Tag Archives: labor

“The Chinese Question” 1871

“The Chinese Question” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Feb. 2, 1871, Source: Walfred scan

The Chinese Question is full sized cartoon published in Harper’s Weekly, February 18, 1871,

Nast was tolerant of all races, nationalities, and creeds. He was not, however, tolerant of ignorance. He deplored the mob mentality that in his mind, the Irish represented. Their alliance with Tweed and Democratic Party values drove Nast to draw with savage fervor. It wasn’t the Irish per se, but what the Irish did with their political power and alliances that Nast found disturbing. As Patricia Hills points out, “he [Nast] castigates only the ignorant and bigoted who engage in reprehensible deeds” (115).

Unfortunately for the Chinese, the Irish played a major role in Sinophobic hysteria. In her book Driven Out, Jean Pfaelzer quotes a New York Times article on the role of the Irish against the Chinese:

It was well known that the chief objection to the Chinese in California comes from the Irish. It was from this class that the Democratic Party used to draw most of the political capital which it gained by fostering the prejudices against the Negro. Fleeing to this country, as they claimed, to escape British oppression, the Irish immigrant always made haste to join the ranks of the oppressors here.  They voted, almost to a man, with the Democratic Party…now that slavery is abolished, we find them in the front ranks of the haters and persecutors of the Chinese. (52-53)

Accompanying this cartoon was a short, but powerful Harper’s editorial, “The Heathen Chinee” which decried the fear-mongering and blame placed upon the Chinese for labor displacement. In a bid to strengthen his Irish constituency, Tweed sought to restrict the use of Chinese railroad labor through legislative means. While a state senator, Tweed sponsored a bill to prevent the Chinese from being hired on projects.  Although Chinese population in New York was statistically minute,  estimated to be only 200 at the time, Tweed favored invasion vernacular to stoke fear within a male, Caucasian workforce. Harper’s Weekly’s editors  observed,

The working-men of this State know perfectly well that no such danger exists as that which is hinted at in Mr. Tweed’s bill. The Chinese invasion, of which he seems to be so much afraid is altogether mythical, as everybody in his sober senses is well aware; and Mr. Tweed presumes too much on the ignorance or the prejudices of the working-men if he expects to delude them with such a flimsy cheat. The general sentiment of the American people on this question is admirably expressed in Mr. Nast’s cartoon. A majority in this country still adhere to the old Revolutionary doctrine that all men are free and equal before the law, and possess inalienable rights which even Mr. Tweed is bound to respect.

Nast featured an imaginary local brouhaha in his cartoon The Chinese Question.

Nast places an angry, defiant Columbia front and center to confront the Workingmen menace and she serves as a reminder of America’s values. She stands over a crouched and defeated Chinese man. In addition, Nast utilizes what would become a favorite technique — to plaster current controversy on a wall of public protest. On the wall, all the various forms of hate speech spouted against the Chinese could be read and considered.

Chinese are in kind referred to as “coolies” “slaves,” “paupers” and “rat eaters.” Rat eaters, in particular, became a favorite and virulent Chinese stereotype deployed to great effect, especially on the West Coast,  in order to dehumanize the Chinese and affirm their “otherness.”  “Barbarians” and “heathens” are additional descriptive terms prominently displayed. The placards pronounce the Chinese as the “lowest and vilest of human race,” “vicious and immoral” declares another.  Nast’s wall is an effective tool. It collects the hate speech used within the local white labor community.  Each layer of verbal expression collects and builds like pounds in a pressure cooker. Workingmen would stop at no insult to rid themselves of the Chinese menace. The Chinese must go. “Their importation must be stopped.” Nast plastered the prejudice for all to see their ugly truth and consider the lie.

Nast created a clear visual divide on the issue. The hard edge on the right separates Columbia and the Chinese man from the trouble that is arriving from the other side. Columbia’s body stands in the path as a violent mob approaches. The vertical division creates a tension and theatrical suspense against what comes next and who might prevail.

Whipped up by the Tammany frenzy is New York’s version of the Workingmen’s Party. Led by Nast’s quintessential brawny Irish leader, they angrily turn the corner toward Columbia and the Chinese man. Nast dresses his thugs as would-be gentlemen  – his Irish brute wears a waistcoat and top hat. The high fashion does not change his savage character or propensity for violence.

Irish brute Nast’s Irish brute

Well-dressed as he may be, his face betrays his brutality. His features are roughly chiseled, his steely stare focuses on the impending attack. He brandishes a club in one hand and a rock in the other. This Irish ringleader is eager for some good old-fashioned mob violence.  Behind him, four other men are visible, and by their normal faces, not all are Irish. All are white and possess guns or weapons and expressions of anger. Behind them, faceless mob members carry signs in the air. One sign reads, “If our ballot will not stop them coming to our country, the bullet must.”

Nast reprises New York Draft Riot imagery of 1863 to recreate a scene in 1871 and give it additional implications. Nast had provided eye-witness drawings of the New York City draft riots and had not overly implicated the Irish in the violence. By including 1863 draft riot imagery to this event, Nast links Irish involvement with racial violence. In the background lies the evidence of their most notorious mob activity–the lynching and destruction of a “colored” community.  The Orangemen’s Riots followed later that summer on July 11-12, 1871 and Nast would once again deploy the same lynching imagery against the Irish. During the same riot, a colored orphanage burned to the ground. By including a smoldering orphan asylum in the background, Nast indicates this mob and associating the participants to the crime.  A barren tree is seen in the distance. An empty hangman’s noose dangles from a leafless tree. Below makeshift tombstones acknowledge buried rights, blood, and strikes. With the African American issue handled and put in their rightful place, graves, the Irish-led mob turns to provide their answer to the Chinese question. One problem down, one more problem to go.

Nast’s audience understood the significance of Columbia’s inclusion. She appears in Nast cartoons with great effect and is a formidable challenger to thwart Tweed.  Having fought and won many battles, she alone has the wherewithal to protect an emotionally defeated Chinese man. Slumped against a wall, framed by “heathen,” “idolater,” and exclamations of paganism, he is confused and helpless against this onslaught of white terror and oppression. He raises one knee to support a clutched hand and lowered head. His eyes are closed and his expression is one of utter despair. Columbia’s long tresses toss as she turns her head, alerted to the approaching mob. Her tiara is marked “U.S.” Her right hand gently touches the head of the crouched Chinese man.  Columbia’s left hand rises above her waist and over her heart into a fist. Her neckline bears a shield of America’s stars and stripes. Her expression is resolute.  She will not stand for what is about to go down. She addresses the mob, “Hands off, gentlemen! America means fair play for all men.” Columbia is Nast’s voice.

Columbia defended the downtrodden before. Consider how Nast uses her for “And Not This Man?” on August 5, 1865.

And not this man? Columbia argues for Civil Rights for a wounded African American veteran. Harper's Weekly, August 5, 1859. Library of Congress And not this man? Columbia argues for Civil Rights for a wounded African American veteran. Harper’s Weekly, August 5, 1859. Library of Congress

Here, as in the Chinese Question, Columbia advocates for civil rights, this time for a wounded African American Civil War veteran. Although seriously wounded, he stands erect. He possesses a quiet dignity. Columbia touches him at the shoulder and invites him to step up for consideration as an American. She is speaking to his legislative detractors who appear on an accompanying page.

In Nast’s Chinese Question, Columbia touches the head of the Chinese man. Although he Is able-bodied, he cannot stand on his two legs, he is unable to face his accusers as a whole man, even with Columbia by his side.

Nast has intentionally weakened the Chinese man in the face of the mob. The question is why.  Is it to evoke empathy for the Chinese man, is it to make the mob look worse than what they were? Could Nast have drawn the Chinese with more dignity? The Irish were afraid of labor competition.  Struggling to get established in America the Irish organized in their new home and resolved that they would not suffer the oppression they experienced in their homeland of Ireland. As Timothy Meagher has noted, the Irish had no history of prejudice or exhibited any racist behavior in Ireland.  They possessed, Meagher suggests, all of the sensitivities necessary to be empathetic to others who were oppressed. But in nineteenth-century Ireland, the Irish had learned that organization and activism produced results, albeit limited.

The new Irish immigrant in America faced hurdles other immigrants, such as the Germans did not. Because of the Great Famine, they arrived in very large numbers and in the most destitute of conditions. As Roman Catholics, they were considered by the Protestant population as members of a strange cult, unwilling to assimilate to American culture. These built-in prejudices, Meagher argues, forced the Irish to assert their “whiteness” and be demonstratively aggressive to other races, in particular, African Americans and Chinese Americans. Meagher cites the work of Moses Rischin who observed that Irish Catholics who aligned against the Chinese in California, and Irish Catholics who aligned with Democratic anti-abolitionists in the South, found greater acceptance into the white Protestant mainstream of their respective communities if they joined others who expressed racial paranoia.

The prevailing view of many historians asserts that the Irish feared any form of labor competition. The banding together of white against black would not work to the Irish’s favor in the Northeast, and Meagher offers several opinions that dispute a view that the Irish were afraid of southern blacks seeking northern jobs. Meagher warns against drawing such simplistic conclusions that point strictly at racial tensions or only that only targeted African Americans.

The Irish were hostile to all competitors including other ethnicities. They fought with Germans and Chinese. Real fear existed that a “powerful Republican Party and rich industrialists, would overpower the Irish” (223).  Meagher notes that the New York Times was exasperated with the Irish, writing in 1880, “the hospitable and generous Irishman has almost no friendship for any race but his own. As laborer and politician, he detests the Italian. Between him and the German-American citizen, there is a great gulf fixed…but the most naturalized thing for the Americanized Irishman is to drive out all other foreigners, whatever may be their religious tenets” (223). Observations such as these, Meagher suggests, establish that tensions went beyond Irish-African-American tension and violence. The Chinese were easy targets.

As victims of the English oppression and prejudice in their homeland, and again in America, as targets of nativist and Protestant fears in America, the Irish directed their paranoia, distrust toward non-Irish and non-Catholics.  Irish Americans battled persistent and ill-informed scientific theory which classified them as a unique and inferior human race.  The Irish were not considered white. For Irish-Americans, defining others as inferior was an early step in self-preservation. As other ethnicities began to fear the Chinese,  many Irish not only latched on to this common concern but took the lead in ridding the nation of the menace. By attacking the Chinese, the Irish could prove their “whiteness” and earn a legitimate place in American society. Once severely oppressed in Ireland, and again in America, many Irish turned the tables by becoming the oppressors. Nast would never let the Irish forget this irony.

Works cited

Chinese and the railroad

I found this Slide Share on the Internet, likely made for a high school classroom. It has some interesting images (photographs and illustrations) by Nast (not sourced from this website) and other artists. Difficult to source who produced this slideshare.

http://www.slideshare.net/riker150/transcontinental-rr-4316584

“Celestial” 1881

“Celestial” by Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly, 2 February 1881. Source: UDel-Walfred

This small cartoon appeared on the back pages of Harper’s Weekly. Pre-Chinese Exclusion, the image reinforces stereotypes, both of the Chinese, here shown as “John Chinaman” and his nemesis, the white laborer, here a member of the Workingmen’s Party of California. This worker  resembles Nast’s generic representations of Irish white laborers pressing the California public and legislature to legally and socially drive the Chinese out.  The worker stands behind a sign that says “Sand Lots.” Sand Lots provided the stage where anti-Chinese agitator Denis Kearney popularized his anthem, “The Chinese Must Go” and rallied white laborers to organize themselves as the “Workingmen’s Party.”

The white laborer is scruffy and unkempt with an unflattering protruding jaw line.  On his hat a band reads “A Vote.” He looks directly at the Chinese man. The outline of a cloud in the sky resembles smoke emanating from the man, but he is not smoking. Off in the distance, Chinese workers are traveling to and from a laundry.

Between the two men, a sign “The New Chinese Treaty” has fallen on the ground. The original Burlingame Treaty, enacted in 1868 to protect Chinese immigrants in the United States, and which bestowed most favored nation status to China, had since gone through many revisions, each increasing limitations upon the Chinese.

The Chinese man attempts diplomacy. He approaches his adversary with deferential respect, his hand to his chest in a slight bow. His head dips to acknowledge the working man. The caption reads,

“The Yellow Dragon. “Of course, I did not hope to suit you, but this is for my friend, Uncle Sam, and it will even enable you to get better accustomed to this land of freedom, which you have adopted and which protects you.”

Many Irish-born, anti-Chinese agitators, like Denis Kearney and the working men who followed him, were naturalized citizens and earned the right to vote in elections.  The vote empowered the Caucasian laborers to lobby effectively against the Chinese. State and federal laws prohibited the Chinese from becoming citizens and voting.

Detail
Detail

In these smaller cartoons, Nast frequently shows Chinese figures carrying laundry tubs, washboards and engaging in laundry services. The Chinese did not come to America with any particular knowledge or skill of laundering, but they adopted the laundry industry as a practical matter when populations in western towns exploded. No one else wanted to do the work and it provided income to the Chinese while rendering a valuable service to the community.  The availability of well-priced,Chinese laundry service freed white women from the tedious household task.  A win-win situation for both white and Chinese families. The figure in the center is going about his business, with a smile upon his face.

Driven out of the mines and infrastructure jobs, Chinese moved into a wide variety of occupations that provided needed services. In addition to laundry, the Chinese were noted as shoe cobblers, cigar makers and tea merchants. Nast’s Chinese launderer may be seen as a stereotype, but by repeating this trope, Nast perpetuates another American perception about the Chinese – their docility.Whether intentional or not, Nast’s background images reinforces the Chinese as peaceful, non-threatening members of society.

Kearney and his his Sand Lot speeches were effective. Despite the Chinese’s limited presence in these service roles, Kearney’s Workingmen’s Party were nevertheless threatened by their existence. They demanded white households to boycott all services rendered by the Chinese.

In his cartoons, Nast alternated the placement of his signature. Here it is on the side of the Chinese diplomat. Plenty of room existed on the left to place the signature. There is evidence to suggest that Nast signed his name next to a person or cause to reaffirm an editorial position.

“The Coming Man” 1881

The Coming Man 20 May 1881
The Coming Man, 20 May, 1881 by George Frederick Keller, The San Francisco Wasp

This commanding cartoon was published by The San Francisco Wasp approximately one year before the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted on May 6, 1882.

The image appealed to white workingmen’s fears of a Chinese takeover of American society and enterprise. Despite the Chinese only occupying 0.002 percent of the population, visual depictions of the Chinese continued to reinforce imagery of infestation and sinister monopolization of industry.

The Coming Man colorfully illustrates the worst in negative stereotyping and Sinophobia. The Chinese man’s over-sized left hand stretches out to the foreground of the image. It is stamped “MONOPOLY” and his fingernails are represented as animal talons, the nails are curled and grow upward like an overhang of a pagoda.

Detail
Detail

The hand grasps control over trades and services for which the Chinese were most associated – cigar making and sales, laundry, underwear and shirt manufacturing, box factories, clothing, and shoes.

Above his blue mandarin jacket (Chinese tunics were commonly blue, purple or black) is the image of a Chinese nightmare for white Americans. The Chinese man’s face is grotesquely distorted and he greets the viewer head-on with a sinister expression. As if to focus better on those looking upon him, he closes one eye with his index finger to sharpen his stare. His right eye and brow lurch up at an unnatural angle. His ears and nose are large. A devious smile reveals a single tooth, evidence of his bad health. His tongue dangles from the left side of his mouth.

On his shaven head is a skull cap. From the back of his head, the Chinese queue appears to have a life of its own, and whips out from behind the head. The very end of the hair queue looks like the end of a whip.

This Chinese man is not afraid of the white workingman clientele and readers of The Wasp. Behind him and to the left, six factories smolder with industry, possibly a reference to the Chinese Six Companies, an organization which advocated for the Chinese in America. A Chinese pagoda is seen among the buildings. On the right, a few angry, white, Euro-centric workers appear, faintly drawn. They are disappearing. A bearded man wears an apron and a white hat and holds his fist up in the air. Only two factories are viable on this side of the image.

The dominant colors of the cartoon are red, white and blue. This Chinese Man, this “coming man” has taken over the American Dream. He has pushed American workers into the background.

The implicit message of the cartoon is to stoke fear and uncertainty. This man and others like him must be stopped from coming.

The caption reads “Alee samee ‘Melican Man Monopoleeee”

Works cited

“The New Comet – A Phenomenon Now Visible in All Parts of the US” 1870

the-new-comet-a-phenom-now-visible-8-June-1870 by Thomas Nast. Source: UDel-Walfred

This 1870 cartoon is not typical of Nast’s images and his images of the Chinese in America in general. It is uncharacteristically dark in tone and density, and it is the only Nast cartoon that pictures the Chinese as anything other than a human being.  China was known as the Celestial Empire. Playing upon the term “celestial” Nast captures the growing curiosity of New Yorkers about Chinese Americans who are arriving in New York City in greater numbers.

The majority of Chinese Americans resided on the West Coast, coming to America in order to escape extreme financial hardship and widespread famine in their native China.  “Thousands of Chinese, mostly Cantonese” responded to the 1848-49 California Gold Rush and were recruited to help build the Transcontinental Railroad and the “economic development of the West” (Choy 19).

Soon after they arrived on the West Coast, the Chinese experienced prejudice and legislative roadblocks which prevented them from assimilation, attaining citizenship and enjoyment of rights commonly extended to other immigrants. Most white labor interests in the U.S. considered the Chinese “sojourners” or temporary workers with no desire to earn citizenship or assimilate into American culture. Since existing laws prevented naturalization, the Chinese were forced and locked into this perception.

In 1873, the United States suffered a severe economic recession and the economic uncertainty permeated at state and local levels. The growing white population in the western states, particularly in California, increasingly viewed the Chinese as unfair economic competitors. Employers appreciated the Chinese. They were industrious, productive employees, often willing to work for less. However these Chinese were not “coolies,” or “slave labor” and would strike for better working conditions and wages when they felt unfair conditions existed. This recession fueled white angst regarding labor issues – the leading factor driving the “The Chinese Must Go” anthem.

Before the Civil War, a very small Chinese population (as low as 38 or as high as 60 depending on sources) resided in New York, in close proximity to “the impoverished, Irish-dominated Fourth Ward to the east of Five Points” (Anbinder 396). These New York Chinese lived quietly among the other immigrants and rendered services such as selling rock candy and cigars.  Due to a lack of Chinese women in America, and Irish women’s lack of suitable Irish partners, Chinese-Irish marriages, though rare, did exist and were tolerated. As experienced sailors, many Chinese males settled in the port city. Some Chinese were escaped “coolie laborers” who had been forcibly or unfairly tricked to work on ships. New York provided an escape to deplorable working conditions that existed along the southern Atlantic (Anbinder 396).

Eighteen hundred and seventy was not the first time that crowds of New Yorkers had encountered the Chinese however.  In the eighteenth century, Americans were curious and respectful concerning the nation and people of China. In the mid-nineteenth century, attitudes about the Chinese declined in the aftermath of the Opium Wars (1839-1842). As early as 1847 New Yorker’s attitudes about the Chinese had “shifted dramatically.” In the summer of 1847, New Yorkers “were treated to a spectacular sight: a 160-foot Chinese vessel called the Keying” (Tchen 63).

Tchen describes the arrival of the Keying into the Battery area of New York Harbor where thousands came to watch, and later pay twenty-five cents to tour the unusual looking trading ship. Newspapers offered daily coverage and an estimated 4,000 people a day came to see or tour the craft. In addition to the goods and surroundings of the Keying on display, New Yorkers were promised a spectacle of the strange religious practices by the Chinese crew – “a once in a lifetime chance of seeing something authentically Chinese.” A variety of creative license and speculative promoting had led New York spectators to expect sacrificing, dancing, rituals, and examples of opium-induced stupor. It was as Tchen describes, a “packaged otherness” (67). The New York Herald observed, “They [the Chinese] are peculiarly attached to old notions, and will not permit the slightest innovation in anything” (qtd. Tchen 68). Later, a labor argument between the Chinese crew and the captain resulted in violence, which the New York press took note of and blamed squarely on opium-induced behavior.

Throughout the Keying’s stay in New York City, western culture scrambled to exploit the “exotic foreignness” and racial differences of the crew (Tchen 70).

Whatever the circumstances of their arrival, regarded either as coolie escapees or as a people driven out of California due to Sinophobic hysteria when the Chinese settled in New York City they began to organize. Their community leaders sought out properties to rent or purchase/ in order to establish an enclave where the Chinese could live and operate businesses and receive mutual support. This concentration of Chinese residences and storefronts, despite being statistically very minute, commanded New Yorkers’ attention. “It seemed to many observers that Asians had overrun the neighborhood” (Anbinder 399). Lower Mott Street in the Sixth Ward became the foundation of what by 1880 was known as China Town (Anbidner 398).

Nast sympathetically depicted the Chinese in six prior renderings. This particular Nast’s drawing may represent his desire to capture the mood that Anbinder references – the local reaction, awareness, and curiosity of a changed presence in the largely white, Euro-centric community.  This atmospheric arrival from another world drove families out of their homes so that they could get a good look at the occurrence  – the Chinese novelty – streaking against the dark, starlit sky.

A smiling Chinese face, with a smug expression, comprises the large comet head. The tail of the comet, a Chinese pigtail or queue, is emblazoned with “Cheap Labor” a message that is met with mixed reaction to the fascinated audience below.

Detail of comet head which Nast drew as a Chinese face

The reaction of witnesses to the celestial arrival is divided. They are in halves, welcoming and wary. Spread out across the scene, large telescopes labeled “capitalist,” “the police,” “the press,” and “working man,” focus their lens upon the”phenomenon” as it enters their world.

Detail of the left side
Detail of the left side

A characteristic technique of Nast’s was to visually split his scenes and feature opposing views – pitting his subjects against one another to visually differentiate contrasting attitudes. This cartoon is no different.

The left side of the illustration represents the pro-capitalist (and progressive) stance toward the Chinese’s arrival. A tall factory frames the scene. They clearly rejoice at the prospect of what the Chinese arrival might contribute to progress and industry. Signs rise from the crowds and declare, “Let Them Come,” “We Want Servants, Cooks and Nurses,” and other positive messages welcoming the addition of Chinese labor.  The people on this side of the harbor bring out their families to witness the event. A child and a man are seen throwing up their hands in exclamation. A woman clutches her hands to her chest in a hopeful posture.

Detail of the right side of the image
Detail of the right side of the image

There is no joy on the right side of the cartoon. Here the reaction of the crowd registers displeasure, fear, and skepticism. Present are members of the Workingmen’s party and other similar labor groups that saw the Chinese as an enemy of the Caucasian laborer. The telescope far right is labeled “Working Man” and unlike the others, does not show the graduated, collapsible structure of the lens. It is a fixed focal length. This telescope resembles a long gun or cannon. It has the closest view or shot of the approaching Chinese menace.  One ghostly looking woman can be seen pleading with a man who wields a large ax. Behind this man, a small child looks away from the scene. At top right, a portly priest with a halo above his head writes pro-trade union messages. His words sermonize that “The Chinese Will Destroy Us.” Signs proclaim that the Chinese “Must Be Resisted.” Buildings advertise slogans that sell resentment and fear, “Down With Cheap Shoes,” and “Down With Capital.”

Tchen observes that Nast is not taking a position with this cartoon. Nast simply documents the two different states of mind in his hometown. Perhaps, it is for this reason that Nast has chosen to objectify the Chinese as a comet – not because he feels the Chinese are other-worldly – but because the New Yorkers already feel this way.

Tchen speculates upon this same possibility, for he does acknowledge the pro-Chinese positions and convictions seen in Nast’s later cartoons.  Yet, Tchen is not completely comfortable that Nast did all he could with his body of work to convey a progressive attitude toward the Chinese and encourage further understanding of the obstacles they faced in America.  In particular, Tchen finds it hard to explain Nast’s reasoning behind the creation of “The Martyrdom of St. Crispin,” drawn a month earlier.

Lenore Metrick-Chen disagrees, pointing out that this particular issue of Harper’s Weekly refers to the Chinese no less than eight times and feels that the magazine advanced a negative feeling about Chinese immigration and general unease of the Chinese (39).

We may never know what existed in Nast’s mind or heart – and indeed he may have felt as curious and as astonished as the general public. This particular drawing is often shown to depict Sinophobia and as an example of turning a minority race into an “other.” Seen alone, without Five Points backstory, modern viewers may not appreciate how the approach of the major change or perceived phenomenon resonated in the community.  Right or wrong, Nast piece records that New Yorkers at the time they took notice, and while the newcomers were viewed as strange and different, attitudes about the Chinese were divided.

As a documentary image, Nast’s Chinese comet head is better understood. It captures the public reaction and sensationalism that existed and should be seen in that light, rather than as a reflection of Nast’s personal beliefs or prejudices. Nast was not 100 percent consistent or admirable with his depictions of the Chinese, but if this example is to be viewed as an editorial, it is an accurate depiction of how New Yorkers felt about the Chinese arriving, and not an offering of Nast’s personal beliefs. As a Radical Republican, Nast would have aligned with capitalists and welcomed the Chinese as a valuable addition to the workforce and overall commerce in general. In The New Comet, Nast accurately captures the pro and con attitudes that together objectified and sensationalized an increased presence of Chinese in New York City.

Works cited

“Let the Chinese Embrace Civilization, and They May Stay” 1882

“Let the Chinese Embrace Civilization, and They May Stay” 18 March 1882. Source: UDel-Walfred

Thomas Nast applies irony and a direct hit at hypocrisy to this 1882 commentary drawn on the eve of the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

“Uncivilized” and “barbaric” were leading accusations (two of many)  hurled against the Chinese by American citizens and other immigrant groups in America. Always defined and depicted as outsiders, sojourners and as “others,” the Chinese were not accorded the rights of other immigrants.  In many locations, especially in the West, the Chinese were specifically prohibited to integrate or assimilate into what was viewed as normal white American culture.

Nast assumes this voice of normal America and suggests if only the Chinese could be like us, behave like us–if only they could “embrace civilization”–the Euro-American brand of civilization–then maybe they could remain in the United States. Nast throws this tolerated behavior of American civilization right in the face of his critics and illustrates the baseless hypocrisy of their xenophobic anti-Chinese sentiment.

Nast’s use of humor is effective. The center image is a direct hit at the Irish, whose penchant for whiskey was an oft-repeated stereotype. Perhaps, if the Chinese could drink like the Irish, then maybe they could stay.

Or, how about good old fashioned pugilism? For decades, the Irish had earned a reputation for bare-knuckle prizefighting.  White men considered Chinese men docile. As boxers, the Irish had organized violence into a popular entertainment and sport.  Did the public really want to see the Chinese taking up fights?

Cheap, competitive labor kept the Chinese busy and productive. If they raised their rates and joined the labor unions they could join the ranks of civilized men and strike, starve, and loaf about the city streets. Many white working Americans viewed the Chinese as a threat because they worked hard, kept to themselves and aided capitalist interests.

Nast offers an alternative. He invites the reader to consider the reality and dangers of getting what one asks for. Would pro-labor prefer drunk, idle, unproductive Chinese beggars? Will this behavior help the Chinese advance the way the Irish did?  Is this how the Chinese must behave in order to join the ranks of civilized men? Through this collection of visual tales, Nast exposes the irony and the hypocrisy of accusations leveled by white men and the demands they placed upon the Chinese. Are the Irish the standard, the role model for acceptance?

By 1882, Nast grew disgusted with U.S. Senator James G. Blaine Republican from Maine who sided against the Chinese in the debate for Exclusion legislation. The image of a Chinese man as a U.S. Senator, doing nothing but “talk,” “talk,” “talk” is a stab at the hypocrisy and ineffectiveness of public service and the current state of political integrity as Nast saw it.

Coolie

Detail from Nast's "The Chinese Question" 1871. Nast frequently put the declarations of people he disagreed with as backgrounds for his cartoons. They almost never represent his sentiment.
Detail from Nast’s “The Chinese Question” 1871. Nast frequently put the declarations of people he disagreed with as backgrounds for his cartoons. They almost never represent his sentiment.

The term “coolie” is commonly associated with Chinese Americans  depicted as an involuntary slave labor force, forced cheap labor, or indentured servitude/contract laborers unwittingly recruited and trapped into slave work conditions, or exploited and victimized by low or zero wage compensation. “Coolies” lacked the freedom to leave the work site.

Indeed, many Chinese men were tricked and set aboard ships for paying jobs that did not exist.  Many turned out to be slave ships, where men were forced to perform grueling labor in the polluted guano pits of coastal Peru to harvest solidified bird droppings prized as fertilizer. Other Asian slave labor journeyed to the tropics to harvest sugar cane.

Coolie labor differs from an individual offering to undercut one’s rate of pay in order to be competitive – a willingness to negotiate terms of labor. But from the very beginning of the Chinese arrival in the U.S.to work in the gold mines, and sustained through the development of intense anti-Chinese hysteria, the concept of “cheap labor” was synonymous with “coolie labor.” The white workingmen labor movement saw no distinction and all Chinese workers were “coolies” and no different than slaves. “Coolies” undercut all the labor competition. Employers would not hire white men as long as they had a source of “coolies” to do the work instead.

John Kuo Wei Tchen, an authority on Chinese-American history, describes the term “coolie,” and “Chinese labor” as being used interchangeably in the minds of American capitalists during the nineteenth century.  The Chinese had arrived in America, specifically on the West Coast, after the 1848 discovery of gold in California, with an aim to strike it rich, and then return to their native China with a significant windfall. These Chinese did not view themselves, nor did Americans view them, as like other immigrants. Instead, they were “sojourners,” individuals who planned to stay in the United States temporarily, just long enough to make enough money to return home and provide economic security for their families back in China. The financial windfall promised from gold mining did not meet expectations and most Chinese remained in America and sought other means to earn money.

Tchen quotes a Protestant missionary in China describes how many viewed the Chinese labor as an export product and opportunity on which to capitalize (169),

The Coolie trade, it will be seen is speculation in human labor. In  other words, it is reducing human labor to the list of marketable commodities –making it an object of purchase and sale, and holding it, subject to the various vicissitudes which attend stocks, provisions, dry goods and other articles of commerce.

The year 1870 “marked the moment at which struggles between capital and labor interpenetrated commercial culture, producing a common visual and written language in which Chinese labor would be represented in national political debate” (Tchen 167).

Post-Civil War industrialization created a need for labor. The Burlingame Treaty, enacted in 1868, sought in part to facilitate expansion of trade between the U.S. and China. The United States with the annexation of Alaska and inclusion of California and other western states needed plentiful labor.  Treaties with Native Americans were abrogated in order to connect the East and West Coasts with the transatlantic railroad. A larger United States needed and encouraged the spread of homesteading, commerce, and European immigration. “At the same time, “cheap”–and seemingly limitless–Chinese labor became a highly desirable commodity for post-slavery capitalist” (Tchen 168-169).

But it was the lure of gold that beckoned those from China’s port cities to leave behind their rice farms and fishing villages and turn their ambitions toward the “Gold Mountain,” of California. “Facing warlords, destitution, and British battleships,” Chinese villagers were enticed by advertisements describing America as a land of plenty (Pfaelzer 4).

In addition to men tricked to work in slave shops, women were kidnapped and forced to serve as prostitutes for the burgeoning gold mining community. Not surprisingly, these women died early from diseases. The state of their health was used to define all Chinese women as immoral, reason enough to restrict their immigration into America. The cruel conditions these women were forced to endure lent credence to some American claims that the Chinese were unsanitary and carriers of disease.

“Free labor” had been swirling around as a concept, an ideal and a goal as anti-slavery ideology began to grow in antebellum America. “Chinese miners arrived in a new state that had just voted to outlaw slavery” (Pfaelzer 25).

Many Americans, fresh with the memory of battling slavery, could point to “coolies” as an anathema to free will. “From the outset, the penny press widely reported the uses and abuses of Chinese and South Asian indentured “coolie” labor” (Tchen 169) and were disturbed by its reality.

The problem was that the perception of “coolie” labor extended to those Chinese who were in fact, not being forced to work at all. Many had entrepreneurial ambitions and created businesses that fit the need of a growing community or boon town.

“The great majority of Chinese arriving in the United States were not contract laborers” (Tchen 170).  By repeatedly classifying all Chinese labor as “coolie labor” and successfully blurring that distinction, the white labor movement, particularly the Workingmen’s Party led by Denis Kearney succeeded in presenting a moral argument to their rallying cry that, “The Chinese Must Go.”

“Ides of March” 1880

Denis Kearny wears a sign while 4 Chinese men heckle in the background
“Ides of March” 20 March 1880 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Image Source : UDel-Walfred

This 1880 cover is a curious cartoon for Nast on many levels. As a cover it is accompanied by a long, unsigned essay (likely Harper’s Managing Editor George W. Curtis) that both tears down and defends the Chinese. It is not known if the cartoon took the lead on addressing the issue or if the reverse is true.

Denis Kearney is shown at the center – his physical attributes drawn accurately and not caricatured in any manner. Clearly Nast wishes the subject of piece to be recognized. Kearney’s expression is serious, resolute and attractive. He is the leading man in this Shakespearean production.

Sign detail

Nast casts Kearney in the title role of the upcoming theatrical production of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Nast was exposed to many Shakespearean plays as a child. He often accompanied his father, Joseph,  a musician for the Philharmonic Society. This exposure gave Nast many references and models for his caricatures (Adler 24).

Kearney dons a sandwich board and walks outside to advertise for an actor to play the role of Brutus, Caesar’s assassin.

Kearney, an Irishman born in Cork in 1847, became a central figure in California politics, and in San Francisco especially, where he rallied public opinion against the Chinese. Kearney,  “in 1877, on the open sand lot fronting the new City Hall in San Francisco, started a general war-cry, “The Chinese Must Go!”” (Paine 412).

Kearney, a charismatic speaker, organized the Workingmen’s Party, a labor movement that accumulated significant political power in California. Kearney’s efforts influenced the passage of anti-Chinese legislation in California, ultimately leading to the passage of the federal Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.  He also took his message across country, but his lectures “seemed to convince many national politicians that Chinese exclusion had broad and fierce support among American workers” (Meagher 272-273).

Nast saw Kearney’s behavior as theatrics. To the right, Nast identifies the area as “The Sand – Lot Theatre” The placard announces Kearney as Caesar, but has a question mark by the character Brutus. Who will stop Kearney/Brutus.  In front of that billboard stand two Chinese men. Both are smiling. The one on the right raises his hands, as if applying for consideration. The other, wearing a hat, holds his hands to his chest and bows slightly, as if to indicate he would be honored to assume the role of the character Brutus, who with some coaxing from other conspirators, kills his erstwhile friend and Roman emperor/dictator Julius Caesar. Nast is trying to silence Kearney and suggests a figurative way to oust the white labor dictator.  The two Chinese men, and another in the shadows, indicate multiple interest in the role of assassin. The two Chinese men at right wear identical, gleeful smiles. They are eager for the chance to play Brutus to Kearney’s Caesar.

Left of Kearney, two highly distorted Chinese men appear to heckle the Irish labor agitator. The one at far right points at Kearney’s back.

Behind the two men on the left are notices condemning Chinatown as a Board of Health issue – the signs trumpet the political alliances Kearney was forging in San Francisco.

Close up of distorted Chinese faces. Photo from WPC. Public Domain

Four Chinese men behind Kearney are severely caricatured. “Their heads and faces are quite grotesque, with huge smiles and slanted eyes and eyebrows” (Tchen 209).  The man at left center, closest to Kearney is extremely unnatural looking, almost hyena-like.  Kearney was an effective villian against the Chinese community, yet none of these men seem to fear Kearney at all, which is odd. His anti-Chinese rhetoric catapulted restrictions levied at Chinese American freedom. The four Chinese men mock Kearney at their own peril. Their laughter is sinister and arrogant. In considering thi specific cartoon, historian John Kuo Wei Tchen  raises an important question. Nast knew how to draw Chinese men with dignity – see Civilization of Blaine – so why draw these men in this manner?

Harper’s included a related article’s repeating from reported stereotyped descriptions of Chinese in California The language perpetuates tropes about the Chinese as peculiar, inferior and strange. Yet the unattributed author condemns Kearney’s tactics and extends an invitation of citizenship to the Chinese.

Prefacing their descriptions in such terms as “a great many writers have said,” and “newspapers writers have sometimes told their readers,” the article puts forth titillating information about the peculiar and unfortunate Chinese. The reader is left to determine whether or not the author believes what he is sharing. The article describes the colors in which the Chinese like to decorate, their small and dank environs and the strange manner in which they prepare their food. The author describes a people who prefer to keep to themselves.

A sizable section of the article speculates about the Chinese queue the most fascinating singular characteristic of the Chinese to Americans.  What happens when the queue is kept? What happens to the Chinese if the queue is cut off?  How does the queue affect assimilation, conversion to Christianity, American culture or dress? In almost every cartoon of the Chinese in America, favorable or not, artists like Nast and Keller and focusedon the distinctive hairstyle, often giving the long pony tail a life of its own. In 1880, thirty years after the Chinese arrive in America, the queue remained an object of great curiosity, even to a degree of obsession as a central characteristic of the Chinese.

And in Nast’s cartoon, the two men, far left and right, have very long queues that have grown far past the length of their tunics.  Hidden from the upper torso and emerging from below their tunics, the queues look more like animal tails than pigtails.

Even by 1880, Harper’s still felt the need to describe the Chinese to its readers and speculate upon second-hand, remote observations regarding Chinese lifestyle, habits and traits. Tyler Anbinder writes that by the 1870s, the Chinese population in New York, though statistically very small (in the hundreds) had nevertheless grown conspicuous in Five Points. Outside of that neighborhood, however, it was unlikely any New Yorker or Harper’s reader would have direct contact with or knowledge about Chinese people.

In this issue, Harper’s Weekly editor also shared “valuable” reports written by the Reverend Gibson, a famous defender of the Chinese in California (see G.F. Keller’s cartoon). Harper’s agreed with Gibson and concludes that the Chinese labor controversy is one stoked by Irish laborers who fear honest competition. “The presence and labor of the Chinese have opened up industries which have stimulated the demand for such white laborers and professional men,” Harper’s cautioned its readers to consider the source biased on reports that the Chinese live in filth and therefore present a public health risk.  Eventually tying into Nast’s cover, the editor refers to Mr. Kearney, and writes,

From the beginning persons of this ilk have found ready and willing to fan the sparks of ignorant bigotry and prejudice into the flames of animosity and hatred toward these people. The result has been acts of violence, bloodshed, and murder on the one hand, and on the other certain special class legislation equally iniquitous, the object achieved being simply the repression and injury of the Chinese. And this while intelligent men and calm thinkers have been doing their best to bear testimony to the generally quiet and industrious character of the poor Chinaman, and the indisputable capacity he possesses for becoming a good citizen.

By surrounding an important newsworthy person as Denis Kearney, with a clutch of laughing, fearlessly mocking Chinese men, Nast may have intended to reduce the importance of his antagonist. He sees these Chinese as Brutus’s co-conspirators. Nast does not ridicule Kearney directly, he has the Chinese men do it.  But even they do not have the courage to confront Kearney directly, they cackle behind Kearney’s back. How well the cartoon serves to demonize Kearney is questionable.  Nast has sacrificed Chinese integrity in an effort to berate Kearney. While the artist and Harper’s editorial board adopted a moral stance to extend to the Chinese the rights any immigrant might enjoy, they eagerly dip their pens in the inkwell of gimmickry and stereotype, making it difficult to cultivate empathy  toward the Chinese. This cartoon, combined with the article offers confused signals for their readers to interpret.

“The Martydom of St. Crispin” 16 July 1870

Two Chinese men raise swords behind an white shoemaker, as if to attack
Martyrdom of St. Crispin by Thomas Nast. Harper’s Weekly 16 July 1870. Source: UDel/Walfred

This cartoon, published on July 16, 1870, is one of the more curious of Nast’s Chinese pieces. The cartoon addresses the issue of using Chinese labor as an efficient, lower cost alternative, thus blurring the definition of contract, or forced slave labor known as “coolie” labor. For a nation still coming to terms with the issue of slavery and slave labor, “coolie” labor was viewed as suspect, and a threat to replace free white labor for the betterment of capitalist or business interests. For another perspective click here.

Two Chinese workers stand behind a shoe cobbler. They carry sabers marked “Cheap Labor” on the blades. The cobbler is St. Crispin, the patron saint of leather workers. The cobbler’s hair is styled in a tonsure and a halo hovers over his head. Whether intentional or not, the cobbler bears a strong resemblance to Nast’s hero, Abraham Lincoln. He concentrates on his work and appears to be unaware of his Chinese visitors lurking behind with their swords raised. A violent attack is imminent.

The Chinese man at the far left has an abnormally elongated face and slanted eyes that upturn at an unnatural angle. He clenches two weapons, but he has yet to lunge toward St. Crispin.

At center and directly behind the cobbler is another Chinese man. His facial features are more normal and do not appear exaggerated. His look is intent on what he is about to do.  With a two-handed grip, he hurls his “Cheap Labor” blade high over his head, ready to strike the first blow upon cobbler oblivious to the danger.

Nast identifies this as a “New Issue – The Chinese – American Question” and that question is how to reconcile the Chinese into the labor force.

The next issue of Harper’s Weekly reported on an uprising that may have been breaking at the time Nast executed his drawing. In that issue, Harper’s Weekly  reported on Mr. Sampson, owner of a New England shoe factory. Experiencing financial difficulties, Sampson sought wage concessions from his factory’s labor force. They agreed to consider his request provided Sampson open his books to make sure the owner had done all he could and operated his business above board. Sampson refused this request and instead arranged to recruit Chinese workers from San Francisco. The article makes an explicit distinction that Sampson recruited Chinese workers already in the U.S., unlike that of an individual by the distinctive name of Mr. Koopmanschoop, a labor broker, and capitalist who dealt directly with China for his labor force. The article infers that the methods to import Chinese labor from China were nothing more than disguised slavery. Coolie labor became a subject of everyday discussion and concern, but Harper’s argues, Mr. Sampson was well within his rights to seek out cheaper labor to save his business.

The Harper’s Weekly article takes a favorable view of the Chinese workers. “Since their arrival…their deportment has been excellent, and the prejudice at first existing against them is said to be gradually giving away” (Harper’s Weekly, 23 July 1870). The article included two large illustrations, not drawn by Nast, showing where the factory was situated, and an interior scene of Chinese men working inside the factory without incident. The scene was clean, peaceful and unremarkable.

Presumably, as news of Chinese workers entering American factories in New England reached New Yorkers, Nast quickly created this small cartoon, placed near the back of the issue in the advertisement section. Cartoons of this size, roughly 5 inches by 5 inches, were typically nestled near the advertisements. This section of the magazine may have been blocked out, ready to receive a quick image for breaking news. This would explain why there is no article in the paper about Chinese shoemakers that week, but appeared in the next issue.

The pro-capitalist position of Harper’s Weekly does not describe the Chinese as strike breakers, but according to John Kuo Wei Tchen, this maneuver in Massachusetts and a similar one in New Jersey was a deliberate attempt to break a strike of the shoe labor union known as the Knights of St. Crispin. “The Crispins were one of the largest trade unions in the country, claiming some forty thousand members in Massachusetts alone.”  Using Chinese labor in such a manner made national news, and reinforced the perception of the Chinese as cheap, possibly indentured or forced labor. Willingly or not, by undercutting the price of white labor, and working to the satisfaction of employers, the manipulation of Chinese labor played a crucial role in how their racial identities were formed within a Euro-centric America (Tchen 175-176).

As a Radical Republican, Nast believed in the capitalist point of view that saw a benefit by adding Chinese labor to any given industry. Yet, Nast drew an unflattering portrait of Chinese labor with this cartoon. As John Kuo Wei Tchen notes, “Chinese cheap labor” had become a “war cry” and that was reflected in cartoons and in contemporary poetry, such as Bret Harte’s “Plain Language from Truthful James.” The poem depicts a Chinese character, Ah Sin, as a cunning heathen.  Nast would revive Ah Sin nine years later, but this 1870 cartoon reflects the idea infused in the poem that allowing the Chinese to have “unfettered entry” into America was dangerous (Tchen 196). Nast would also play on the poem’s title with his pro-Chinese cartoon “Blaine Language” one of many cartoons which criticized U.S. Senator James G. Blaine for his anti-Chinese positions.

Whether Nast believed in the danger or merely reflected what was discussed on the street—as a topic for conversation— is unknown.  The cartoon is inconsistent with the majority of his Chinese cartoons. The figures, however, closely resemble the Chinese men who taunt Denis Kearney in Nast’s 1880 cartoon, Ides of March.

Historian John Kuo Wei Tchen speculates that Nast likely did not have any real knowledge or exposure to the Chinese in New York, and adds that his cartoons “indicate familiarity with the representational conventions of Chinese in literature and on stage, but not much other knowledge” (211).  Tchen’s assessment makes sense. The question remains,  does that excuse Nast from drawing images like this – or was characterizations like this one purposeful because Nast was simply incorporating the popular view?

Related to this cartoon: See “The Latest Edition of “Shoo Fly“” and “The Chinese Question.”

Works cited

“Pacific Chivalry” 1869

This is Nast’s first cartoon of a Chinese immigrant or sojourner in the West Coast. The cartoon establishes Nast’s sympathies toward the Chinese.

Pacific Chivalry, Harper's Weekly, 7 August, 1869
Pacific Chivalry, Harper’s Weekly, 7 August 1869

Pacific Chivalry sets the western locale and places a central focus on the unique hairstyle or “queue” of Chinese men. During the Manchurian takeover of the Ming Dynasty, it was decreed that Chinese men shave their heads with the exception of a part of the back of the head where a long ponytail, often braided, would remain. In times of battle, the “queue” helped to distinguish Manchu warriors from the enemy. Chinese men faced execution if they did not grow a queue (Spence 38).

In the United States, the queue was a subject of fascination that added to the mystique and perceived feminization of Chinese men who were often “depicted as lacking virility.” In the male-dominated world of western gold mining “Chinese men became targets of white men’s fears of homosexuality or the objects of their desire” (Pfaelzer 13).

Unknown terror awaits this Chinese figure as he attempts to flee from a white aggressor. Wearing a hat that bears the name California, the white laborer bears his teeth in a determined grimace.  In his right hand, he raises a whip – a variation of a cat-o-nine whip, believed to have originated to punish African slaves during the U.S. slave trade.  He has lifted his left leg to counterbalance his swing and prepares to strike his Chinese victim.  His left hand grips the Chinese queue and prevents the Chinese from escape. The force of pulling on the hair elongates the Chinese man’s head.

Shapes of skulls were thought to be indicative of intelligence and placement in an evolutionary hierarchy by stretching out the skull of a Chinese man, the perpetrator, and perhaps the artist offers the Chinese different than the standard perception for human normality. Though he is not drawn as overtly Irish, the working man fits the look that Nast establishes for white labor – gruff, bearded, burly and dominating. The look was repeated in The Chinese Question, 18 February 1871. and other cartoons. It should be noted that the Knights of Labor, an organization formed for white labor interests in western states and territories, and often the instigating agent for violence against the Chinese, did have a large Irish Catholic membership. (See Here’s a Pretty Mess).

The Chinese man is startled by his capture. His fearful expression further distorted by the pulling from the back of his scalp.  His sun hat, the douli, has fallen to the ground and his hands are open in a defensive posture, though the threat has come from behind.

To the right, along the railroad tracks rests a small building on the edge of what resembles a small mining camp. The words on the building pronounces, “Courts of Justice Closed to Chinese. Extra Taxes to Yellow Jack.”

Nast, of course, is mocking California’s definition of justice and the battery of local laws passed by the new state to scare, threaten and restrict Chinese and opportunities in the gold mines, in society and in business.

Nast draws a contrast from Pacific form of “chivalry” compared to from the respectful way Columbia introduces the Chinese to American society.

What fate awaits this Chinese man is up to the reader to decide. Will he be beaten, robbed, driven out of the mining camp, out of town, or sexually abused is not known. With this image, Nast clearly asserts something terrible will occur. “Nast condemned this treatment as an affront to the values of an open society” (Keller 108).

Works cited

“The Equal of Persons (?) Gibson and Loomis” 1877

Equal persons 18 November 1877

The Wasp’s first anti-Chinese cartoon, The Equal of Persons Gibson and Loomis, appeared on November 18, 1877, six months after the paper opened for business. It was a “caustic response” to Reverends Gibson and Loomis who offered positive testimony to the “good character” of the Chinese immigrant in April 1876 before the Committee of the Senate of the State of California. The committee was a legislative body that held hearings on the social, moral and political effect of Chinese immigration[1] (West 128: Internet Archive). They were part of a San Francisco press that “lambasted pro-immigration ministers as hypocrites” (Paddison 527).

The month-long hearing’s purpose debated the effects of Chinese immigration and sought to determine if the Chinese “advanced or hindered “Christian civilization.”” Most of the testimony was stacked against the Chinese.  Foregone conclusions were accepted as fact. The Rev. Otis Gibson, along with Presbyterian Augustus W. Loomis and a few other Protestant ministers testified on behalf of the Chinese asserting that the Chinese “would pose no danger.” The reverends staunchly believed that the anti-Chinese agitation in the community was stoked not by race, but by religion and blamed Irish Catholics [2] as the active agents in the unrest (Paddison 524).

The Reverend Otis Gibson, in particular, was well known as  San Francisco’s “most outspoken white defender of the Chinese” (Paddison 522).

Keller’s four-part drawing confronts the witnesses’ pro-Chinese testimony with images of Chinese engaged in unseemly activities.  In the top left panel, Keller includes a Chinese male with an ax who chases after a female –  a scene of violence to counter the assertion that “they are peaceful.”  Top right, three malnourished Chinese men dine in squalid, decrepit living conditions – an exception to the statement “they are clean.” Bottom left, to disavow the claim “they are honest” a  Chinese man flees with two birds he has stolen. A gun-toting white man is in pursuit. In the bottom right panel, The Wasp lampoons the Chinese immigrant’s attempt to assimilate as ridiculous, and attempts to “raise the specter of miscegenation.” The panel shows “white woman with a Chinese husband and Chinese children” (Paddison 528). Keller refers to Reverends Gibson and Loomis in his captions as “charlatanical [sic] divines” (West 129).

There are contradictions in the image, however.  The male chasing the woman is not dressed in the same dirty, tattered clothing seen at top right. The three gaunt men eat from bowls while rodents scamper on the floor, presumably their next meal, but the immigrant thief shown bottom left is stealing chickens. Why pilfer poultry when a free, plentiful supply of rats and mice were available?  This first attempt falls short in consistency compared to the anti-Chinese messages that would be finessed in later Keller images.


[1] The entire testimony can be found at Internet Archive.org
http://www.archive.org/stream/chineseimmigrati00cali/chineseimmigrati00cali_djvu.txt

[2] Joshua Paddison provides a thorough examination of anti-Irish Catholic tensions between Protestant nativism in San Francisco, similar to the tensions among Protestants, Republicans, and Democrats in New York City.  Paddison examines early anti-Irish racism in California and how the Irish exploited the Chinese to counteract that racism –  capitalizing on labor competition as a means to unite and to assert their place as white men alongside the vast majority of Christian Caucasians who wanted the Chinese driven out.

“What Shall We Do With Our Boys?” 1882

Satire cartoon of Chinese laborer working abnormally fast
“What Shall We Do With Our Boys” – 3 March 1882 by George Frederick Keller for The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp
One distinctive feature of The Wasp was its use of color lithography. Korbel’s and Keller’s experience and expertise in color lithographs of cigar box labels and Korbel’s investment in its own printing equipment gave The Wasp instant appeal. An example of effective use of color can be found in What Shall We Do With Our Boys, March 3, 1882.

Clearly fixated on the labor issue the cartoon incorporates two of West’ six themes favored by The Wasp: the Chinese as ruthless competitors and subversive labor monsters.

The frame is divided, two-thirds occupied and dominated by an eleven-handed Chinese worker-monster. “The Chinese were depicted as “many handed” or monstrous creatures depriving white labors of their jobs” (Choy 84). Keller’s uber-octopus like Chinese laborer is seen going to town, a busy industrial whirlwind of labor productivity. He is unstoppable in the trades and crafts most attributed to Chinese workers; shoemaker, tailor, cigar maker and laundryman testifies his industriousness. Collectively, his array of hands holds a saw, mallet, hammer, and brush. Most dangerous of all, he is succeeding. Two hands are busy socking away a substantial bag of money and assures the satchel is carted off in a rickshaw to export “For China.”  “Chinese Trade Monopoly” is secured in place with his foot. The image emphasizes the prevailing anti-Chinese view that the Chinese aren’t like other immigrants. They are instead “sojourners” whose only wish is to make money in America to send back to their families in China.  The cartoon does not reference the fact that the Chinese were legally restricted from becoming naturalized citizens.

In the event the viewer does not fully appreciate the implications of this Chinese monster, the remaining third of the screen, clean shaven, non-threatening white boys collect with nothing to do, loitering outside. These are not angry Irish boys. They are victims of the Chinese menace. These young men are well dressed, with jackets and hats and bear pensive expressions – chins resting on their hands. One young man leans on a lamppost with an American Eagle on top, and another leans against the side of the one-man Chinese factory. Without a future, they are, as the caption points out “our boys.”  A police officer leads one of the loiterers away to one of three structures in the distance.  What path lies in the boy’s future? What fate? Institutions in the distance provide the grim answer, “San Quentin,” “Industrial School,” or “House of Correction.” The message is clear. The Chinese labor problem erodes an opportunity for wholesome, American boys to obtain honest work. They cannot compete with the whirlwind of cheap, Chinese labor. Inside, the Chinese phenomenon could care less. Keller imbues him with a gleeful, sinister expression as he monopolizes and spins profits.

The Chinese worker’s face is grotesquely distorted. His eyes are deeply slanted, his crooked smile missing several teeth, digs crevices that form a malevolent expression.  His queue rises in mid-air, curled like a whip, propelled by the frenzy of his windmill-like hands.

“The Chinese Puzzled” – 15 May, 1886

"The Chinese Puzzled" 15 May1886, by Thomas Nast. Source Walfred
“The Chinese Puzzled” 15 May1886, by Thomas Nast. Source: UDel/Walfred scan

This small cartoon is reminiscent of Nast’s “Here’s a Pretty Mess!” (In Wyoming)”published nine months earlier on September 19, 1885. It is Nast’s last cartoon with a Chinese subject.

The back pages of Harper’s typically contained advertisements along with one or two smaller, square-sized areas reserved for cartoons. Blocked out for cartoon insertion, the advertising section was a convenient place to introduce late-breaking news with more detailed reporting following in the next issue. Such was the case with The Chinese Puzzled. This drawing comments the on Chicago’s Haymarket affair, a riot that followed a planned, peaceful labor demonstration to advocate an eight-hour day.  Plans went terribly wrong and the gathering turned violent.

The incident in Chicago did not involve the Chinese. But Nast uses the opportunity of rioting white laborers to contrast the differences between white and Chinese labor and again focus on the irony of Chinese exclusion laws.

Two Chinese men stand on a street corner and discuss the violence by white workers who carry signs “Burn the Town,” “Kill the Police,” and “Socialism.” By 1886, Chinese exclusion was in its fourth year. The interests of labor had triumphed. White labor enjoyed four years of victory against Chinese immigrants, an early reason and trigger for labor-related breakouts and protests. Still, white labor found something to riot about. The Chinese observers are puzzled. Why are these men allowed to stay while peaceful Chinese workers were forced to go? The caption reads, “It is because we don’t do deeds like that, that ‘we must go’ and they must stay?”

Nast prominently includes a fire hydrant on the left side street corner. It is a symbol of municipal progress and rescue. It is not being used to put out the fire or quash the anger of the mob.

However, commentary in the following May 22 issue condemns the rioters in Chicago as “mad destructives and assassins.” Harper’s also acknowledged that labor was often left in a position of general disadvantage and referred to another notable labor dispute — striking coal miners in the West — as an example of the failure of production entities and management to fairly negotiate and come to a reasonable and intelligent negotiation regarding the use of a large labor force.

By invoking the memory of recent massacre at Rock Springs, WyomingHarper’s fingers the real blame of that incident on the capitalistic interests of the railroad and coal mining companies who ignored labor issues in favor of profits. By bringing in Chinese workers as strike breakers, mining and railroad management was implicit in triggering the violence that ensued.  On one hand, white labor had successfully pressured ,through strikes, for laws that excluded and restricted Chinese immigration. On the other hand, the Chinese who had remained and relocated were often used as strikebreakers.

During this period of an expanding nation, labor demonstrations and strikes, the Knights of Labor served as an iconic organization of American labor. In the 1880s, the KOL stood as the most powerful labor union in the nation (Storti 103). The Knights of Labor were strong proponents of the Chinese Exclusion Act and their membership was predominately Catholic (Catholic University of America). The Knights organized the  Chicago Haymarket demonstration. Although the violence which ensued was never planned and did not involve the Chinese, in a spirit of irony, Nast used Chinese figures to lampoon the organizers and remind his readers of the hypocrisy practised by a group with large Irish Catholic membership.

“A Paradox” – 22 May, 1880

“A Paradox” 22 May, 1880 by Thomas Nast for Herper’s Weekly.. Source: UDel-Walfred, Public Domain

This Chinese man is being pulled in two directions by two opposing political parties. Typical of most Nast drawings, the bad is on the left, the good on the right. The party figures also represent their regional power base -—the West for Democrats and the East for Republicans. We do not know from what location the Chinese man is standing or how he arrived at this particular tug-of-war predicament. Rare for Nast, there is no detail as to location, no props to suggest a political issue or visual guides to suggest how one might think about the Chinese man’s unfortunate situation. He is is simply being pulled apart.

On the right, the Republican Party, and particularly the Radical Republicans to whom Nast aligned and identified, wanted the Chinese to remain in the United States and argued for their admittance for American citizenship.  Radical Republicans stood first and foremost from a position of morality and believed that the Chinese were no different than any other immigrant group. Mainstream Republicans and those Republicans whose constituency represented business, industry and capitalism, wanted the Chinese to remain. Good workers were good for business. Capitalists admired the hard working, non-striking Chinese and fiscally benefited from their industriousness and productivity. Ideal employees, the Chinese kept to themselves and completed their work. Chinese went where work was offered and perhaps unknowingly, served as pawns to break strikes, drive down labor costs and inflame white workingmen’s charges of coolie or slave labor. break strikes and drive down labor costs.

Democrats in the South also wanted the Chinese to teach newly freed African Americans a lesson.

“Democrats developed ingenious methods of limiting black voting power” and included the poll tax, property qualifications, literacy tests, and anyone convicted of petty larceny (and many such arrests resulted) restricted African Americans from exercising their newly gained voting privileges (Foner 422).

Plantation owners in the Deep South also looked to punish African American labor and reduce dependance on black labor’s earning power by encouraging immigrant labor that included the Chinese. One Alabama newspaper appealed to Irish and German immigrants to earn $10 a month on the farms. “Even more attractive were indentured laborers from China, whose “natural” docility would bolster plantation discipline and whose arrival, by flooding the labor market, would reduce the wages of blacks” (Foner 419).

“Give us five million of Chinese laborers in the valley of the Mississippi,” wrote a planter’s wife, “and we can furnish the world with cotton and teach the negro his proper place, (qtd. Foner 419-420).

Democrats along the West Coast however, wanted the Chinese driven out all together. As Euro-American populations increasingly traveled west, any Chinese earning money was seen as competition — as the enemy. This view took on an even greater urgency during the economic crash of the late 1870s.

The Chinese man central in this cartoon is confused and startled. His queue stands up straight like an exclamation point in reaction to the tug of war over his person, his talent, and his future. He is both a prize of labor and a future victim. Representing the average Chinese worker, he has nowhere to call home, no political party with whom he could place absolute trust.

The Chinese were prohibited from becoming citizens in the United States and could not vote. This prohibition did not extend to any other immigrant group.

By 1880, some Republicans like James G. Blaine aligned less with pro-business and bent under the populist pressure to rid the country of the purported Chinese threat.

“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 First Blow at the Chinese Question” 1877

Cartoon showing white worker punching a Chinese man
“The First Blow at the Chinese Question” – 5 December 1877 by George Frederick Keller for The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp

Readers of the San Francisco satire magazine The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp did not receive a balanced view of the Chinese in their cartoons or accompanying articles. The readership of the magazine lived with and believed in the terror of white unemployment caused by cheap Chinese labor. They expected and received a press that was sympathetic to their concerns.

“No variety of anti-European sentiment has ever approached the violent extremes to which anti-Chinese agitation went in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Despite laws and treaties promising federal protection, “lynchings, boycotts and mass expulsions still harassed the Chinese after the federal government yielded to the clamor for their exclusion in 1882” (Higham 25).

Steadily, the Democratic Party, fueled by an infusion of “southern exports” and white “Workingmen’s Party” members merged into a powerful force to treat the Chinese and other minorities in the West with “similar brutality in legislation, in land policy, and in labor practices” (Pfaelzer 58-60).

It was easier to justify the violence, the driving out, the boycotts and mistreatment of the Chinese when they could be turned into something less than human. The labor issue, one of the six categories Richard S. West showcases in his book, was the focus of The Wasp’s first anti-Chinese, pro-white labor cover, The First Blow at the Chinese Question.  West prefaces the image by acknowledging that 15,000 men out of work in San Francisco alone, added to the white labor agitation. The Chinese immigrant was made to be the scapegoat (West 156).

A sturdy-looking white man wearing a trade apron, and two other laborers behind him have entered Chinatown. They encounter a Chinse man on the sidewalk. In one hand, the lead worker carries a sign, “Working Men’s Procession.”  With his right arm, the lead workingman lands a punch directly into the face of the Chinese immigrant. The blow knocks his victim off balance. The Chinese man’s long queue spirals outward from the impact.  His oversized tunic extends past his arms, covering his hands. The Chinese man does not curl his fists in to strike back. Keller has neutralized this victim.

Another Chinese immigrant stands behind a storefront door or window and reacts in horror. He is distorted and ethereal. His whole body is aquiver, as if he is being vaporized, like a genie returning to a lamp. His fluid contours suggest he is fading away. This second Chinese figure is startled and his queue reacts in the same manner as the man under attack. He holds a gun by his side, but he makes no attempt to raise the weapon in defense. He is unable to protect his territory, his placement inside the rectangular border limits his power.  The frame suggests he is reduced to one dimension, a poster or piece of wall art.

As Lenore Metrick-Chen suggests, it was fashionable for Americans to collect  Chinese art, but acceptable to exclude the Chinese people.  The Wasp suggests that the Chinese belong on walls, but not in the streets.

Unlike Nast’s portrayals of the Workingmen’s Party, Keller’s representation of Causacian labor are generic and do not possess brutish features. Their behavior says otherwise.

“The Latest Edition of “Shoo Fly”” 1870

“The Latest Edition of “Shoo Fly” – 6 August, 1870 by Thomas Nast. Source: UDel-Walfred. Public Domain

A month after drawing the Martyrdom of St. Crispin, Nast returned with another unflattering cartoon about the Chinese entering the shoe making profession. Here Nast takes advantage of several puns.

A demonic Chinese laborer is at his cobbler’s bench, he has replaced St. Cripin as the cobbler. Western-styled shoes in various stages of progress surround him, but the Chinese man does not wear the product he makes. The Chinese artisan wears his native mandarin jacket and loose pants. Nast will always draw the Chinese in native dress, including Chinese footwear, often with thick grass or straw soles and topped in cloth or hide.

The cobbler is clearly annoyed by the soul or “sole” of the displaced St. Crispin, the Catholic patron saint of shoe cobblers and leather workers. The insect, named St. Crispin, is not happy. He is distressed to see a Chinese take the place of his usual patron,  a Christian or Catholic white shoe cobbler. A halo hovers over its head, formed as the heel of a shoe. Its large wingspan is troublesome. Two of its six legs are clenched in fists, ready to attack the foreign cobbler.

The Chinese man cowers at the insect’s arrival. Because his large hat or douli hangs on the wall out of reach, he grabs the closest weapon he has, the end of his long queue to swat or “shoo” the shoe fly away. The shorter hairs on the top of his queue bristle. It is hard to determine if the cobbler is angry or afraid His posture would indicate defeat, but his expression, particularly the raised eyebrow and sideways glance, indicate a determination to get rid of the pest. A partially opened umbrella stands at the opposite end of the bench.

He clearly wants to be left alone to sell his “Cheap Shoes” to the public. In case the message is not clear, “Cheap Shoes” appears twice in the cartoon. Because Chinese workers were considered cheap and often slave or  “coolie” labor, they were able to undercut the prices of their competitors.  The Chinese were in fact brought in as strikebreakers against the interests of the Knights of St. Crispin labor union. See Martyrdom of St. Crispin. In Massachusetts, threats of violence and rock throwing were thwarted by heavy police protection. Nast’s signature, which varied in its placement and size in his cartoons, was prominently shown on a large rock at the foot of the cobbler’s bench. Nast typically had many options to insert his signature. By placing it upon the rock, does it mean he is willing to throw the first stone?

Harper’s Weekly sided with pro-capitalist positions and therefore consistent as a pro-Chinese publication. Like a the majority of post-Civil War, eastern Republican dailies and weeklies, Harper’s viewed the overall benefit of trade and utilizing a Chinese workforce to benefit progressive American venture capitalists. In their view, the Chinese benefit to business interests outweighed any concerns that Democratic labor might have (Tchen 181).

That summer in the streets of New York City, Mayor Oakley A. Hall, a Tweed associate and inside member of the Tammany Ring, spoke before a rally. Oakley joined many pro-labor speakers who convened a rally to fire up “The Chinese Question” among the workingmen constituency in the city. “Hall opposed the “importation of tawny slaves” by the “wicked combination of capitalists” and “man-stealers” (Tchen 179).

The outcry from these rallies often blurred the distinction between willing competitive labor, cheap labor and coolie labor. Democrat charged the Republican leadership with hypocrisy  –  a group who fought against slavery, but were too willing to use slave labor in the Chinese.

Other New York papers, particularly the New York Herald, with largest daily readership in the nation, went back and forth on its opinion of the crisis. Its editor, James Gordon Bennett held his finger to the political wind and initially “waffled on the Chinese laborers, but ultimately landed for tolerance on the Chinese question” (Tchen 181).

Disagreements and concerns between labor and capital interests never reached the sustained conflicts that were soon to be stoked in California Sand Lots later in the decade.  Capitalists on the West Coast did not have an alliance of local media to alleviate concerns and or suggest positive images on behalf of the Chinese.

But Nast was anything but positive with “The Latest Edition of Shoo Fly.” Nast could be counted on, almost with a knee-jerk reaction, to strongly counter any position or issue that Tammany, its cohorts or white Irish, pro-labor constituents would support. In fact, Nast’s next cartoon on the topic The Chinese Question, issued a strong indictment against Tammany support of white labor positions. The six months that elapsed between the two cartoons shows a significant evolution in Nast’s thinking. This may be a direct result Nast’s developing investigation of Tweed and a distaste for anything that was condoned by the Tammany touch.  Nast’s subsequent Chinese cartoons offer a stronger defense of the beleaguered Chinese Americans, though he would occasionally regress into employing crueler stereotypes, Nast kept his pen focused on the hypocrisy of white immigrants, most of whom Nast defined as Irish, who viewed themselves as the definitive Americans charged with protecting the country from a Chinese threat.¹

But in this cartoon, Nast had yet to find conviction with his position. He decided to portray cheap shoes and cheap labor through the eyes of the Chinese’s detractors. If Nast meant to poke fun at white labor, it was a cheap joke, made at the expense of the Chinese.  In 1870, as the shoemakers controversy trampled up and down the East Coast, Nast appears to have been swept up in their sentiment and found a use to exercise satire. This example is not representative of his evolved sensibilities that Tweed’s alliance with white labor interests helped only helped to focus.

¹For more explanation on Irish-Chinese conflicts click here.