From Exclusion to Exclusivity: Chinese American Property Ownership and Discrimination in Historical Perspective

25 J. Transnat’l. L. & Pol’y 33 (2015-2016)

70 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2018

See all articles by Mary Szto

Mary Szto

Syracuse University College of Law

Date Written: December 2, 2017


Chinese investors are now the largest number of foreign investors in US residential and commercial real estate. Many buy in upscale, exclusive markets. It is little known, however, that in the past Chinese faced severe property discrimination in the US. This paper traces three eras of Chinese property ownership and discrimination. Many Chinese first came to the US for the 1849 Gold Rush and for building the first transcontinental railroad. However, during the Exclusion Era (1882-1943), Chinese were prohibited from immigrating to the US and becoming citizens because they were deemed unassimilable. Racial restrictive covenants in deeds were first used against the Chinese. Chinese lived in Chinatowns not only because of restrictive covenants, but because of extreme violence against them elsewhere. During the Cold War era, Chinese Americans were deemed a "model assimilated minority" worthy of living in suburbs. The Chinese had not changed, but geopolitics had. Unfortunately, the model minority myth pitted minority groups against each other. In the Post-Cold War era, the Chinese American population has multiplied. However, along with other Asian Americans and minorities, Chinese Americans face housing, education, and job discrimination. I conclude that we must unearth the past history of property discrimination to address continuing discrimination, leverage the current investment, and to seek property equity and healing communities for all.

Keywords: China, real estate investment, Chinese Americans, property, Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinatown, legal history, homeownership, discrimination, racial restrictive covenants, immigration, model minority, residential property, assimilation, maritime silk road, Burlingame Treaty, Alien Land Law, ethnoburbs

JEL Classification: I22, I23, I24, J15, J61, J71, J78, K11, K31, K37, L92, L98, N30, N31, N35, N40, N41, N45, N91, O18,

Suggested Citation

Szto, Mary, From Exclusion to Exclusivity: Chinese American Property Ownership and Discrimination in Historical Perspective (December 2, 2017). 25 J. Transnat’l. L. & Pol’y 33 (2015-2016) , Available at SSRN:

Mary Szto (Contact Author)

Syracuse University College of Law ( email )

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