The Burlingame Treaty between the United States and China (1868) granted “free migration and immigration” to the Chinese. Although it did not permit naturalization, it did grant Chinese immigrants most-favored-nation status regarding rights and exemptions of noncitizens.
Although emigration from China was officially forbidden, within four years of the discovery of gold in California, from 1848 to 1852, 25,000 Chinese had immigrated to California in the hope of striking it rich on “Gold Mountain.” The bloody Taiping Rebellion (1850–64) against the Qing Dynasty led thousands more to seek asylum abroad. The Chinese were generally well received.
With the United States embarking on a period of rapid development of mines, railroads, and a host of associated industries in the West, Secretary of State William H. Seward sought a treaty with China that would provide as much cheap labor as possible. Negotiating for China was a highly respected former U.S. ambassador to China, Anson Burlingame, whose principal goal was to moderate Western aggression in China. In the Burlingame Treaty, signed on July 28, 1868, the United States agreed to a policy of noninterference in the development of China. The treaty also recognized “the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance” and provided nearly unlimited immigration of male Chinese laborers until the 1882 passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.