Paper Assignment 2


In 1883 Wong Chin Foo (1847–1898) invited the infamous “Sandlotter” Denis Kearney (1847-1907) to a public debate on the Chinese Question.* Wong Chin Foo was an immigrant from Shandong, China who was educated in the US and became a pioneering Chinese American journalist and orator. A naturalized American citizen and a founder of the Chinese Equal Rights League, Wong was one of the most outspoken opponents of labor leader, Denis Kearney, a notorious demagogue who rallied crowds with the slogan “The Chinese Must Go.” When Kearney initially refused to debate with him, Wong famously challenged him to a duel, wittily offering the Irishman his choice of “chopsticks, Irish potatoes, or Krupp guns.” In the end, Kearney did agree to debate Wong, creating a great sensation in the press. The two men faced each other on October 18, 1887 in the offices of the New York World.

Essay Assignment

Based upon your reading of historical primary sources (both course materials and sources identified through independent research), compare and contrast the viewpoints articulated by Wong Chin Foo and Denis Kearney on the “Chinese Question.” To analyze these viewpoints, which they articulated in multiple venues, you will need to carefully consider the following key questions: How does each use the concept of rights to support his position? What role do ideas of racial difference play in their arguments? what about the notion of universal values? How do they differ in their understandings of what it means to be an American?

How you answer these questions will help you figure out your thesis, which you should state by the end of the first paragraph or beginning of the second paragraph. This thesis should reflect your own viewpoint; it will lend focus and direction to your argument. In the body of the paper you will elaborate upon your answers to these questions. A comparative analysis also requires that you establish clear grounds for comparison. To do this you will need to contextualize Wong’s and Kearney’s arguments by showing how they relate to the broader debate on the Chinese Question from the time, using the historical primary sources available on Stellar. Make sure to quote or paraphrase specific statements on both sides (pro and con) of the issue; cite all such specific references to sources. Overall, your analysis should show how arguments on the Chinese Question went beyond purely economic issues to touch upon cultural, religious, political and ethical issues as well. Finally, with reference to Scott Seligman’s work, and based on your own reading of the primary sources, explain why the press declared Wong the “winner” of the October 18, 1887 debate. (If you want to, you can make this point part of your conclusion paragraph.)

Appendix: (This 500 words will be included in the overall 2500-word word count.)

The body of your paper will be followed by an Appendix: give a 250-word description of an original source you identified for Wong Chin Foo and another 250-word description of an original source you identified for Denis Kearney or the Workingmen’s Party of California. Tell us what the source is, when it was written, who wrote it, and for what purpose and intended audience. Also tell us how you found the source (through what search method) and how you evaluated the reliability of this source (using guidelines provided on our class lib-guides page). Please include links or scans of your primary sources. You may find this worksheet (PDF) prepared by the National Records and Archives Administration helpful. 

Important Points to Remember

  • This paper is essentially an exercise in expository writing, but it will also help you hone skills basic to research reports, especially in conducting and documenting original research using historical primary sources.
  • Address your paper to a general audience with no background in Asian American history.
  • Your paper must have a clear and compelling thesis.
  • Your paper must have proper citations throughout. Please use footnotes following the Chicago Manual of Style humanities conventions. Your paper should also include a bibliography.

In Writing This Paper You Should:

  • Demonstrate that you understand arguments on the Chinese Question, both pro and con.
  • Demonstrate that you understand multiple dimensions of the Chinese Question, beyond economic issues.
  • Demonstrate your ability to use primary sources as evidence in academic writing.
  • Demonstrate your ability to analyze texts, with specific attention to the writer’s rhetorical aims.
  • Write an effective comparative analysis.

Formatting and Submission:

  • Your paper should be written in Times New Roman, twelve-point font and double-spaced. You must use page numbers.
  • Please indicate at the top of the first page: your name, the subject number, total word count for this paper (inclusive of notes and bibliography).
  • Please submit as a PDF.
  • You will lose points if you are substantially (20 words) over or under the required word count.

*Kearney and his associates were known as “Sandlotters” because they conducted public speeches from the vacant sand lot near San Francisco City Hall, at times gathering thousands of listeners.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2013
Learning Resource Types
Activity Assignments
Written Assignments