Protests in Chinatown

Protests in Chinatown

In this lesson, students will look at and analyze photographs, video, and newspaper archives from past Chinatown protests.

Essential Questions

How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to Pennsylvania society?
What role does analysis have in historical construction?


Students will be able to:

  • Identify complex elements of struggles for social change and analyze and evaluate the perspectives of different individuals and organizations involved within a social change movement.
  • Compare and contrast different social movements in a single community to locate commonalities in tactics used over time.
  • Evaluate photographs as primary-source materials for content, purpose, and effectiveness.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

1. Break students into five groups and give each group one of the primary-source materials. (The primary source from HSP's collection is in the Primary Source section of this page. The other four are listed as Other Materials.

Ask students to note a) the issue being addressed, b) examples of facts and opinions, c) the tactics used and the purpose of the tactics, and d) the who, what, when, where, why, and how. For this activity, teachers may use the Analyzing Photographs Graphic Organizer and the Article Analysis Worksheet as support as they work as a group to analyze their assigned article. Students should write their results out on newsprint and post their group’s report on the wall.

2.  Hold a gallery walk. Have students walk around the room to look at each others’ charts, noting similarities and differences.

3. Assign the article in Legacies by Mary Yee for students to read for homework.

4.  Lead students in a discussion of the following: Yee’s piece discusses different sectors and interests within Philadelphia’s Chinese community. How important is it to unite people when there is an issue to protest? How does relative power affect that decision? What might be the particular challenges presented in mounting a campaign for social change in a community where large segments of the community do not speak English? Some of the struggles discussed in these sources occurred nearly 40 years apart. Why are there so many similarities in groups and tactics? Is social justice organizing a tradition passed down from generation to generation?


Boondoggles: a project funded by the federal government out of political favoritism that is of no real value to the community
Catalytic cinema: using film making as a catalyst for social change
“Chop suey,” restaurants: chop suey is an Americanized word for a Cantonese term jaahpseui  which literally means mixed bits. A chop suey restaurant is a restaurant that caters to tourist and serves Americanized Chinese food.
Consortium:  a combination, as of corporations, for carrying out a business venture requiring large amounts of capital levied a tariff:  imposed a tax on goods
Cultural genocide: a phrase that is used to protest against the destruction of cultural heritage
Cultural reclamation: the act of taking back, or reclaiming, culture
Crucible: a place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development
Flop houses: cheap, run-down hotels or rooming houses
Fraternal and district associations: organizations formed through extended family relationships or geographic relationships (if you came from the same village in China).
Imminent: likely to occur at any moment; impending
Institutional anchors: large institutions in communities that can serve to help the community stay in place.
Kin network: a support network made up of extended relatives
Limited English proficiency: limited in the ability to use the English language
Lithography: a method of printing from a metal or stone surface
Mezzotint: a method of engraving on copper or steel by burnishing or scraping away a uniformly roughened surface
Pertinaciously: in a dogged manner
Photogravure:  a process, based on photography, by which an engraving is formed on a metal plate, from which ink reproductions are made.
Repousse: ornamented with patterns in relief made by pressing or hammering on the reverse side
Self-determination: determination by the people of a community of their own future political status
Skid row: an area of cheap barrooms and run-down hotels, frequented by alcoholics and vagrants
Specie:  coined money; coin
Stateside edifice: buildings constructed in the United States
Tong wars: In the United States, a tong is the term used for a type of society found among Chinese American immigrants.   Although tongs were originally created for mutual support and protection, their activities often were illegal or criminal and their behavior was similar to organized crime. The “tong wars” refer to a period of time in Chinatown when these societies fought with each other for domination and control.
Treaty rights: the rights agreed to by parties to a treaty
Urban revitalization: Urban revitalization is the process of rebuilding urban areas and populations, in areas that are perceived as degenerated. It is controversial because people in targeted communities often note that their communities are lacking due to government neglect, and that government support only comes when the community is being removed and replaced by “more desirable” populations.