Chinese Laws and Rules
Researchers using historical Chinese Exclusion records often find themselves trying to navigate through a maze of legal citations and references to the multitude of laws, rules, and regulations that governed the admission and exclusion of Chinese immigrants. For example, what was a “Section 6 Certificate?” Or, what did it mean if someone was admitted as part of the “exempt class under Rule 9?”
Fortunately, the USCIS History Office and Library’s online catalog provides full-text access to tools that can help researchers interpret Chinese Exclusion files. Two of the most important are the Chinese Laws and Rules (1899–1936) and the Chinese General Orders (1924–1945).
The Chinese laws and rules, which the Immigration Service distributed to officers responsible for enforcing Chinese Exclusion law, initially included a list of laws governing the admission of Chinese and a compilation of major court decisions interpreting those laws. As Congress amended the laws or added new ones, the Immigration Service issued new volumes of the publication. In 1908, the Immigration Service added a list of regulations (rules) to the publication, which detailed how the agency carried out the law. The rules described the inspections process, various certificates and forms required under the law, and several other aspects of Chinese Exclusion enforcement. Today, the laws and rules help us interpret legal citations found in Chinese Exclusion files and provide a fuller picture of how Chinese Exclusion law was carried out.
In 1924, the Immigration Service supplemented the Chinese laws and rules with the Chinese general orders. The general orders announced changes to the Chinese rules and were later added to the next printed addition of the laws and rules. Today they are helpful for pinpointing changes in the rules.
To find both the Chinese laws and rules and the Chinese general orders in the USCIS History Office and Library’s online catalog, simply click the links above or select “Simple Search” from the “Search” drop-down menu and type “Chinese rules.” They will come up as the first two search results.