Chinese Immigration and the
Chinese Exclusion Act
Developed by Jed Larsen and Kathy Dove
Sacramento City Unified School District
In this unit, students will investigate the causes and challenges of
immigration and immigration policies by looking at the
experience of Chinese immigrants to the United States in the mid
to late 19th century and the social and political reaction to this
immigration, looking particularly at the Chinese Exclusion Act
(1882). Students will develop the unit’s research questions,
investigate and analyze primary sources, perform a play, write
poetry, debate, interview immigrants, write creatively, and develop
speeches in favor of their own immigration policy. Ideally, the unit
culminates in a field trip to the Angel Island Immigration Station,
in San Francisco Bay.
Because I found this unit’s topic immediately relevant to current political
issues and to the lives of many of my students, I strove to balance specific
historical investigation with current cultural experience that might
encourage historical empathy.
Meet a source; ask a question (part 1)
The Chinese Exclusion Act (May 6, 1882)
SEC. 12. That no Chinese person shall be permitted to enter the
United States by land without producing to the proper office of
customs the certificate in this act required of Chinese persons
seeking to land a vessel. Any Chinese person found unlawfully
within the United States shall be caused to be removed therefrom to
the country from whence he came, by direction of the President of
the United States, and at the cost of the United States, after being
brought before some justice, judge or commissioner of a court of the
United States and found to be one not lawfully entitled to be or
remain in the United States.
Meet a source; ask a question (part 2)
These questions, and others, can both lead the investigation and, at the teacher’s discretion, be
combined under the banner of the “Student Investigation Questions.”
Student Investigation Questions
What does Chinese immigration to the US during the
late 19th and early 20th centuries teach us about the
reasons immigrants come to the US, the obstacles
they’re willing to overcome to get to the US, and the
conditions they’re willing to accept to stay in the US?
What does the US response to Chinese immigration in
the late 19th and early 20th centuries say about
American attitudes towards immigration and foreigners
during this time?
Meet more sources; answer some questions (part 1)
In small groups (at your table), you will analyze a set of
primary sources to help you understand:
U.S. policy or attitudes towards Chinese
Reasons for Chinese immigration
The opportunities, jobs, and dangers of
immigrating to the U.S.
Use SOAP (Source, Occasion, Audience, Purpose) to
A. Political Cartoon
B. Political Cartoon
G. Photo of Chinese immigrants examined at the Angel Island
H: Photo of Chinese women waiting at the Angel Island
I. Photo of Chinese
questioned at Angel
J. Anti-Immigration Illustration from The San Francisco WASP
Meet more sources; answer some questions (part 2)
Students use their primary source investigation to derive concepts:
I learned that Chinese men had there hair in a ponytail and wore different clothes
I learned that Americans wrote magazines against the Chinese (Minh)
Chinese people came to California to look for gold (Juan)
Some Chinese people worked on laundry (Jose)
I learned that Americans thought too many Chinese people were coming to San Francisco
Chinese people blowed things up for the railroad jobs (Ricardo)
Many immigrants thought it wasn’t fair for them to wait at Angel Island like some prison
Doctors looked at Chinese immigrants when they got to California (Izzy)
If they didn’t have the right certificate, they were sent back to China (Shawn)
Some people thought the Chinese were sneaking in from Canada (Yaritza)
Create an emotional connection to the past through
artistic expression of primary sources
Perform a play with dialogue derived from real
immigration interviews from Angel Island
Read/recite/interpret poetry carved on the walls of the
Angel Island Immigration Station
Read excerpt of book, Things Chinese, describing the opposite-ness of
Chinese. Create own creative essay on peculiarity of American elementary
students from perspective of aliens
Create own primary source documents: interview immigrants (classmates,
teachers, family). Compare/contrast their experiences with each other and
Immigration Play: From the Transcripts of
Immigration Interviews of Quok Shee and Chew Hoy Quong, 1916
Act II: The Interviews
IO#1 and IO#2: If at any time you don’t understand the interpreter, please state so. (W and H nod)
IO#1 and I O#2: What is your name?
W: Quok Shee
H: Chew Hoy Quong
IO#1 and I O#2: How old are you?
IO#1 and IO#2: Where were you born?
W: Hong Kong.d Students performing play at Angel Island
H: China, Nom Moon village. H.S. district, right close to sun Woey boundary – the other side of the river.
Poetry, Carved on Walls at Angel
Island Immigration Station
Four days before the Qiqiao Festival,
I boarded the steamship for America.
Time flew like a shooting arrow.
Already, a cool autumn has passed.
Counting on my fingers, several months have elapsed.
Still I am at the beginning of the road.
I have yet to be interrogated.
My heart is nervous with anticipation.
“It is the unexpected one must expect, especially in this land of Topsy-turvydom.
The Chinese are not only at our antipodes with regard to position on the globe, but
they are our opposite in almost every action and thought. It never does to judge
how a Chinese would act under certain circumstances from what we ourselves
would do if placed in similar conditions: the chances are that he would do the very
actions we would never think of performing; think the very thoughts that would
never occur to us; and say what no foreigner would ever think of uttering. He
laughs when he tells you his father or mother, brother or sister, is dead; a bride that
did not wail as if for the dead would be a fraud. He asks you if you have eaten your
rice instead of saying “How do you do?” and locates his intellect in his stomach. For
“good-bye” he says “walk slowly”…”
- Excerpt from Things Change, by J. Dyer Ball, 1900
Interviewing Immigrants: Present Day Connections
What is your name? Keomany
Which country did you immigrate from? From Laos.
What was life like in your country of origin? It was very, very hot in
Laos. Sometimes they didn’t have rules there like here.
What did you like about your country of origin? Was 14 years old
don’t like rules. House is like prison. There was no freedom. People steal
fruit and sometimes get shot.
When did you immigrate to the U.S.? 1978. Then I got interviewed so
I can come to the U.S.
How old were you when you immigrated? 14 years old.
How did you learn about the United States and America? Learned
about lots of countries and choosed to come here.
Why did you decide to come to the United States? We have freedom
and we have better food. And we get to study. Also is hard over there.
What sacrifice did you make to immigrate? 14 years old, they took
over our country. Many people went to hell. Weapons to fight back for
power – real hard. Fighting every day, every week. 1976 – no place to live.
You’ve studied and participated in a range of
Now, based on your experiences, knowledge, and sense
of the law, create your own immigration policy. Easy!
On the next slide are 8 issues concerning immigration.
In your table groups, rank them from most important
to least important in regards to how much they should
influence an immigration policy. Post your rankings in
the “Immigration Policy” chat.
8 Immigration Issues
A. Immigrants leaving difficult times (poverty, poor economy, natural disasters)
B. Immigrants seeking new opportunities (jobs, natural resources, experiences)
C. Immigrants leaving their country as refugees escaping war or persecution
D. Citizens protecting their jobs/livelihood
E. Citizens protecting themselves from disease/epidemics
F. Citizens stopping crime and terrorism
G. The United States as a country founded by immigrants/the ancestors of immigrants
H. The United States as a sovereign country with the right to establish immigration
Immigration Policy: Persuasive Speeches (1)
From “Chinese Exclusion Act” Sentence Chunking:
Governments have the power to set limits on immigration.
Governments can choose who can come in and how many.
From Introductory Primary Source Investigation:
Citizens are afraid that immigrants will take away jobs
Citizens are afraid that immigrants will take natural resources (like gold)
Immigrants are willing to endure difficult transportation, low paying and dangerous jobs, and
racism in order to leave a place they don’t want to be or get to a place they want to be
People from around the world came to California for the gold rush
Citizens can mobilize against immigrants through magazines, political cartoons, and government
From Interview Play:
Immigration policy can divide families
Immigrating to a new place is a difficult and uncertain experience Write
Policy that limits immigration sometimes based on fears that immigrants will bring
corruption/crime to their new land
Immigration Policy: Persuasive Speeches (2)
From Angel Island Poetry:
Immigrants can feel injustice and discrimination when they feel that basic human
rights are denied by a foreign government
Immigration has a strong human component to it; dreams and aspirations of
immigrants often similar to those of citizens
From Interviews of Immigrants
Immigrants are a current part of the American population
People immigrate for reasons both in and out of their control
America is seen as a safe place to go, a place where you can improve your life
From Backwards Culture Lesson Plan:
Join with like-
Unfamiliarity can make us suspicious and fearful of others minded students