Resiliency of Chinese Immigrants and Their Descendants

In this lesson, students will analyze the ways Chinese immigrants to Canada survived and thrived despite the restrictions imposed on them.
Created by Flora Fung Governor General's History Awards Winner 2011 recipient of the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching Posted August 24, 2023

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will analyze the ways Chinese immigrants to Canada survived and thrived despite the restrictions imposed on them. Students will gain deeper insights using Kayak and then connecting it to the primary sources for a deeper understanding of the events that affected Chinese immigrants and the ways in which they pushed for better treatment and rights.

Historical Thinking Concept(s)

  • Use primary source evidence
  • Analyze cause and consequence
  • Take historical perspectives

Learning Outcomes

Students will…
  • analyze primary sources for the impact of governmental policies and labour laws.
  • gain perspective on the actions taken by Chinese immigrants.
  • create and design a cartoon based on the knowledge gained.

Background Information

In addition to working on the railway, Chinese immigrants looked for other job opportunities. However, many jobs were limited by discriminatory labour laws and racial barriers. Many Chinese workers opened hand laundries as a means to earn a living, yet found themselves often subject to greater restrictions and systemic discrimination than white workers.

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 banned almost all Chinese from entering Canada. “Paper sons” and “paper daughters” are  terms to refer to those born in China who illegally immigrated to Canada by purchasing documentation that stated that they were blood relatives to Chinese people who already received Canadian citizenship or residency.

Resources Required/Teacher Prep

Primary Sources Used

Chinese Workers
  • Image 2 — Letter to the Premier
  • Image 11 — Letter to the Mayor of Saskatchewan
  • Image 12 — "Remarkable document is given city"
Paper Sons
  • Image 18 — "Chinamen evade tax"

Lesson Activity

  • Teacher should review the restrictions imposed by federal and provincial governments on Chinese immigrants (see Analyzing the Impact of Policy on Chinese Immigration through Primary Sources).
  • Have students read the cartoon “Students on Strike” in the “Beyond Gold Mountain” issue of Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids.    
  • As students read, have them make points or discuss the ways Chinese immigrants were restricted and the ways the Chinese community pushed back. Students may use Worksheet 3.1 to record their ideas in point form.
  • Teacher should discuss the findings of the students and write their opinions on the board.
  • Distribute the primary sources that the teacher wishes to use. The teacher can focus on one of the two topics or split the class into two groups.
  • This activity can be done individually or in partners. Students analyze the primary sources and complete the chart using point form.
  • Teacher could share some additional resources (see References below) that students can use to add information to their charts.
  • Students share their conclusions with the class. The teacher can write the answers on the board and have students make connections with previous knowledge.
  • Students create their own cartoon about the topic they analyzed in the primary source. The purpose of the cartoon would be to teach others about the ways Chinese immigrants were treated and ways Chinese immigrants resisted. The teacher may need to provide additional resources or research. Some suggestions have been placed for further sources in the reference part of this lesson plan.

Lesson Alternatives/Accommodations

The sources can be analyzed together as a class as opposed to individually.

Possible Extension Activities

Students could be offered alternatives to creating a cartoon, such as a poster or newspaper article.

Possible Assessment

  • Discussion and Chart could be used as formative assessment with feedback coming from the teacher during the class discussion
  • Cartoon could be used as a formative or summative evaluation
Paper Sons and Daughters and the Complexity of Choices During the Exclusion Era,” Facing History and Ourselves.

Paper Sons and Daughters,” CCNC Our Stories.

Chinese Hand Laundry,” Canadian Museum of History.

Chinese Immigration Act,” The Canadian Encyclopedia.

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