The Chinese Experience in 19th Century America

19th Century American Ideas About Other Peoples

Chinese Exclusion: The Process

Exclusion: Chinese Perspectives



Using the 14th Amendment to Challenge Discrimination

The Chinese used the courts to challenge much of the anti-Chinese legislation. In Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886), the Supreme Court struck down a San Francisco ordinance aimed at Chinese operating laundries.

The introductory paragraph of the reading explains the background of the lawsuit. Put the wording of the 14th amendment on an overhead or on the board and ask students which part of this amendment they think a judge could use in finding the wooden building legislation discriminatory. Read the judge’s opinion together and discuss his interpretation of the 14th amendment.

Suggested questions that could be used to guide the discussion.

  • Are you surprised that the court found in favor of the Chinese immigrant in this case, given the prejudice of the day and the many anti-Chinese ordinances that had been passed? What does this say about the system of American government?

    (The answer should touch on the role of the Constitution, separation of powers, and the legal system.)

  • Could judges and the courts have used the 14th amendment differently and instead interpreted it to uphold discriminatory laws?

  • What other pieces of legislation on the list were found to be discriminatory according to this interpretation?

    (See the list of anti-Chinese legislation. Many of these did not hold up in court for the same reasons the Justice gives in his opinion here.)

  • How important was it that the Chinese were denied the right to apply for citizenship?


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