Historians have taken as a defining characteristic of Chinese experience in the United States their inability to naturalize until the repeal of Chinese Exclusion in 1943. It is certainly true that treaty agreements, court rulings, and discrimina-tory legislation conspired to prevent the existence of Chinese American citizens. But scholars may have taken for granted Chinese migrants’ alien status and disen-franchisement more than they themselves did. In 1900, the US census recorded that 6.7 percent of the Chinese population had naturalized. These naturalized Chinese accomplished a seemingly impossible task and in so doing they exposed broader truths about the uncertain nature of citizenship in the postbellum era.
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