The Chinese Experience in 19th Century America

19th Century American Ideas About Other Peoples

Chinese Exclusion: The Process

Exclusion: Chinese Perspectives



Popular Literature: Bret Harte and Jacob Riis

The poem written by Bret Harte in 1871 entitled The Heathen Chinee and the excerpt from Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives are examples of narrative pieces that were popular in the second half of the 19th century and influenced people’s perceptions of the Chinese. Have students read one or both of the pieces.

The Heathen Chinee

The Harte poem was immensely popular and widely circulated (it cost only 25 cents) and brought the term “heathen” into popular usage to refer to Chinese and Chinese Americans.
The questions accompanying the poem ask the students to think about what message the reader would take from the piece and why the reader might do so.

How the Other Half Lives

If possible, show or pass around a copy of the book How the Other Half Lives and give the students a brief introduction to Riis and his aims in publishing the work. The book is widely available at libraries and can also be found in hypertext on the Internet.

Divide students into groups to read the passage. After reading the passage, each group should sketch a scene of Chinatown as it is depicted by Riis. Students should write on their sketch three sentences or phrases from the reading that describes the scene they have drawn.

The Biography of a Chinaman, a reading in the lesson on Chinese Perspectives offers a Chinese view of Americans. The author, Lee Chew, was a Chinese immigrant who worked many jobs as he moved across the country from California to New York where he ended up as a merchant in Chinatown. His view is an interesting contrast to Riis’ characterization of the Chinese.



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