The Chinese Experience in 19th Century America

19th Century American Ideas About Other Peoples

Chinese Exclusion: The Process

Exclusion: Chinese Perspectives



Lesson Overview

TEACHING TIME: Two or three 50-minute class periods


  • Students will gain an understanding of some popular 19th century ideas concerning “other” peoples.
  • Students will interpret 19th century illustrations and discuss the role of the media in shaping people’s perceptions of the Chinese immigrant community.
  • Students will be able to describe prevalent 19th century stereotypes of the Chinese.
  • Students will relate the treatment of the Chinese to that of other minority groups in the 19th century.


Adapting the Lesson for Middle School

The 19th century ideas that are presented in this lesson are difficult to fully grasp and easy to misunderstand. Middle school teachers should preview the materials carefully to see if they are appropriate for their students. Some of the activities that deal with the portrayal of the Chinese in the media might work well with older middle school students. However, students will need a fair amount of background knowledge that the teacher will have to provide in order to interpret the illustrations. We suggest using the illustrations as part of a complete lesson relating to the perception and treatment of immigrants.

The excerpt from Jacob Riis’ book How the Other Half Lives would be difficult for middle school students to read as it contains many words unfamiliar to middle school readers. The teacher could read all or parts of the passage, then ask the students to describe Riis’ depiction of Chinatown and Chinese people in their own words. What adjectives describing the Chinese did the Riis’ portrayal evoke in students’ minds as they listened to this passage?

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