Activity 3: Using Art for Good & Evil
This activity will analyze three political cartoons published in San Francisco newspapers between 1881 and 1911, during which there were multiple smallpox epidemics which were blamed on the Chinese Americans in Chinatown. These epidemics occurred in 1868, 1876, 1880, and 1887. Chinatown’s crowded environment, along with racist stereotypes about its Chinese residents, was blamed for spreading this disease.
Background on Political Cartoons:
Step 1 (10 min)
Put the students in groups of 4 and give one political cartoon to each group (links to Gate of the End of the World, Three Graces, and Statue for Our Harbor) to discuss. Tell them to look up the definitions of unknown words in their cartoon, or provide students with a copy of the vocabulary list at the bottom. Ask them to fill out Worksheet #1 as a group (worksheet questions copied below for teacher reference):
Step 2 (12-15 min)
Instruct students to designate two members as “explorers” and give each explorer an Explorer Worksheet. Ask each explorer to visit a group studying a different cartoon. The two members remaining will act as “storytellers” and share the group’s findings about their assigned cartoon with visiting explorers. Afterward, the two explorers will return to their group and report back on what they learned. They can use the following questions to guide their discussion:
Step 3 (10 min)
Ask students to visit this website to view examples of contemporary artwork depicting Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instruct students to pick one of their favorite images, and fill out Worksheet 3 together as a group.
Step 4 (5-8 min)
Bring the class back together and lead a discussion on their findings. Finish with the following questions:
Optional Post-Class Assignment:
Ask students to create their own political cartoon or graphic to send an important message of their choosing about the COVID-19 pandemic. Encourage students to consider what elements they found particularly powerful and compelling about the artworks analyzed in class, and incorporate those elements into their own art. Artworks can be displayed in class or shared on social media afterward.
Malarium: A disease that causes fever, chills, and sweating, that can be deadly
Smallpox: A very contagious disease that causes flu-like symptoms and a rash. In the past, it was extremely deadly and left people with bad scarring from the rash.
Leprosy: A disease that causes skin lesions, lumps, and disfigurement
Pesthouse: A building to separate those infected with a contagious disease
Immorality: Not having morals or values
Labor: Work force