During the 1880s, stories about golden California persuaded Tong Ly Jue to leave Canton, China and journey to the United States. A trained herbalist, Jue brought a variety of medicines as well as an abacus and herbalist's scale to America. After establishing an herb business in San Francisco's Chinatown, Jue went back to Canton to marry Jeang Quai Sen - the couple returned to California soon after.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, as well as subsequent congressional acts, suspended immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States well into the 20th century. Officials, merchants, teachers, and students (who comprised a small percentage of the Chinese workforce), however, could still enter the country. Immigration officials grouped Chinese herbalists-medical practitioners who use different mixtures of herbs to prevent and treat various ailments-with merchants, and thus they were allowed entry. Family members believe that Tong Ly Jue was among the first herbalists in the United States.