Tag Archives: Chinese Exclusion

The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first federal legislation which denied entry of an immigrant or groups of immigrants to the United States, based on their country of origin and or race, in this case, Chinese.

“Boom! Boom!! Boom!!!” – 1 May, 1880

Blaine, with a Chinese queue, bangs on a drum
Boom! Boom!! Boom!!! 1 May, 1880, by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred. Public Domain
Regarding the upcoming presidential election of 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes declined to run for an additional term, thus leaving the Republican nomination up for grabs.

In 1876 Maine Republican James G. Blaine launched his first bid for the U.S. Presidency. Although he promoted himself as a favorite, and indeed he was a popular and strong candidate, his campaign was derailed by scandal. From the beginning neither Harper’s editor George W. Curtis or Thomas Nast were fans of Blaine.

In Boom! Boom! Boom!!! Nast pokes fun of Blaine and his attempts to reinvigorate excitement for his candidacy and Blaine’s belief that his nomination was assured. The term “boom” was widely used in politics at the time. Today the term “buzz” would be analogous. The Republican field was crowded and competitive with former president U.S. Grant tepidly allowing his name to be placed in nomination along with Blaine and John Garfield of Ohio.

In 1876 bid Blaine had been deeply humiliated by Nast’s Chinese cartoons (Paine 420). In an effort to court votes, Blaine included anti-Chinese rhetoric in his speeches. Nast saw Blaine’s pandering as a betrayal of Republican values of inclusion. Nast repeated his attacks on Blaine in 1880.

In January 1880, Blaine wrote to the artist directly, in reaction to depicting Blaine as a plumed Indian, and asked Nast to reconsider victimizing him in his cartoons. There is no record of a Nast reply, other than a continuation of the cartoons.

Blaine over campaigned in California and Nast ridiculed him continually. Blaine bangs his own drum and Blaine is shown in Chinese clothing and wearing a long queue.

 Nast put little stock in popular trends or booms. A graveyard of self-aggrandizing “boomers” is seen laid to rest in the background.

Nast would repeat attacks on Blaine in 1884 when the politician tried for a third try for the presidency. Despite Blaine’s earning the party nomination, the third attempt would not prove to be the charm.

For Nast, Blaine’s third attempt marked the end of an era. Blaine embodied, better than any other politician of his generation, the transformation of the Republican Party and of American politics – from the social and ideological commitments of the Civil War era to the blander organization style of the Gilded Age (Keller 324). Disillusioned by his own Republican Party, Nast’s own passion for politics also waned after Blaine’s final attempt for the presidency.

 

 

“The Veto” – 15 April, 1882

President Chester A Arthur examines a Chinese vase with a magnifying lap
“The Veto” 15 April 1882 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel–Walfred. Public Domain

 

This illustration was accompanied by a Harper’s editorial who wrote of President Chester Arthur,

“In a temperate and excellent message the President has vetoed the Chinese bill. He states in detail the existing treaty relations between the countries, and the express understanding between the Commissioners upon both sides in the late negotiations. It was stipulated that the free immigration of Chinese should not be prohibited, and that any regulation of their coming should be reasonable. But an exclusion of twenty years is a practical prohibition, and therefore unreasonable. The President adopts this view, and regarding the twenty years clause as a breach of the national faith, he returns the bill.

He objects, also, incidentally, to the passport and registration provisions, as subjecting the resident Chinese to needless annoyance, which is equally forbidden by good faith. The President adds further that the bill is repugnant to good policy. It would be detrimental to the general interest to destroy amicable relations with Asia until it is plainly evident that Asiatic competition threatens our labor and safety. To ascertain how far this is probable, a shorter exclusion is desirable. But the President accepts the bill as evidence that Congress is of opinion that the Chinese immigration does injuriously affect our interests and endangers good order, and the tone of the message implies that a “reasonable” exclusion bill would not be vetoed.

The possible party effect of his veto the President has properly not allowed to sway his decision. If the veto should give California and the Pacific coast to the Democrats, it would be evident that they could be retained for the Republicans only by a wanton defiance of the American principle that honest immigrants to this country shall not be excluded until self-defense demands exclusion, and that in any case the national good faith shall be preserved. If fidelity to these principles should cost the Republican party [sic] some advantages, that fidelity will ultimately, as usual, commend the party to the renewed confidence of the country.” Harper’s Weekly, 15 April, 1882.

Harper’s confidence in Arthur was misplaced. The president signed a revision of the act in May, with a 10-year ban on Chinese immigration. He would soon extend the ban permanently.

The vase that President Arthur is set to examine with a magnifying glass resembles an earlier cracked vase featured prominently in Nast’s 1881 cartoon, “A Diplomatic (Chinese) Design Presented to the U.S.” The same dragon clings to the top of the vase, but it is less commanding than its appearance in 1881.

The vase is labeled “1880 Treaty” and it sits upon a pedestal with a sign that reads “Handle With Care.” The 1880 treaty, though it restricted Chinese immigration, did not interrupt trade between China and the United States. A Chinese diplomat and American are seen exchanging “Trade” and “Commerce” while a befuddled Irishman stares blankly into space.

A Chinese passport into the U.S. is trampled upon under Arthur’s foot. It reads “Passport for Land of the Free.”

 

 

 

“Eastward the Star of Empire Returns” 1880

“Eastward the Star of Empire Returns” – 27 March, 1880 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred, public domain

This cartoon depicts relics of the once-influential Republican and pro-capitalist interests being driven out of the West alongside Chinese laborers, whose much needed services were  boycotted in California.

Beginning in 1877, Denis Kearney an Irish-American immigrant, built steady and passionate support for his anthem, “The Chinese Must Go” a statement that began and concluded every charismatic speech Kearney typically delivered on the empty Sand Lots of California where large crowds could gather. A mixture of Sinophobia and severe economic depression provided a ripe environment for Kearney to stoke fear and rally white labor to reclaim all labor opportunities for themselves.  While the industrial North and the large plantations of the rural South welcomed and recruited the hardworking Chinese, West Coast voices demanded that the “Chinese Must Go.”

Kearney made steady progress toward his cause and politicians paid attention. His influence was felt in elections and through a battery of local, state and federal legislation, ultimately leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

“Blaine’s Teas(e)” – 20 March, 1880

Blaine steam from his tea resembles a chinese man
“Blaine’s Teas(e)” 20 March 1880, by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Source: UDel-Walfred. Public Domain

Republican presidential hopeful James G. Blaine was all too aware that Nast’s sphere of influence on the electorate was wide.  Nast relished exposing Blaine’s hypocrisy and anti-immigration stance. East Coast, New England tolerance toward accepting newcomers had been a point of Republican pride. Blaine was the first Republican official to defect to the Democratic way of thinking. Nast’s fixation on Blaine was unrelenting, and nearly equaled his Tweed/Tammany days.  The attention worried Blaine, who “attempted to explain and to justify his position, but the artist could see in the Chinese immigrant only a man and a brother, trying to make a living in a quiet and peaceful manner in a country that was big enough for all” (Paine, 413).

Nast’s Blaine’s Teas(e) shows the dilemma the politician faced. The Evening News Blaine reads, chronicles the West Coast’s growing calls for “The Chinese Must Go.” A savvy politician, Blaine needed votes in the West. All the while working to undermine the legitimacy of Chinese Americans, Nast lets Americans see that Blaine enjoyed the teas and porcelains resulting from U.S. trade with China. Nast calls out hypocrisy and incongruity of admiring Chinese “things” but hating the source of the objects.

The clammy Chinese figure rising before Blaine’s conjures the haunting, ethereal quality of ghosts who confront Dickens’ Scrooge. Whether Dickens’s spirits were an inspiration is unknown. Blaine is visited, in this instance, by a hot steamy specter who rises up from Blaine’s teacup to scold and confront the politician. This apparition will not allow Blaine to enjoy his tea in peace and privacy. Blaine’s hair appears to rise in alarm,  but Blaine looks more annoyed that fearful. His right hand has gripped the paper suddenly, indicating he is unnerved, yet he continues to clutch at his truth as he comes to terms with what is before him. Otherworldly, and celestial, the Chinese tea ghost peers directly into Blaine’s eyes with and bears a stiff upper lip.

The cartoon asks a question, which in a century and a half later, Lenore Metrick-Chen made the focus of her book Collecting Objects/Excluding People. “What happens when the exotic refuses to remain our fantasy, our abstraction and instead intrudes into our space?”(1)

Nast’s ghost intrudes, haunts and teases Blaine with the reality of the politician’s actions and xenophobic policies. Nast challenges the worthiness of  Blaine’s Republican ideals – his obligation as a member of Lincoln’s Party to tolerate newcomers to the United States.

Nast confronts a reality that Metrick-Chen continues to wrestle with and unpack in her book. Throughout America’s earliest history, spanning across Nast’s era and well into the twentieth century, American and Western culture held a fascination with exotic Eastern objects and artifacts. Blaine wants to enjoy his Chinese tea from Chinese porcelain. He embodies exactly the kind of person who collects objects but excludes people. Nast reminds his audience, and Blaine, that the Chinese people created these cherished goods and services. Blaine deserves to be haunted by his hypocrisy.

Chinese head coming out of a lamp
Money vs. Muscle, or, Chinese Emigration, To the Workmen and Trade Unions of America, New York: The “Season” Press, 1870. Courtesy of New York Public Library

Nast’s idea for this cartoon, however, may not be original. A “spectral disembodied head emerges from a magic lamp” in John S. Cook’s 1870 illustration of Money vs.Muscle, or Chinese Emigration. To the Workmen and Trade unions of America, published by the Season Press. It is not known if Nast had access to the book. The images are strikingly similar.

Metrick-Chen writes that soon after the United States was formally recognized as a country under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, the U.S. eagerly entered into trade with China. “The predominant American view of the Chinese had been laudatory” (19).

With the conclusion of The Opium War (1839- 1842), American superiority (Manifest Destiny) grew. Reports from Protestant missionaries stationed in China relayed to the American people their unsuccessful attempts to convert the Chinese to Christianity. These reports making their way home factored in supplanting favorable views toward China into negative opinions (Metrick-Chen 21-23). Defining Chinese as non-Christian heathens was an important element in disqualifying them as competitive laborers and applicants as citizens and visitors to the U.S.

 

“Which Color is to be Tabooed Next?” 1882

Irish and German man sitting at a table
“Which Color Is To Be Tabooed Next?” 25 March, 1882. Library of Congress

Fritz, a German and Pat, an Irishman, discuss what race should be tabooed next. The Germans and Irish were often adversarial rivals for jobs, but by the late 1870s and 1880s were more unified as white men as the “Chinese Question” hovered over their economic future. Increasingly Euro-centric whites affiliated with groups like the Workingmen’s Party, whose goal to drive out all labor competition, particularly from the Chinese  Chinese were often viewed incorrectly, as “coolies” workers who were brought to the United States under duress, or tricked into contract labor.

The caption, “Fritz (to Pat). “If the Yankee Congress can keep the yellow man out, what is to hinder them from calling us green and keeping us out too?””

As these men ponder their victory, they also dwell upon the repercussions of their victory over the Chinese and the passage of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which had in place, a 20-year option to renew.

Nast’s square jawed Irishman in top hat and vest had more to worry about than the German. The Irish had long been considered by other white people as not fully white – a separate race of people who sat on the evolutionary scale above the African American, but below Caucasians. By 1882, the Irish American had made great political gains, but this cartoon infers a certain irony, that people hadn’t completely forgotten earlier perceptions. Seventeen years later, Harper’s Weekly published this scientific-based cartoon.

Harper's Weekly, 1899. Artist Unknown, Misusing Darwin's science theories as a basis, the idea of the Irish as less than fully white persisted. This 1899 cartoon showing the notion still persisting 17 years after the cartoon Nast published in 1882.
Harper’s Weekly, 1899. Artist Unknown, Misusing Darwin’s science theories as a basis, the idea of the Irish as less than fully white persisted. This cartoon showing the notion that the Irish were physically and scientifically different still persisted 17 years after Nast published his cartoon in 1882.

Fritz the German (smoking a Meerschaum styled pipe and holding a mug of German beer) has a good inkling of who might be next in the pecking order. He directs his question and emphasizes it with a slight touch to the Irishman’s arm. We can see the Irishman is considering the implications.

A common Nast technique placed proclamations on walls behind his subjects, in this case language direct from the Exclusion Act, on the wall behind the two men as they reflect their future in America. A looming possibility hovers over their casual moment and invades their enjoyment of a legislative victory against the Chinese in America.

“The “Magnetic” Blaine;or, a Very Heavy “Load” stone for the Republican Party to Carry” 1880

Blaine's head sits atop of a magnet body
The Magnetic Blaine…by Thomas Nast, 8 May, 1880

On the eve of the 1880 Republican convention, Nast introduced one of his favorite targets, James G. Blaine, as a”magnetic man “who had attracted many undesirable political features” (Paine 425).

Nast dehumanizes Blaine by removing his human form (with the exception of his face) .

Blaine’s head rests upon a barrel of campaign funds. Nast reintroduces the “Mulligan letters” scandal of 1876 which had cost Blaine the presidential nomination. His personal magnetism draws close to Blaine references of past issues:“A Bloody Shirt Campaign,” Credit Scandal,”  “Fort Smith and Little Rock R.R. Bonds,” The Mulligan Letters,” “Machine Politics,” “Grant’s Cast Off Followers.” Center to the drawing, a Chinese man lies lifeless, a metal clip at the end of his queue affixed to the magnet. Next to the Chinese, a man in prison stripes rests his head along a declaration, “For Vice President Denis Kearney”  and lastly a silver dollar, acknowledging a controversy about using silver as currency. 

As a magnet of dubious attraction, Blaine is also rendered ineffective. His torso is missing. He has lost is manhood – his originality and bravery are neutered. At the end of his magnetic legs, Blaine’s feet are missing, disabling the presidential hopeful to take a  moral stand  His hands are flat and immobile at his side. Blaine is, in effect, paralyzed by his past positions, and is unable to disassociate or break the hold of his scandalous and immoral past.

As Morton Keller has observed, with Grant no longer in the political arena, Nast lost his sense of passion for Republican personalities and his perception of their shift away from the moral compass where social issues were concerned.

“Difficult Problems Solving Themselves” 1879

Modern sensibilities and commentary have at times criticized Nast’s “John Chinaman” or “John Confucius” representation as an example of Chinese stereotype.  Certainly, Nast could have varied facial expressions and dress. Many Chinese in America had assimilated, particularly in New York City and other East Coast port cities. In repeating his imagery, one might argue that Nast helped to perpetuate and anchor the stereotype which stressed their exotic dress and long hair.  For Nast, it was likely a combination of artful economy and providing a recognizable figure for general public identification.

Difficult Problems Solving Themselves, Harper’s Weekly, March 18, 1879, Library of Congress

Difficult Problems Solving Themselves shows the balance of Nast’s work and his intention to portray the Chinese in a fair, if not superior light. Here, John Chinaman is leaning against a directional signpost pointing eastward. He is literate. He is reading, in English, the San Francisco Hoodlum’s headline cries to “Go East Young MAN.” He is juxtaposed against another victim of racial discrimination, “A. Freedman” an African American forced or bull-dozed to move westward. Alongside the African American is a mother covered in a shawl and holding a young infant. Alongside of her, is a young boy. The woman and two children appear to be white. The older child appears to wear a tunic instead of a western-style shirt and pants. On his head is a white kufi, a traditional Islamic head covering for males.

The signpost divides the scene and the two travel paths dominate the cartoon. Unlike a regular signpost buried in the ground, this post emerges from roots. The division is firmly planted in the American soil. The signpost occupies the middle ground and blocks compromise. The post is is deeply rooted, like a tree.

In splitting the image the signpost depicts a nation with strong and divided social and political ideologies. The Chinese man’s queue runs parallel to the embedded signpost, and is nearly as long, suggesting a cultural devotion to the queue, but Nast acknowledges the hairstyle’s divisive role in separating Chinese from American. Both African American and Chinese travel toward a region of promise, but the stark reality is that each is merely switching locations with the other. While buildings in the background offer a “welcome” it is unlikely that any region purging one non-white race will likely accept another.

This image could be indicative of a pattern where Nast places his signature in a cartoon and what that placement might suggest. Instead of signing in ample blanks spaces to the left or to the right, Nast signs his work vertically up the signpost. It is the most neutral location and likely purposeful, since it is atypical of Nast’s usual signature placement. See ““The Nigger Must Go” and “The Chinese Must Go”