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The Chinese in America: A Narrative History

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  498 ratings  ·  66 reviews
In an epic story that spans 150 years and continues to the present day, Iris Chang tells of a people’s search for a better life—the determination of the Chinese to forge an identity and a destiny in a strange land and, often against great obstacles, to find success. She chronicles the many accomplishments in America of Chinese immigrants and their descendents: building the ...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published March 30th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published March 31st 2003)
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Community Reviews

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Zachary Zhao
Reading this book breaks my heart. As someone who was born in China and has spent the last four years in an American university, I can truly appreciate the stories that Iris Chang was telling in this book. Some of the stories happened in the distant past, yet somehow they still feel so familiar, the wounds so raw and the sufferings so personal. What this book managed to construct is the complex and diverse history of a group of people, who despite such complexity and diversity ultimately pursue ...more
I was feeling resentful that the Chinese were coming into America and taking advantage of the devaluation of our property and buying up everything; starting businesses here and "taking over".

Found this book in the library in my community library, was attracted by the title and started to read it. I am 3/4th the way through it and I have done a 360 on the presence of the Chinese here now. They earned their place.

The book is not about recently emigration, but it goes back in history to the early
Staci Woodburn
This was such an interesting book and I really enjoyed reading it. It broke my heart to learn so much about people who have suffered so much however. It focused on Chinese Americans and Taiwanese Americans primarily, but gives insight into the plight of all peoples who come from depressed or corrupt countries looking for something better for their families only to be greeted with jeers of "get back on the boat" and laws that prevent them from ever living the American Dream.

I gave it three stars
Marie Hew
I bought this book shortly after it was published in 2003. I even went to a reading by Iris Chang and got her to autograph it along with my copy of The Rape of Nanking. I shelved it and hadn't touched it since. I thought I knew all about the major events and themes of Chinese American history. I wasn't so interested in reading another rendition of gold miner struggles and exploitation of Chinese laborers on the railroad.

I was wrong. I really enjoyed how Chang wove together a continuous narrative
Iris and her parents were family friends of my parents. My parents and their peers are documented in Chapter 15 and several others in this book in the 2nd wave of Chinese immigration to the U.S. This book was an excellent book - an easy read for anyone interested in the very different waves of Chinese immmigration to the U.S. and where we all ended up.
Before I picked up this book, I knew token bits and pieces of Chinese American history, namely, the obvious stuff like the transcontinental railroad, Angel Island, model minority labeling, etc. Iris Chang's book put these tidbits into context and filled in the vast gaps in my knowledge. Chang traces Chinese immigration to the United States from the time of the Qing dynasty to 2003, clearly explaining the historical events in China and Taiwan that sparked each successive wave of migration. Along ...more
This book provides a good primer for such a broad and complex topic. Not unlike Zinn's "A People's History"in structure, this book looks at the intertwining history of China and the United States and the evolution of the Chinese American but is less dense in its material and focuses more on individual stories and accounts to punctuate the times and experiences of Chinese Americans.

For its size, it is a surprisingly quick read. The writing is easy to follow and colloquial in its tone. Chang's pa
"Traditionally, the best students in CA had viewed Berkeley and other UC schools as safety nets in case they were rejected by more prestigious universities such as Stanford, Cal Tech, MIT, and the Ivy League schools. For years, the only requirement for admission to Berkeley or UCLA was graduation within the top 12.5 percent of one's high school class. Given the high concentration of Chinese and other Asian Americans on the West Coast, their numbers soared, within the Univ. of CA system. Between ...more
Jaybird Rex
A couple years back, having read Chang's Rape of Nanking, and having freshly moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, this one was on my short list. The first half of the book is a fascinating ride through largely-unknown parts of American history. Chang's writing makes for an effortless, page-turning read. However, I felt this slowed as we moved into the second half. The style became decidedly more journalistic and I found myself really skimming the last pages. That said, the mix of subject matter ...more
I really liked this book. I was glad to learn more about the large contribution that the Chinese and Chinese Americans have made to the United States. Unfortunately though, just when you think you've become aware of the majority of bigotry, prejudice, and opression in the US, you read a book like this and find out how naive your assumption was.
Dead John Williams
The Chinese in America by Iris Chang This book begins at the time of the California gold rush and also begins with the government bailing out Wall Street, I kid you not.

It details the Chinese migration to the land of gold and what really awaited the Chinese.

Things like it was illegal for a Chinese to give evidence against a white man in a court of law. I kid you not.

Like Chinese being forbidden to own property in America until immediately after WWII. I kid you not.

Well written and deeply fascina
Finished this book over vacation - amazing from beginning to end. Chang's ability to connect broad sweeps of history, both domestic and abroad, to individual vignettes is really impressive.
After reading The Rape of Nanking, I wanted to read more by Chang and chose this excellent study of the Chinese in America. Chang presents the historical reasons for leaving China - and later Taiwan and Hong Kong - to come to the United States. What each new influx of Chinese found here, how they worked, were treated, and struggled was very well presented and documented. She does not shrink from telling the story, from the earliest days to projections for the future, while showing her readers no ...more
This was an excellent book. Extremely eye-opening. It's amazing to see how much of American history your high school classes don't discuss.
Chang's expansive history of Chinese-Americans and their American history is an essential book, beautifully researched and written and gives a strong voice to the Chinese narrative in the United States. From before Gold Mountain until the technological dot-com bubble, Chang traces how the ambitions, fears, lives, and deaths of Chinese immigrants and their descendants are woven into the very fabric of American society and geography. She sheds light on the persecution of Chinese-Americans and illu ...more
A very extensive narrative of the history of Chinese immigration in America, beginning around the mid-1800s (helping to build the transcontinental railroad) up to present time. Even though it’s nonfiction, it’s very, very readable. I personally found it fascinating. It was particularly interesting to read U.S. history thru a different lens, as if listening to a well-told story this time from a new story teller. Fascinating – and really instructive. A lot of Americans who feel threatened by Chine ...more
I should just admit that I'm not going to finish this book and return it to the library. However, the reason I'm not going to finish the book has nothing to do with the book and everything to do with me.

Chang's writing is informative and interesting. While I KNEW there with immigrants from China in late 1800s, it was only something I knew about it in so far as I also know there is a moon. Now I have a better understanding of why so many people decided to immigrate and what happened to them when
Great book! It's unfortunate the author is no longer living. I would have liked to meet her.

From my review of this book:

Iris Chang’s book The Chinese in America is one of the very few books that chronicles a major Asian American community, the Chinese Americans. Of course, no one book could fully capture the incredible diversity of the Chinese American category and all the people who populate (or are made to populate) it, but this book definitely does a gr
David Marxer
I'm ashamed to say I only used this important book for quick reference and only now I've taken the time to read it cover to cover. What a treasure I've missed!
In alternating chapters, Ms. Chang writes about the history of China and the history of Chinese living in America at the same time. This is important for most Americans (even today) view Chinese Americans (no matter how long they or their families have lived here) through the len of what is going on in China.
From the California gold rush
This was a interesting book to read because I am a Chinese American and my parents were immigrants.It talks about a ranges of things. It goes back all the way back to the Qing Dynasty when the Chinese started coming to America. It talks about the reasons for immigration. I know that my parents came here to have a better life because in America there are more chances. For example, America has a stable government with free education and welfare aid for when people are going through difficult times ...more
Jan 30, 2008 Marina rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Marina by: Berhan
I'm feeling the Asian pride. I thought it was interesting reading it from the perspective as a 4th generation and from Robert's perspective as a Taiwan immigrant (FOB :)

Because of the breadth of the book, I thought a lot about the implications of the immigrant debate today. one thing she wrote was that economic troubles sparked backlash among immigrant groups. in the book, it was the end of the gold rush and then the depression that caused prejudicial legislation and scapegoating on the Chinese
Gnuehc Ecnerwal
Comprehensive account of all the relevant major historic development. It is as if you went to all the museums around the US that had a Chinese American exhibition and read all the displays and their accompanying narrative text. Despite the wealth of information, the book somehow lacks a POV (perhaps cultural, or political) that unites all the pieces of historical events into a memorable whole. The author's near-neutral tone in relating these facts may be deliberate, but it robs the book of it po ...more
Sep 25, 2008 Apouellette rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: students of chinese language and culture, chinese americans, american youth
A must read for San Franciscians, or any one new to a chinese community. Read it and weep.
What was so great about it was that it really argued the case for a Chinese claim on the USA. These people's blood sweat and tears in large enabled our economy by uniting us via railway, practically enacted our human right legislation by virtue of their persistence and intelligence, and continue to lead us toward a very high standard of achievement in today's information age. Can any one recommend a book of
I found this book fascinating. I've been doing a project this summer on Chinese immigration in Oklahoma, and read this book to learn more about how the Chinese came to America and how they were treated. Iris Chang includes many interviews and other primary source documents to give the reader an insight to to the real experiences of our Chinese immigrants, who came to the U.S. first because of the promise of striking it rich in the California Gold Rush, and then exploited for cheap railroad labor ...more
Danielle T
I'll write a more indepth review when I reread this- read it in 8th grade as part of my National History Day project research. It's a very in depth, very good look at, well, the history of Chinese immigrants in America. Despite being legally excluded from immigrating, waves still made it over- including my maternal grandfather under a paper name and my paternal great-grandparents to the midwest.
Outstanding and flowing narrative of the history and contributions of Chinese Americans never before written so thoroughly. How they work hard and have overcome racism and become successful in the USA.
What a depressing book. Very informative; speaks to a history of the U.S. that I doubt many people are familiar with (including myself) and, unfortunately, care about. I think other reviewers' comments of how it's heartbreaking to read is spot on. I hope that the footprint the Chinese have had on this country is not dismissed, but celebrated, and that the dialogue remains intact. I hope more people pick this book up.
Ed Shapard
This was a very interesting survey of the history of Chinese Americans. Notable factoids: The first Chinese woman in America was on display in museums.After Michelle Kwan finished second to teammate Tara Lipinski at the 1998 Olympics, MSNBC headlines read, "American beats Kwan." And Chang and Eng, the Siamese twins, settled in North Carolina, bought a plantation and owned slaves. Two of their sons fought in the civil war.
A must read for any Chinese American. Well researched, passionately written, Iris Chang provided a moving narrative that should rank as an important piece of work for generations to come. I really miss Iris' passion and advocacy for the Asian Americans. Unfortunately, this is her last book. With her untimely death in 2006, we have lost an emerging historian.
Cario Lam
Reading the Nook edition. Selected "eBook" because that seems to be the closest approximation.

The author successfully chronicles the Chinese immigrant experience from the mid-19th century to the 21st century. This is no easy task since immigrants from China through the decades were very diverse groups of individuals.
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Iris Shun-Ru Chang was a Chinese-American historian and journalist. She was best known for her best-selling 1997 account of the Nanking Massacre, The Rape of Nanking. She committed suicide on November 9, 2004, when she was just 36 years old.

The daughter of two university professors who had emigrated from China, Chang was born in Princeton, New Jersey and raised in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois where
More about Iris Chang...
The Rape of Nanking Thread of the Silkworm

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