The Chinese Experience in 19th Century America

19th Century American Ideas About Other Peoples

Chinese Exclusion: The Process

Exclusion: Chinese Perspectives



Concluding the lesson

1. The population data in the Extension exercise shows that Chinese immigrants were only a small part of the total U.S. population, so concerns over a large influx of Chinese immigrants should have been a local or regional concern. Yet the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed at the national level, creating a federal immigration policy.


Questions for a class discussion to conclude this lesson might include:
  • Why would Americans of various classes and political persuasions have supported anti-Chinese legislation?

  • Why did the federal government get involved in restricting immigration from China?

  • What precedent did the U.S. government set by passing the Chinese Exclusion Act?

  • Should the United States restrict immigration in some way? If so, what criteria should determine who is allowed in and who is excluded?

2. Students could write a 2-3 page essay responding to the following statement.

“Deciding whom to admit, exclude, and why is at the heart of a people’s claim to form a distinctive and stable national community.”

(From Bill Ong Hing, Making and Remaking Asian America through Immigration Policy, 1850-1990. Stanford University Press, 1993, p. 19.)

In their essays, students should consider how the issues raised in this statement are still relevant today. What is the American identity? How was it formed? Should it, and can it, be preserved? Does immigration threaten national identity, and what are the consequences of losing or changing national identity?


1. This activity uses population data to consider the following question.

Did the size of the Chinese immigrant community in the United States warrant such a negative reaction from Americans, not to mention the time and money spent on passing and enforcing discriminatory legislation?

  • Hand out the U.S. Census Data and the questions. Students can work in groups or individually to answer the questions.

    Students need to be aware that these statistics can be misleading. They do not show that the Chinese were clustered in particular areas, that they constituted a much larger segment of the population in San Francisco than in Baltimore. Even in areas with large concentrations of Chinese, the Chinese made up only a small percentage of the total residents. Discuss with students why things that are perceived as threatening in our society tend to loom disproportionately large compared to the facts. Is the same phenomenon occurring presently with other groups in our society?

2. Have students research United States immigration policy. How has it changed over time? How have the concepts guiding our immigration policy changed over time? What do students think should guide our immigration policy?



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