The Gold Mountain

The Gold Mountain

In this lesson, students learn about the movement to save Philadelphia's Chinatown, primarily through analysis of photographs. 

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. Have students partner up and as quickly as possible write down what comes to mind when they hear the word “protest.” Ask students, “What images come to mind? What words or phrases do you associate with protest? What emotions do you think are connected to protests? What causes have led people to protest?” Explain that you aren’t looking for specific struggles they can remember, though they can cite them if they like, but for tactics used and the characteristics of protests. You can give students suggestions of tactics such as using signs and banners to display messages, physically occupying spaces for a period of time, writing letters, or organizing using social messaging such as Facebook or Twitter. You might cite recent protests in Egypt as an example of use of social media.

2.After the students have a chance to brainstorm with their partners, ask them to share what they have discussed with the clas

3. Ask students if those images/tactics might be the same ones used 10 years ago? 50 years ago? If many of the tactics are similar, ask students to go back to their mental images and consider: Would everyone in the group agree with each other? Explain that often when history is presented it seems as if movements for social change are linear and clear, but actually they are much more complex than that. Explain that students will be focusing on a single community—Philadelphia’s Chinatown—and its struggles to survive as a community.

4. In preparation for the next part of thes lesson, students will need a basic understanding of Chinatown’s history. Teachers can use the Balch Institute exhibit: The Gold Mountain: Building Philadelphia’s Chinatown as an overview. Teachers may also assign the article by Kathryn E. Wilson, “From Bachelor Enclave to Urban Village: The Evolution of Early Chinatown” as homework in preparation for the exhibit analysis.

5. Ask students how many of them pictured Asian Americans when they pictured people protesting? Explain that they are going to study a series of protests connected to Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Ask students to brainstorm what they know about Philadelphia’s Chinatown. What can be seen there? Have they ever visited?

6. There are five sections in the online exhibit. Break students into small groups and assign each group a section to review and conduct the photographic analysis using the Analyzing Photographs Graphic Organizer. The sections are:
• “Bachelor” Society
• Chinatown and World War II: Historical Turning Point
• Family and Community Life in Chinatown, 1930s–1980s
• Activism and the “Save Chinatown” Movement
• Chinatown Today and Tomorrow

7. Have student groups identify and note details in the section of the exhibit they have been assigned. Have them consider the questions on the Graphic Organizer as they review the exhibit. Ask each group to pick one image from the section it is reviewing and fill in the organizer. Encourage students to consider the details carefully and in depth. For example: people/person; male/female; wearing; doing; holding; facial expression; scene; event; action; geography; architecture.

8. After completing all of the steps, have each group report about the section it has viewed. What information did the group get from the section? Ask students to share what surprised them about what they learned.


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.

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