Teaching American History Project Lesson
  Shyle Irigoin

Author: Shyle Irigoin

Unit Title: Foreign Policy

Lesson Title: Relations with China during the 19th Century

Subject: US History

Level: 7th – 8th Grade

Length of Lesson: One 75-minute class period


American relations with Asian nations have often been marked with racism and domination through technology and the military. Many of the technological innovations possessed by the west originated in the orient, yet western nations such as the United States were able to adapt and improve on the technologies. As a result, by the 19th century there was a clear, disparate gulf between the Asian and western worlds in terms of perceived progress. The increased contact with China, both through immigration of many Chinese to the United States as well as the expanding economic markets overseas, also saw a period of increased racist policies and views of the Chinese people and culture.

The United States often had a policy of forcing economic opportunities in the Pacific Rim. A clear example of this was the forced opening of Japan to western commerce when Commodore Perry used the American fleet to force a treaty recognizing the right of trade. The United States was by no means alone in this policy of aggressive commerce; Great Britain’s use of Opium dependency to subjugate China as a subordinate trading partner was met with violence and rebellion on the part of Chinese. The intervention of western military forces was often the primary means of ensuring trade relations that put China and the rest of Asia at a severe disadvantage.

The purpose of this lesson is to show examples of the stereotypes and opinions American culture had regarding Chinese people and society during the 19th century. This is a one-day lesson running on a 75 minute block schedule, and a component of an overall unit on foreign policy for a 7th grade class.



  • Students will be able to identify popular American views regarding Chinese people and culture
  • Students will be able to identify biases the media has regarding Chinese people and culture
  • Students will be able to evaluate historical events based upon multiple primary sources
  • Students will be able to predict US foreign policy at the turn of the century in regards to China
  • Students will be able to empathize with historical characters and make conclusions on experiences they might encounter


Standards: Nevada State Content Standards and Benchmarks:

History Content Standard 2.0: History Skills: Students will use social studies vocabulary and concepts to engage in inquiry, in research, in analysis, and in decision making.
Benchmark 2.8.2: Evaluate sources of historical information based on: Bias, Credibility, Cultural Context, Reliability, Time Period

Civics Content Standard 4.0: The Political Process: Students describe the roles of political parties, interest groups, and public opinion in the democratic process.
Benchmark 4.8.4: Identify the influence of the media in forming public opinion.


In Class Student Activities:

Students will work in groups of 3-4 persons to analyze and draw conclusions using two primary sources; a political cartoon and an excerpt from a magazine. This lesson is dependent on the student understanding Manifest Destiny and the increasing role of Asia in America’s economic empire. The teacher must lay the foundation of these ideas beforehand or the lesson will not make the connections it was designed to.

Class begins (10 minutes) : Teacher takes role, deals with administrative tasks, puts class into groups of 3-4 and has one student from each group retrieve a copy of Activity #1 for their group.

Activity #1 (30 minutes)
Picture Document

Picture #1: “At the End of his Rope”

Picture #2: “The Only Way to Make an Open Door in China”

- Teacher will provide each group of 3-4 persons two laminated copies of the picture “At the End of his Rope” and two copies of “The Only Way to Make an Open Door in China”

- Teacher will ask students to begin by brainstorming what biases are held by the artist regarding Chinese people with the entire class- the results need to be shared with the class (5 minutes)

- Teacher will provide each group two copies of the NARA photo document analysis worksheet, one to be used for each cartoon (15 minutes)

- One individual in each group will need to write the information down for each cartoon

- One individual in each group will need to present their findings at the end for each cartoon

- Once the groups have completed the sheets, they will present their results to the reset of the class, as the teacher keeps track of their finding on the board. (10 minutes).

- The discussion should not only cover the image of the Chinese man in the foreground, but be also directed at the representation of the large foot in the background, being that of the Western Powers in Europe and the US. For the Open Door cartoon, the teacher should already have explained the importance of trading policy and the hope for unrestricted commerce in China for the Western World. 

Activity #2 (20 minutes)
Written Document

Document #1: "Affairs in China"

- The students will remain in the same group they were previously

- Each group will return the copies of the cartoons and retrieve two laminated copies of the article “Affairs in China” and a copy of the NARA written documents analysis worksheet.

- Each group will then begin to read the article and complete the written document analysis sheet

- The group assignments will rotate with a new person writing the information down in the worksheet as the group discusses the answer to write down

- Another person will rotate to present the finding to the class at the end (10 minutes)

- Once the groups have completed the sheet, they will present their results to the reset of the class, as the teacher keeps track of their finding on the board. (10 minutes).

- The discussion should expand to address the issue of immigration of Chinese into America, and the fears that the numbers would eclipse Irish and German immigrants. The teacher should also ask if the article shared the same sentiment regarding Chinese biases, as well as ask students to identify those similarities


Evaluation /Assessment: (15 minutes)

- One member of each group will collect the written articles the group had been working with and return them to the teacher, while another student collects the analysis sheets and turn them in, ensuring the names of the group members are legibly on those sheets.

- Students will then work independently on a journal entry, putting themselves in the role of the Emperor or Empress of China. The following writing prompt should be clearly visible on a board or overhead for the students to refer to: “As the leader of China, you have received word that the US ambassador would like to speak to you about trade. You must prepare a statement to give to the Ambassador regarding how you feel the US treats Chinese people and how you want it changed. This should be one paragraph minimum with 5-7 sentences.”

- Assessment strategies (rubrics)

Download Supplemental Lesson Documents
"At the End of His Rope" Political Cartoon
"Affairs in China" text
"The Only Way to Make a Door Open in China" Political Cartoon


Extended Enrichment Activity:

Cluster Activity

- Have students list at least 4 things they know about Chinese culture (Buddhism, Rockets, etc. are all acceptable answers)

- Have the groups that had been working together for the class period research 4-6 different concepts/terms based on the Chinese culture and create a poster about their assigned words that they will research in the library or on-line

- These terms should be prepared in advance to ensure successful research by the students.


Materials List:

The teacher will need to have available:

- Two copies of the political cartoon “At the End of His Rope” per group

- Two copies of the written article "Affairs in China" per group

- One copy of the Document Analysis Worksheets (Both written document and political cartoon sheets to be used) per group

For the Extended Enrichment Activity

- Teacher will need to arrange time to go to the library for research

- Teacher should have bookmarked Portals to the World from the Library of Congress Web Site: http://www.loc.gov/rr/international/portals.html to be used for research

- A legal size blank sheet of paper per person in order to complete the poster

- Multiple markers or colored pencils to complete the poster

- A listing of concepts/terms the teacher wants researched and incorporated in the poster



Document Analysis Worksheets

Picture #1: At the End of his Rope; From The Wave: v. 22, Aug. - Dec. 1900; CALL NUMBER xffF850.W186 v. 22:no.32: 08 REPOSITORY: The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley- http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/cic:@field(DOCID+@lit(brk2900))  

Picture #2: The Only Way to Open a Door in China”; From The Wasp: v. 43:19-v. 44, May - Dec. 1900; CALL NUMBER v. 44:27 page 9 REPOSITORY The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/cic:@field(DOCID+@lit(brk1697)) 

Document #1: "Affairs in China": From Harper's Weekly: Harper's Weekly, Vol. 4; original publishing date 1860; CALL NUMBER xffF850.W186 v. 22:no.32: 08 REPOSITORY The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/cic:@field(DOCID+@lit(brk5345))