Daily RC Article 38

Chinese and Japanese immigrants in United States

Paragraph 1

In order to explain the socioeconomic achievement, in the face of disadvantages due to racial discrimination, of Chinese and Japanese immigrants to the United States and their descendants, sociologists have typically applied either culturally based or structurally based theories—but never both together.

To use an economic metaphor, culturally based explanations assert the importance of the supply side of the labor market, emphasizing the qualities immigrant groups bring with them for competition in the United States labor market.

Such explanations reflect a human-capital perspective in which status attainment is seen as a result of individuals’ ability to generate resources. Structurally based explanations, on the other hand, examine the market condition of the immigrants’ host society, particularly its discriminatory practices and their impact on the status attainment process of immigrant groups. In the economic metaphor, structural explanations assert the importance of the demand side of the labor market.

Paragraph 2

In order to understand the socioeconomic mobility of Chinese and Japanese immigrants and their descendants, only an analysis of supply-side and demand-side factors together, in the context of historical events, will suffice.

On the cultural or supply side, differences in immigration pattern and family formation resulted in different rates of socioeconomic achievement for Chinese and Japanese immigrants. For various reasons, Chinese immigrants remained sojourners and did not (except for urban merchants) establish families.

They were also hampered by ethnic conflict in the labor market. Japanese immigrants, on the other hand, were less constrained, made the transition from sojourner to settler within the first two decades of immigration, and left low-wage labor to establish small businesses based on a household mode of production.

Chinese sojourners without families were more vulnerable to demoralization, whereas Japanese immigrants faced societal hostility with the emotional resources provided by a stable family life.

Once Chinese immigrants began to establish nuclear families and produce a second generation, instituting household production similar to that established by Japanese immigrants, their socioeconomic attainment soon paralleled that of Japanese immigrants and their descendants.

Paragraph 3

On the structural or demand side, changes in institutional constraints, immigration laws, labor markets, and societal hostility were rooted in the dynamics of capitalist economic development. Early capitalist development generated a demand for low-wage labor that could not be fulfilled.

Early Chinese and Japanese immigration was a response to this demand. In an advanced capitalist economy, the demand for immigrant labor is more differentiated: skilled professional and technical labor fills empty positions in the primary labor market and, with the traditional unskilled low-wage labor, creates two immigrant streams.

The high levels of education attained by the descendants of Chinese and Japanese immigrants and their concentration in strategic states such as California paved the way for the movement of the second generation into the expanding primary labor market in the advanced capitalist economy that existed after the Second World War.

Topic and Scope:

The socioeconomic success of Chinese and Japanese immigrants and their descendants; specifically, theories about how these groups coped with daunting conditions in the U.S.

Purpose and Main Idea:

The author seeks to combine two distinct and commonly used sociological theories. The main idea — the idea that links the entire passage together — comes at the beginning of ¶ 2: The mobility of Chinese and Japanese immigrants is best understood by considering both supply-side (cultural) and demand-side (structural) analyses together.

Paragraph Structure:

¶ 1 defines the two theories. Culturally based (a/k/a “supply side”) explanations emphasize the cultural resources that immigrants bring with them to the U.S. Structurally based (“demand side”) explanations stress the “market” conditions in the U.S. that the immigrants must respond to.

¶ 2 starts with the main idea — both analyses are necessary — and then discusses the supply side analysis, basically comparing the Chinese and Japanese experiences and taking up such issues as how each group immigrated and what happened subsequently. The gist of it is that the Japanese moved ahead a bit faster than the Chinese, but the situation more or less evened out in time.

¶ 3, predictably, focuses on the structural (demand side) explanation, which stresses economic conditions in the host country. The paragraph basically compares the demand for immigrant labor in “early capitalist” and “advanced capitalist” economies.

The Big Picture:

  • Note that the author’s purpose, while not explicit until ¶ 2, was suggested in the first sentence: She notes that the two sociological views are typically not applied together, implying that she herself would be doing just that.
  • The problem with this passage is with the relentless jargon — terms like economic metaphor, supply side, demand side, human-capital perspective, status attainment, household production, etc etc etc. Whew! Sweat! But wait —Anything that’s genuinely important will be explained (often several times)before you’re through. So there is no need to worry about the technical jargons; the only thing you need to do is  to understand the relationship between the critical ideas.
  • Keep things simple. Supply side (cultural) factors refer to things like family and personal resources, things that made adjustment to life in the U.S. easier. Demand side (structural) factors refer to existing U.S. economic conditions that immigrants had to deal with. You don’t need to understand the concepts more deeply than that.

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