Chinatown Resource Guide

Teaching Tools

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The Impact of Legislation on San Francisco's Chinatown

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This lesson relates to the elective course from the California History-Social Science Framework for grade eleven:

Connecting with Past Learnings: The United States to 1900

The Civil Rights Movement in the Postwar Era


Students will gain an understanding that legislation often reflects the social attitudes, moral concerns and economic, social or political issues of the time.




    legislation - proposed laws that are created through the exercise of governmental power and authority.

    economy - the management of material and nonmaterial resources for a shared purpose.


1. As a class, make a list of any past or current legislation aimed at limiting the participation in society of a specific group of people. Discuss how these laws affected the lives of certain races and the economical development of their communities.

2. Before screening Chinatown, ask students to write down the name and year, if possible, of legislation mentioned in the video.

3. After viewing the video, have students work in cooperative groups to compare their notes from the screening. The following ordinances should be included on their lists: Cubic Air, Sidewalk, Laundry, and Queue.

4. Students should be given time to discuss the reasons behind anti-Chinese sentiments and compare those reasons with racism and sexism perpetrated against other groups. Students should discuss the current-day economic, social and moral manifestations of these past actions.

picture of Chinese man from the back EXTENSION ACTIVITIES

In groups or individually, have students write and debate legislation directed at improving their community or state for all people.

Write a poem from a Chinese person expressing his/her frustration with laws and discriminatory treatment.

Create a political cartoon illustrating the comparisons between anti-Chinese legislation and other discriminatory laws.

Do a comparison chart between the Chinese American history discussed in the video and current news stories effecting the future of minorities.

Research the lives of people who have been leaders in the battle for human equality. What traits do these individuals have in common? How are leaders of the past different or similar from those who are leading the equality struggle of today?


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Legislation and Ordinances

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Foreigner Miner's Tax (1850)

$20/month for non-native miners; exclusively Chinese in 1884

Capitation Tax (1855)

$50/per person aboard any vessel not eligible for citizenship. (ruled unconstitutional by State Supreme Court in 1857)

Chinese Fisherman's Tax (1860)

$4.00/month fee for Chinese fishermen. (repealed in 1864)

Police Tax Law (1862)

$2.50/month fee for Mongolians. (ruled unconstitutional by State Supreme Court, 1863)

The Burlingame Treaty (1869)

Provided the mutual protection of citizens, the freedom of religion, the right to reside in either country and the right of admission to public schools. Resulted in an increase in Chinese immigration.

Cubic Air Ordinance (1870)

Prohibited rental of rooms with less than 500 cubic feet of air per person. (voided by the County Court, 1873)

Sidewalk Ordinance (1870)

Prohibited carrying loads on poles on sidewalks.

Queue Ordinance (1873)

Required every Chinese prisoner to cut hair to 1 inch. (vetoed by mayor)

Laundry Ordinance (1873)

Required laundries employing horse-drawn vehicles to pay $1 tax per quarter; those with no vehicles paid $15. (vetoed by mayor)

California's Second Constitution (1879)

Legislature given authority to protect state, counties, and cities from presence of undesirable aliens. Corporations were forbidden to hire Chinese. Chinese were forbidden to work on public works. Legislature given authority to remove foreigners outside city limits.

State Statute (1880)

Prohibited Chinese from taking fish out of California waters for sale. (later ruled unconstitutional)

The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)

Suspended immigration of Chinese laborers. "Laborer" included skilled workers such as doctors, journalists and clergymen, as well as unskilled workers. Five classes were exempted: teachers, students, merchants, tourists and officials.

Scott Act (1888)

Prohibited reentry after temporary departure.

Anti-Miscegenation Law (1906)

Prohibited Chinese from marrying non-Chinese. (law nullified 1948)

Immigration Act (1907)

Prohibited entry of aliens over 16 unable to read.

Alien Land Laws (1913)

Prohibited buying or owning land by aliens ineligible for citizenship. (ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court 1947)

Alien Act (1924)

Excluded all immigrants ineligible for citizenship including wives and children of aliens.

Magnuson Bill (1943)

Repeal of Exclusion Act, permitted Chinese to be naturalized.

War Bride Act (1946)

Chinese wives of U.S. citizens are placed on non-quota basis.

McCarran-Walter Act (1952)

All races made eligible for naturalization. Restrictions on Asian immigration remained unchanged.

Confession Program (1957)

Program between Justice Department and Chinese community leaders to reveal true identity of Chinese immigrants in exchange for immunity from prosecution and deportation. In San Francisco 8,000 "confessed" in period from 1959-1969.

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