At America's Gates

Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943

By Erika Lee

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 31 illus., 10 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5448-8
    Published: May 2003
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6313-8
    Published: January 2004
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7309-5
    Published: January 2004

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Awards & distinctions

2005 History Book Award, Association for Asian American Studies

A 2004 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

2004 Theodore Saloutos Prize, Immigration and Ethnic History Society

With the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese laborers became the first group in American history to be excluded from the United States on the basis of their race and class. This landmark law changed the course of U.S. immigration history, but we know little about its consequences for the Chinese in America or for the United States as a nation of immigrants.

At America's Gates is the first book devoted entirely to both Chinese immigrants and the American immigration officials who sought to keep them out. Erika Lee explores how Chinese exclusion laws not only transformed Chinese American lives, immigration patterns, identities, and families but also recast the United States into a "gatekeeping nation." Immigrant identification, border enforcement, surveillance, and deportation policies were extended far beyond any controls that had existed in the United States before.

Drawing on a rich trove of historical sources--including recently released immigration records, oral histories, interviews, and letters--Lee brings alive the forgotten journeys, secrets, hardships, and triumphs of Chinese immigrants. Her timely book exposes the legacy of Chinese exclusion in current American immigration control and race relations.

About the Author

Erika Lee is associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
For more information about Erika Lee, visit the Author Page.


"This is the most thorough, complex, and subtle study I have read about Chinese immigration during the era of exclusion. Erika Lee's book offers both a remarkable social history of the Chinese immigrants who challenged the laws meant to keep them out and a sobering account of how suspicions of nonwhite immigrants legitimated the expansion of repressive state power. A major contribution to the history of immigration, race, and nation in modern America."—Gary Gerstle, author of American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century

"Lee opens a new chapter in immigration history with a rich, poetic and careful transnational account of how the 'exclusion period' produced anxiety, division and successful resistance among the Chinese it failed to exclude. She strikingly demonstrates how this drama changed the whole story of immigration restriction."—David Roediger, author of Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past

"Makes a very significant contribution to both Asian American history and to U.S. immigration history. The amount of research that went into this book is prodigious. Lee addresses a multiplicity of issues and deftly weaves together several themes that, in the past, had been treated separately."—Sucheng Chan, coeditor of Claiming America: Constructing Chinese American Identities during the Exclusion Era