What happened to the Chinese American community during the 1950s and 60s was largely the result of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the unique history of discrimination against Chinese immigration to the United States and the anti-Communist witch hunts. Additional information on these events is provided in a timeline, bibliography, links and resources, that will shed light on the themes that emerge in the film: The Chinese Exclusion Act, The Trading with the Enemy Act, The Cold War, McCarthyism and the Red Scare climate of the 1950s.
Historical Timeline to the Events in The Chinatown Files
Central Pacific Railroad Co. recruits Chinese workers to build the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad.
Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, suspending the immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years and denying Chinese the right to become American citizens. Restricting immigration on the basis of race and nationality for the first time, the Act blocks large scale Chinese immigration for sixty years.
Chae Chan Ping v. U.S. upholds the constitutionality of Chinese exclusion laws. The Supreme Court rules that a race "that will not assimilate with us" could be excluded when deemed "dangerous to… peace and security."
Geary Act extends the 1882 Exclusion Act, barring Chinese laborers from immigration, for another ten years. Those caught entering illegally could be deported after one year of hard labor.
The Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, decides that, similar to the treatment of other immigrant groups, persons born in the United States to Chinese parents are American and can't be stripped of their U.S. citizenship.
The Chinese Exclusion Act is extended indefinitely and applied to Hawaii and the Philippines as well.
In China, the Manchu government is overthrown by revolutionary forces led by Sun Yat-Sen. The Republic of China is established.
1914 - 1918
World War I.
The United States enters World War I. Congress passes the Espionage Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act, giving the President extraordinary powers to suppress dissent and extend government intervention into the lives of ordinary people in time of national emergency.

Congress repeals the emergency statutes granting extensive powers to the President; only the 1917 Trading With the Enemy Act is retained.

The Cable Act decrees that any marriage between Americans and Chinese would result in the American losing his or her citizenship.
Immigration Act passed by Congress excludes "Chinese women, wives and prostitutes." An immigration quota of 105 Chinese immigrants a year is established, based on one-sixth of one percent of the existing Chinese population in the U.S. according to the 1920 census.
In China, the Kuomintang (KMT), led by Chiang Kai-shek, separates from the Communist Party (CCP), led by Mao Zedong.
Japanese troops invade Manchuria.
The Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance is founded in New York City to challenge the hand laundry industry's discriminatory practices.
A clash between Japanese and Chinese troops at Marco Polo Bridge on July 7th marks the beginning of an open, yet undeclared, war between Japan and China, and a temporary truce between the KMT and CCP.
Japanese seize control of large sections of China. Chinese immigration restrictions are lifted by Presidential proclamation, although the 1924 quota of 105 entries per year is maintained, as is the ineligibility for citizenship.
World War II begins in Europe.
China Hand Laundry Alliance members begin publishing the China Daily News on July 7, 1940 to commemorate the full scale invasion of China by the Japanese, begun three years ago.


Following the Japanese attack on Peal Harbor, a naval base in Hawaii, the United States declares war on Japan, thus entering World War II. The widespread enlistment into the U.S. Armed Forces includes large numbers of Chinese Americans.
The United States and China sign treaty of alliance, allowing U.S. troops to use China as a base against the Japanese. In exchange, Congress repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. However immigration is still limited to the 1924 quota of 105. An estimated 10 million Chinese civilians are killed by Japanese forces and yet Chinese immigration to the United States doesn't increase.

Japan surrenders, ending World War II. With the Japanese withdrawal from China, the uneasy truce between the KMT and the CCP comes to an end. Civil War and revolution grip China from 1945 to 1949.
U.S.-Soviet relations start deteriorating into a Cold War (which officially begins in 1947), the fear of nuclear weapons preventing its development into another "hot" war. The Cold War creates a climate of fear and conformity in the United States, in which any expression of dissent or criticism of U.S. policy is cause for suspicion.

The House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC), which developed during the 1930s, becomes a permanent standing committee to look into "subversive and un-American propaganda activities."
The Chinese Youth League, a coalition of three youth groups in San Francisco, is reorganized into the Chinese-American Democratic Youth League, familiarly known as Mun Ching. Primarily a support and social group for Chinese immigrants, Mun Ching advocates the normalization of relations between China and the West.
Truman initiates the Loyalty Oath for federal employees. HUAC hearings summon Americans suspected of Communist sympathies to testify against their friends and associates, destroying many people's lives in the process. The FBI begins spying on Mun Ching and many other legitimate organizations in its search for Communists and "fellow travelers".
CCP wins control of Manchuria and northern China.
Chiang Kai-shek and KMT retreat to Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party takes over mainland China, and Mao Zedong establishes the People's Republic of China. The United States severs diplomatic ties with mainland China.

In February, the Sino-Soviet Pact secures a bilateral defense agreement between the two Communist regimes.
In the first few months of 1950, Joseph McCarthy, an obscure junior senator from Wisconsin, begins attracting national attention by fanning the flames of anti-Communist hysteria. Employing scare tactics, smear campaigns, unsubstantiated allegations and falsified dossiers, he creates the impression that widespread security risks exist in the federal government.
In June, North Korea invades South Korea. General MacArthur leads a United Nations' "Peace-Keeping Force" in Korea; his troops push North Koreans back out of the South and over Korea's northern border into China. In October, Chinese soldiers cross the Yalu River into North Korea in response to North Korea's request for aid.
In December, President Truman proclaims a national emergency due to the Korean War, granting him extraordinary powers to govern without reference to normal Constitutional processes. This state of national emergency is never terminated by Congress.


Declaring China to be an aggressor in Korea, the United Nation sanctions a global embargo on the shipment of arms and war materials to China.
The Editor of the China Daily News is charged with violating the Trading with the Enemy Act when he publishes an ad for a Chinese bank, through which Chinese Americans can send money to their families in China. Three laundrymen who sent money to their families in China were also charged. Their case, U.S. v. China Daily News and Tom Sung and Chin Gong and Hong Ming, is filed in the NY Supreme Court.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 tightens immigration restrictions, denies admission to "subversive and undesirable aliens" and makes deportation easier. Thousands of aliens and naturalized citizens are threatened with deportation because of alleged left-wing connections.
Senator Joseph McCarthy uses his chairmanship of the relatively unimportant Committee on Government Operations to elevate its Subcommittee on Investigations into a official Red-baiting platform. He begins holding the famous Senate loyalty hearings.
U.S. v. China Daily News, et al, goes to court; the judge delivers a guilty verdict.

The U.S. v. China Daily News appeal is denied; the editor of the China Daily News and the three laundrymen are sentenced to jail.
The U.S. Senate votes overwhelming to censure Senator McCarthy for his abusive behavior as a committee chairman. He is charged with "conduct contrary to Senatorial tradition". His political influence disappears.

1955-late 1960s
The Immigration and Naturalization Service institutes the Chinese Confession Program. Based on the inflammatory Drumwright Report, which made the unsubstantiated claim that over 90% of Chinese in the U.S. were illegal immigrants, the Program compels illegal or undocumented immigrants, or their descendents, to come forward in exchange for immunity. But at times the confessions are used against the families of those who confess.
Mun Ching loses its headquarters at 812 Stockton St., San Francisco, and gradually dissolves.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 repealed the national origins quota, essentially abolishing race as a criteria for allocating immigration quotas to various countries. Now quotas are allocated on an equitable basis: 20,000 to each country.
The U.S. ends spying missions over China, and lifts its 21 year trade embargo. The rapprochement is intended to isolate the Soviet Union. The People's Republic of China replaces Taiwan in the United Nations general assembly and is granted a seat on the UN Security Council.
President Richard Nixon visits China. This historic summit begins the process of restoring diplomatic ties with China.

Diplomatic relations between the People's Republic of China and the United States of America are established. Asian Pacific American Heritage Week is declared by President Jimmy Carter.