurants as a way of having employment. By 2019, many such establishments were closing because the price point commanded by the public was not sufficiently profitable, and younger generations gained more lucrative careers and were not interested in inheriting the restaurants.[68]

By 2016 there was a trend of Chinese immigrants, especially of Fujian ancestry, opening Japanese-style restaurants. This is due to overcompetition in the Chinese-style cuisine sector and because the American public generally pays more money for Japanese-style cuisine.[69] In 2016, Chinese Americans owned the majority of Japanese-style restaurants in Rochester, New York.[70]

Modern immigration[edit]

Economic growth in the People's Republic of China has given mainland Chinese more opportunities to emigrate. A 2011 survey showed that 60% of Chinese millionaires were planning to emigrate, with 40% of Chinese millionaires selecting the United States as the top destination for immigration.[71][72][73][74][75] The EB-5 Investment Visa allows many Chinese to seek U.S. citizenship. It has a yearly quota of around 10,000 applicants or families, and recent reports show that 75% of applicants for this visa in 2011 were Chinese.[76][77] Under this program, applicants, together with their spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old will be eligible to apply for U.S. permanent residency as a group. Because the EB-5 program allows applicants to apply as a family, it has been reported to be a significant method for Chinese students to obtain authorization to work in the United States. Chinese multimillionaires benefited most from the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program in the U.S. now,[when?] as long as one has at least US$500,000 to invest in projects listed by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where it is possible to get an EB-5 green card that comes with permanent U.S. residency rights, but only in states specified by the pilot project.[78][79] The H-1B visa is also becoming one of the main immigration pathways for the Chinese with 9% of the approved petitions in 2016.[80]

Illegal immigration[edit]

Before 1882, there were no limits on immigration to the United States, but with the Chinese Exclusion Act, for the first time in American history immigration was deemed illegal. This legislation was partially repealed in 1943 with the Magnuson Act, and only fully repealed in 1965. The history of illegal immigration of Chinese people to the United States go back to the 19th century.[81] Smuggling of immigrants without authorization increased during 1990s following policy changes by the American government, but by the 21st century some have returned to China due to its growing economy.[82] By 2017, it is estimated that more than a quarter million immigrants reside in the United States without authorization from China.[83] In 2015, there were about 39,000 Chinese nationals who were supposed to be deported; however, the People's Republic of China government had not provided paperwork to verify their citizenship.[84] In 2017, China was described as having become one of the leading sources of new immigrants without authorization.[85]


Educational attainment[edit]

Overall, as a demographic group, Chinese Americans have a higher educational attainment, have a higher percentage of people working in select white collar and professional occupations, and earn higher median household incomes compared to other demographic groups in the United States.[86] Chinese Americans, along with other East Asian Americans, typically exhibit above-average rates of academic achievement and higher educational attainment rates compared to other ethno-racial demographic cohorts within the United States.[87] Chinese Americans often have some[clarification needed] of the highest averages in tests such as SAT, ACT, GRE etc. in the United States. Although verbal scores lag somewhat due to the influx of new immigrants, combined SAT scores have also been higher than for most Americans.[88] With above average SAT and ACT scores as well as GPA's, Chinese Americans are more likely to apply to competitively elite, prestigious, and high-ranked higher education institutions than other ethno-racial groups in the United States.[89][90][91][92]

China sends the most international students to the U.S., with Chinese students accounting for 33.2% of the international student population. In the 2017–2018 school year, there were close to 363,000 enrolled students in higher education.[93] Chinese students also make up 32.2% of the undergraduate students and 48.8% of the graduate students.

International students[edit]

International students studying at various higher education institutions around the United States account for a significant percentage of the international student body. According to a Brookings Institution report analyzing foreign student visa approvals from 2008 to 2012, Michigan State University has the highest enrollment of Chinese international students in the United States, with roughly 4,700 Chinese citizens enrolled during the period of the study making up 62 percent of the 7,568 international students enrolled at MSU.[94] International undergraduates, who make up 38 percent of Purdue's undergraduate body, come from China more than any other country.[95] International Chinese students make up 49.8 percent of all international students at the University of Southern California.[96] International Chinese students are also 60 percent of the 6039 international students enrolled at Ohio State University.[97] Mainland China is the top sending country of international students to the United States.[98][note 1] After the 1970s, the globalization and Chinese Reform and Opening-Up Act resulted in a growing economy, more middle-class families from China are able to afford American college tuition, bringing an influx of Chinese students to study abroad in the United States. With a more diverse educational background and higher level of English proficiency, international Chinese students also value American degrees, as it gives them a notable advantage over their college-educated counterparts in China by the time they return to their native country to seek employment.[99]

Choice of institution[edit]

Due to cultural differences and socioeconomic factors, many Chinese international students are prestige-oriented and brand name conscious, choosing nationally ranked elite higher education institutes such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT throughout the United States as their target schools.[100][101][102] International Chinese students are also widely found at many elite liberal arts colleges such as Barnard College and Mount Holyoke College.[103][104] Students from China gravitate towards Americans colleges and universities for their high quality and the style of education which stresses interdisciplinary approaches, argumentative analysis, creativity, student participation, and critical thinking.[102]

Area of study[edit]

As a result of differences in cultural factors in addition to extensive parental involvement and family preferences in the decision-making process with regards to what university majors to pursue that are optimally suited for one's future career path. In comparison to the social sciences and humanities, Chinese international students tend to gravitate towards technical and scientific majors that involve the heavy use of mathematics such as engineering; formal sciences such as computer science, statistics, and mathematics; and the natural sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology. These factors, coupled with the growing economic affluence and wealth in East Asia, have led many modern Chinese parents hailing from upper and middle-class households to see and take advantage of the benefits of harnessing modern science and technology as a means of charting a pathway for accelerating China's and the rest of East Asia's inexorable economic advancement into the future. The value of pursuing a STEM-focused education has greatly increased in importance and is highly regarded for its perceived greater worth and long-term benefits in terms of the lifetime educational, career, and financial returns on investment associated with obtaining a degree. Chinese American families, in addition to other East Asian American parents, also attach a higher value to university degrees in STEM fields due to the belief that such degrees not only pave the way for practical career paths and prestigious job opportunities, but also offer the added benefit in which pursuit of such degrees would ensure their children a higher socioeconomic status and more financially rewarding outcomes compared to their liberal arts, social sciences, and humanities counterparts.[105]

While 27.5% of international Chinese students have chosen business administration, finance, or economics as their future area of study and academic focus, 19.2% of Chinese international students pursue engineering, 11.5% have chosen to take up the life sciences, and 10.6% study math and computer science.[106]

Largely driven by educational immigration, among American PhD recipients in fields related to science and engineering, 25% of the recipients are of Chinese descent.[107]

Level of education[edit]

According to the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau of Labor Statistics, 58.6% of all Chinese Americans have attained at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 35.0% nationally and 56.4% for all Asian-American groups. The 2021 U.S. Census also reports that 60.6% of Chinese American men attained a bachelor's degree and 56.9% of Chinese American women attained a bachelor's degree at a minimum. In addition, 31.0% of all Chinese Americans in the United States possess at least a master's, doctorate or other graduate and professional degree, compared to 25.8% for all Asian Americans, and is a little more than two times above the national average of 13.8%.[108]

Bachelor's Degree or Higher Educational Attainment[108]
Ethnicity Percent of Population
Chinese 58.6%
Japanese 54.6%
Korean 60.7%
Asian 56.4%
Taiwanese 80.8%
Total U.S. Population 35.0%


Technology conglomerates such as eBay located within high-technology centers across the United States, including California's Silicon Valley, have become attractive destinations of employment for Chinese Americans with technical skill-sets and foreign-born Chinese technology entrepreneurs looking to start or expand their own high-technology companies.[109]

Perceptions and change

There has been a significant change in the perceptions about Chinese Americans among the general American populace. In as little as a century of American history, stereotypes of Chinese and other East Asian Americans have changed from being perceived as indentured and uneducated coolie laborers who were perpetually entangled in an endlessly hopeless cycle of socioeconomic destitution towards a modern juxtaposed portrayal of them being an intelligent, conscientious, and a highly educated minority group. Most Chinese Americans work as white-collar professionals, many of whom are highly educated and salaried professionals whose work is largely self-directed in management, professional, and related occupations such as engineering, medicine, finance, law, and academia. 63.1% of Chinese Americans work in white-collar professions compared with 57.5% for all Asian Americans and a U.S. national average of 42.2%.[108] Chinese Americans also make up a third of the Asian-American high-tech professional workforce and one-tenth of the entire Silicon Valley workforce.[110] Chinese American unemployment rates are comparable with the general U.S. population average with a figure of 6.4% compared to a national rate of 6.3% in 2021.[108]


Between 2008 and 2017, the number of Chinese-educated physicians practicing in the United States rose by 38.1%, and the total number of Chinese-educated physicians actively practicing in the United States was about 0.6% of the active physician workforce in 2017.[111]

Technology sector

A significant number of Chinese Americans, who possess the required specialized expertise and qualifications in engineering and highly-technical domains, have gravitated towards Silicon Valley, the prominent hub of high-technology in the United States in search of job prospects or to establish their own high-technology start-up business ventures. Many up-and-coming foreign-born Chinese and Chinese-American technology entrepreneurs endeavor to leverage their technical skillsets by initiating the new promising high-technology startups of tomorrow. Such ambitiously aspirant technology entrepreneurs benefit from the fulsome availability of venture capital, profound business acumen, and enticing financial incentives prevalent in the region, all strategically aimed and specifically tailored at fostering and nurturing technological innovation. Ethnic Chinese have been successful in starting new firms in technology centers across the United States. Chinese Americans have enjoyed a vast disproportion of entrepreneurial and investment success in various U.S.-based high-technology centers and sectors, as evidenced by the 2010 Goldsea 100 Compilation of America's Most Successful Asian Entrepreneurs.[112] Chinese Americans accounted for 4% of people listed in the 1998 Forbes Hi Tech 100 List.[113]

Annalee Saxenian, a UC Berkeley professor, whose scholarly research interests include the contribution of Chinese immigrants on America's high-technology realm carried out a study that showed that since 1998, one out of five high-tech start-ups in Silicon Valley were led by a Chinese American. During the same year, 5 of the 8 fastest growing high-technology companies in Silicon Valley had a leading upper-level management executive who was of Chinese ancestry, except for Yahoo, whose Jerry Yang was a founder and owner, but was not serving in an executive leadership position. In Silicon Valley, several Chinese American community organizations, numbering from two to three dozen, actively strive to look out for and are committed to safeguarding the professional interests and well-being of the Chinese American community. These organizations boast membership counts with at least 100 individual members, with one particularly influential group being the Committee of 100.[114] Immigrants from mainland China and Taiwan were key founders in 12.8% of all Silicon Valley start-ups between 1995 and 2005.[115] Almost 6% of the immigrants who founded companies in the innovation/manufacturing-related services field are from China.[116]

Research funded by the Public Policy Institute of California indicates that in 1996, 1,786 Silicon Valley technology companies with $12.5 billion in sales and 46,000 employees were run by executives of Indian or Chinese descent. Moreover, the pace of entrepreneurship among local immigrants has been increasing rapidly. While executives of Chinese or Indian origin were at the helm of 13% of the Silicon Valley technology businesses started between 1980 and 1985, they were also running 27% of the more than 4,000 businesses started between 1991 and 1996.[117] Start-up firms remain a primary source for new ideas and innovation for Chinese American internet entrepreneurs. Many of them are employed or directly engaged in new start-up activities. The proportional share of start-up firms by ethnic Chinese in Silicon Valley skyrocketed from 9% in 1980–1984 to about 20% between 1995 and 1998.[118] By 2006, Chinese American high-technology entrepreneurs were behind 20 percent of all Silicon Valley start-up firms, leading 2000 Silicon Valley companies, and employing 58,000 workers.[107] Today, Chinese Americans still continue to own about 20% of all U.S.-based information technology companies that were founded in Silicon Valley since 1980.

Numerous professional organizations in perspective in the 1990s as a support network for fellow Chinese American high tech start-ups in the valley.[119] Between 1980 and 1999, 17% of the 11,443 high-tech firms in Silicon Valley—including some 40 publicly traded firms were controlled by an owner of Chinese ancestry. In 1990, Chinese Americans made up a third of the Asian-American high-tech professional workforce in addition to 11% of the entire Silicon Valley professional workforce. In 1998, Chinese Americans managed 2001 firms, employing 41,684 workers, and ran up 13.2 billion in sales. They also accounted for 17% of all Silicon Valley high-technology business owners, 10% of the professional high-technology workforce in the Valley, and 13.5% of the total sales all while accounting for less than 1% of the U.S. population at the time.[120]

Self-employment and entrepreneurship

Chinese Americans are also noted for their high rates of self-employment, as they have an extensive history of starting and owning their own businesses through various means of self-employment dating back to the California Gold Rush in the 1880s.[121] However, as more recent generations of Chinese Americans who have chose to seek higher education as another gateway to elevate themselves socioeconomically, rates of self-employment have been generally lower than population average.[122] In 2007, there were over 109,614 Chinese-owned employer firms, employing more than 780,000 workers, and generating more than $128 billion in revenue.[123]

Among Chinese-owned American firms, 40% were in the professional, scientific, and technical services sector, the accommodation and food services sector, and the repair, maintenance, personal, and laundry services sector. Chinese-owned U.S. firms were 2% of all U.S. businesses in these sectors. Wholesale trade and accommodation and food services accounted for 50.4% of Chinese-owned business revenue. 66,505 or 15.7% of Chinese-owned firms had receipts of $250,000 or more compared with 2% for all U.S. businesses.[123][124][125][126][127][128]


With their above average educational attainment rates, Chinese Americans from all socioeconomic backgrounds have achieved significant advances in their educational levels, occupational prestige, personal and household income, life expectancy, and other socioeconomic indicators. As the fulsome financial and socioeconomic opportunities offered by the United States have lifted many Chinese Americans out of poverty, and has allowed much of the community to channel their social mobility by elevating them into the ranks of America's middle and upper middle class, as well as the enjoyment of substantially high wellbeing relative to other minority ethno-racial groups in the United States.[129] However, Chinese American wealth vary greatly by region: For instance, in New York City, 22% of Chinese Americans live in poverty.[130]

Chinese Americans are more likely to own homes than the general American population. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 65% of Chinese Americans owned a home, higher than the total population's rate of 54%.[131][132] In 2003, real estate economist Gary Painter of the University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate Research found out that when comparing homeowners with similar income levels Los Angeles, the Chinese American home-ownership rate is 20% higher than Whites; in San Francisco, 23% higher; and in the New York metropolitan area, 18% higher.[133] A 2008 Asian Real Estate Association of America report released on behalf of the American community survey, Chinese Americans living in the states of Texas, New York, and California all had high home ownership rates that were significantly near or above the general population average.[134]

According to the 2021 U.S. Census, Chinese American men had a full-time median income of $91,138 and Chinese American women had a median income of $75,148. Chinese Americans also have one of the highest median household incomes relatively in comparison to their fellow East Asian American community counterparts. And also one of the highest among most minority and non-white demographic ethno-racial groups in the United States, which is approximately one-third higher than the US national average, but is slightly lower compared with the general Asian-American population.[108]

Median household income: 2021[108]
Ethnicity Household income
Japanese $87,789
Taiwanese $119,022
Asian $100,572
Chinese $93,007
Korean $82,946
Total U.S. population $69,717

Despite overwhelmingly positive economic indicators and socioeconomic patterns compared to other non-white ethno-racial groups in the United States, a number of economic deterrents have been noted to afflict the Chinese American community including institutionalized discrimination against STEM researchers, engineers, and scientists of Chinese descent. While the median income of Chinese American households remains above most non-white ethno-racial groups in the United States, studies in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis revealed that East Asian men have witnessed the highest rate of persistent long-term unemployment.[135] In addition, studies have shown that Asian Americans have been discriminated in companies with lower pay grades; even in larger high-tech corporate settings such as Google.[136]


Studies on the genetics of Chinese Americans[edit]

A research on the whole genome patterns of common DNA variation in different human populations (African-American, Asian-American and European American) finds some common single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in these three populations with diverse ancestry.[137] In the samples of Han Chinese in America, 74% of the total SNPs have two alleles, and majority of the segregating SNPs have a minor allele frequency (MAF) greater than 10%. Another noticeable point is that MAFs show similar distributions in European-American and Han Chinese populations. Besides, rarer haplotype is found to be absent in the samples of Han Chinese, and they also possess a high level of redundancy.[citation needed]

A study analyzing East Asian Genetic Substructure using genome-wide SNP arrays is carried out with greater than 200,000 genotypes from people of East Asian ancestry.[138] The continental populations are from the Human Genome Diversity Panel (Cambodian, Yi, Daur, Mongolian, Lahu, Dai, Hezhen, Miaozu, Naxi, Oroqen, She, Tu, Tujia, Naxi, Xibo, and Yakut), HapMap (Han Chinese and Japanese), as well as East Asian or East Asian-American subjects of Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino and Chinese ancestry. A clear understanding of the genetic substructure of any population helps in the studies of complex diseases, as well as the design and execution of association tests. Results of this study have identified markers that can not only reduce type 1 errors in future genetic disease studies, but also identify homogeneous groups and hence make this study more powerful.[citation needed]

The group of Chinese Americans in the same study consists of subjects with origins from North China, South China and Taiwan. This group is paired with Han Chinese from Beijing, and results indicate that the population differentiation values was small (<0.0025). There is substantially less genetic substructure between Han Chinese and Chinese American, compared with that between Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean groups, yet there is still a substructure in principal component, according to the split half reliability test.[citation needed]

Another study aiming to estimate cardiometabolic risk profile of Chinese adults with diabetes is also useful to reveal the personal genomics of Chinese Americans.[139] In this study, all subjects are over 18 years old and non-institutionalized. Results derived from a complex, multistage, probability sampling design show that 12,607 out of 98,658 Chinese adults are suffering from diabetes, based on the criteria of 2010 American Diabetes Association. In addition, the study reaches a conclusion that for those Chinese adults defined with diabetes, cardiometabolic risk factors are highly prevalent, including metabolic syndrome, systolic blood pressure that is higher than 140mmHg, low fruit and vegetable intake, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol that is higher than 110 mg/dL.[citation needed]


The circumstance of the Asian-American population is informative in a way that some knowledge about Chinese Americans can be inferred from it. The statistics of diabetes in Asian-American population reveals that approximately 10% of the entire population are diabetic, and in which 90–95% are type 2 diabetes.[140] The current situation is that there are some challenges in diagnosing diabetes in many Asian Americans. The main obstacle is that many clinical features along with risks factors associated with diabetes are obtained from studies that focus on Caucasian populations, which might result in misdiagnoses between type 1 and type 2 diabetes for Asian Americans. In fact, the reason why classic features of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in America might not apply to Asian-American population is about shared absence of common HLA DR-DQ genotype, low prevalence of positive anti-islet antibodies and low BMI in both types of diabetes.[141]

Some other studies have pointed out that for people of Asian descent and without diabetes, their insulin resistance levels are higher than non-diabetic people of Caucasian descent. Thus, Asian Americans are relatively more predisposed to develop type 2 diabetes. This suggests that insulin resistance, rather than body mass index (BMI) should be targeted while making diagnoses. A potential biomarker to identify diabetes in young Asian-American population is adipocyte fatty acid binding protein that has a strong association with insulin resistance but is independent of adiposity. Nevertheless, more research studies should be carried out in order to confirm such finding. With further applying the above outcome on the population of Chinese Americans, it is rational that there is a higher tendency for type 2 diabetes among this group of people, who also face the challenge of correct diagnosis in America.[citation needed]

Mental illness[edit]

Chinese American psychiatric patient, 1915

Genetic mental illness is stigmatized in China. A study compares the attitude of Chinese Americans towards mental illness with genetic causes and that of European American. It finds out that there is a perception of eugenics existing among Chinese Americans.[142] Consequently, in order to reduce the stigma in the society, more efforts should be devoted to this population.[citation needed]

Stigma and eugenics[edit]

The journal launched by the above study highlights the idea of genetic essentialism, namely, genes are largely deterministic of individual characteristics and behavior. There is a separation between the normal and the deviant, which drives the process of stigma labeling. On the other hand, since genetic diseases can be passed on from one generation to another, some mental illnesses are shared in a family, stigmatizing all members involved. Another viewpoint relevant to genetic essentialism is that, since genes are perceived by the common people as difficult to modify, genetic mental illness is likely to persist, and so is the stigma. As a result, the mindset of many Chinese Americans is formulated as diseases with genetic causes being more serious than those without.[citation needed]

The same journal also delivers some hypotheses made on the basis of the long history of eugenics in China. First, Chinese Americans are more in favor of eugenic policies than European Americans. Secondly, more stigma would be generated towards genetic attributions of any diseases in Chinese American population. China used to implement restrictions on marriage licenses to people with genetic illnesses, which has made the attitude of Chinese Americans towards premarital genetic screening more supportive, especially when facing a chance of genetic defects. Moreover, from the perspective of this group of people, knowing whether a marriage partner has family history of mental illness with genetic basis is fairly important.[citation needed]

Notable Chinese Americans[edit]


The World Journal is the most famous Chinese newspapers in the North America.




See also[edit]


  1. ^ The number of students studying in the US is rising even faster than China's GDP. During the 2010–11 academic year, 157,588 Chinese students were studying in the US – an increase of 23% from the previous year, according to the Institute of International Education.


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