Obama has signed into law a U.S. House and Senate law removing terms as “oriental,” “negro,” “Indian,” and others from use as terms to describe people. It’s about time.
People are not vases or rugs. Now people need to catch up. I still hear the term “oriental” and “Indians” used to describe Asians and Native Americans. It’s an old and bad habit, a vestige from the 19th and 20th century.
Negative Irish stereotypes depicting the Irish as beasts or apes prevailed in an antebellum Anglo-America and anti-Irish sentiments permeated throughout the lives of ordinary Americans, not just neophyte nativists. Historian Dale Knobel, in Paddy and the Republic, examined the culture of language in everyday American life, taking into account the personal correspondence, political speeches, textbooks, travel literature, newspaper, and magazines, songs, theater and novels that were read, discussed and exchanged.
Knobel discovered that negative attitudes toward the Irish existed in America and were expressed throughout the course of everyday life and strengthened as the Civil War approached, a period where his research concludes.
Considering the Irish in America as “outsiders” rather than “insiders” manifested how Protestant nativists weighed immigrant identity and eligibility as Americans in the early and mid-nineteenth century.
Acceptance as potential citizen material depended primarily on race, religion and political character. As the Great Famine migrations progressed toward America, attitudes about the Irish coalesced into a stereotype known as “Paddy” and his female equivalent “Bridget” and Knobel argues that their creation “was a collection of adjectives applied over and over again to the Irish in Americans’ ordinary conversation. This is the authentic definition of a stereotype” (11).
Long before Thomas Nast came to America in 1846, “Paddy” had been well established and “no mere accumulation of random references” (17). Early Paddy stereotypes drew from perceptions of personal character. Although kinder language did surface in Knobel’s surveys of content material, words like “pugnacious,” “quarrelsome,” “impudent,” “impertinent,” “ignorant,” “wickedness,” “vicious,” and “reckless” accumulate as a frequent part of the American lexicon as it related to Irish Americans.
As the nineteenth century turned past its midpoint, Knobel uncovered a marked change in references to physical descriptions of the Irish over describing their character. Descriptors like “ragged,” “lowbrow,” “brutish,” “wild-looking,” and “course-haired” began to surface more frequently. Knobel’s most fascinating revelation observed that in everyday situations in antebellum New York, Anglo-Americans experienced many opportunities to personally encounter the Irish, especially as servants and peddlers.
In Protestant conversations with the Irish and among each other, “words propagated an image of the Irish and thus an attitude” and became a source of judgment. Even if they did not have these occasions to meet an Irish in person, certain assumptions were made and believed to be true, because Americans had become accustomed to believing them (15-16).
Knobel cautions against the inclination to only blame American nativism for anti-Irish sentiment in mid-nineteenth century America. While Knobel’s primary focus was establishing the locations and frequency of words that formed to shape American attitudes and stereotypes of the Irish, he is correct that these words and the mental images that went along with them were enhanced by visual representation such as stage performances and by cartoons.
These portrayals and images helped to establish what antebellum New Yorkers likely thought and considered as fact in forming opinions about the Irish. Thomas Nast came to age in this hegemony and like other artists of his time continued the tradition. Therefore, before delving into Nast’s attitudes toward the Irish, all the while keeping in mind Knobel’s argument, it is useful to look into the origins of the stereotype, which originated in Great Britain.
The Irish-as-ape-stereotype frequently surfaces as a popular trope with the English in the mid-nineteenth century. But, In Nothing But the Same Old Story, researcher Liz Curtis provides plentiful examples that establish anti-Irish sentiment as a centuries-long tradition.
Dehumanizing the Irish by drawing them as beasts or primates served as a convenient technique for any conquering power, and it made perfect sense for an English empire intent on placing Ireland and its people under its jurisdiction and control. The English needed to prove the backwardness of the Irish to justify their colonization (16). When the Irish fought back against English oppression, their violence only perpetuated the “violent beast” prejudice held against them.
English artist James Gillray painted the Irish as an ogre – a type of humanoid beast – in a reaction to the Irish’s short-lived rebellion against England in 1798. Even before English scientific circles had begun to distort Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species later in the century, the English favored the monkey and ape as the symbols for Hibernians.
After the Irish made great social and political gains in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the view that they represented a different race (other than other white Europeans) continued to persist as can be seen by this cartoon printed in Harper’s Weekly as late as 1899 (not drawn by Nast):
Belief in emerging eugenics also emboldened a place for white European superiority. New York brothers Orson Squire Fowler and Lorenzo Niles Fowler, pioneers of phrenology a type of science based on head measurements, touted a philosophy and pseudo-scientific method that rated human intelligence and placement on an evolutionary scale based on the favorable or unfavorable measurements of one’s head. They opened shop in Manhattan in 1835 measuring or “reading” people’s skulls.
The Fowlers published several books and manuals on scientific methods of identifying, establishing and securing one’s (white people) superior place in society. The size and shape of the skull and forehead were thought to be indicators of “racial-biological differences” (Tchen 148). The Fowlers and their followers believed the assumption that “skulls divergent from the shape of certain northern and western European types were automatically of a lower order” (Tchen 148).
Nast too, was keen to get his cranium measured and examined. “Like so many nineteenth-century Americans, Nast believed that genetic heritage, national characteristics, personal qualities, and achievements all manifested themselves in the physical body” (Halloran 51). No one it seemed, questioned the science of the day.
In Punch, a popular English weekly illustrated magazine (1841-2002) anti-Irish cartoons were common. In TheBritish Lion and the Irish Monkey, (April 8, 1848) artist John Leach created a tiny monkey (Ireland) who faces a majestic, regal lion (Great Britain). Why a monkey, and not another animal to serve as the preferred animal symbol? The size of the monkey poses no threat to the regal lion. The monkey would have been familiar to the public as a circus or organ grinder’s companion – a demure creature easily trained and controlled. This monkey wears a court jester’s hat. Clearly, to the British literati and readers of Punch, the Irish are a joke. However, the use of the elfin monkey to depict the Irish is less common than the use of an ape.
The ape could be understood as human-like, particularly in terms of Darwin’s emerging theory of evolution, yet inferior to humans. A beast that could encapsulate rough, unsophisticated behavior conveniently attributed to the Irish. Ape-like features assigned to the Irish soon became the ideal stereotype to emphasize the perceived beastly and violent nature of the Irish.
As early as 1842, Punch’s artists “drew on popular notions of physiognomy that the angularity of a face connoted a lower stage of evolutionary development” (Justice 177) and they adopted the practice to depict the Irish consistently in derogatory terms. A Frankenstein monster, seen left, represents Catholic political activism and protests for emancipation, home rule and repeal of the British Union. Under the leadership of charismatic, nationalist Irish leaders like Daniel O’Connell, Ireland’s Catholic peasants were emboldened to demand change. Punch quickly and effectively shut down these aspirations with ridicule.
Animalistic dehumanization was only one of many techniques designed to oppress the Irish and deny them full, human consideration. By regarding the Irish as an “other” the dominant English society could justify and guiltlessly ignore the repercussions of their oppression and cruelty toward the Irish. Watching the Irish starve during the Great Potato Famine Hunger was one manifestation of this belief system.
During the height of the Great Famine, Punch published the English Labourer’s Burden (Feb. 24, 1849) complaining on behalf of England’s outlay of ₤50,000 of famine relief, given to silence Irish protest and demands for assistance.
The Irishman is depicted as a gruff simpleton, getting a free ride on the back of an ordinary English laborer. The English government displayed little sympathy or compassion for the Irish or their famine–related predicaments and despair.
Numerous objections to the Irish proliferated in America as well. Like the English, American Protestants viewed Irish Catholics as “a separate people” (Heuston 82). Irish-American historian Timothy Meagher agrees. “The new Irish American was Catholic. Irish Protestants began melting away into the broader Protestant mainstream” making an effort to vehemently distinguish themselves from the Catholic Irish and preferring to define themselves as Scotch-Irish. See Orangeman’s Riots.
“Most Protestants in America by this time had abandoned the definition of “Irishmen” in order to distance themselves from the Irish Catholic (295). The feeling was mutual.
Irish Catholics saw themselves differently from Protestants and, as an embattled people, “in competition with and fighting against all Protestants, Irish or otherwise.” In New York, politician William M. “Boss Tweed” seeking votes, helped the Irish Catholics gain legitimacy and this alliance of Irish Catholics, Tweed and Democratic politics propelled Nast to attack.
Nast was also deeply influenced by the cartoons of English artist John Tenniel who drew for Punch. Tenniel enjoyed star status as Punch’s lead illustrator for several decades. Tenniel was a renown figure, who received high praise for his illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. He was later knighted and enjoyed a privileged life in England.
According to Nast’s biographer Albert Bigelow Paine, Nast and his colleagues at Harper’s Weekly were keenly aware of what other artists abroad were drawing, particularly at Punch. Nast had access to John Tenniel’s snarling, aggressive, simian-faced Irishmen (28). Nast borrowed heavily from Tenniel both in concept and technique. A startling example of Tenniel’s effect on Nast’s art can be seen in the following two cartoons, first Tenniel’s and then Nast’s. Compare:
Today, the name Thomas Nast bears a particular infamy among American Irish Catholics. His body of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish work is quite substantial and brutal. Nast’s reasons for attacking Irish Catholics directly deserve a closer look. His cartoons resulted from his perception of four issues which demanded response through his visual commentary:
1.) Irish Catholics relationship with William M. “Boss” Tweed – and the many issues that stemmed from that alliance,
2.) The role of the Catholic Church (thereby Irish) involvement in the New York Public School controversy (also involving Tweed),
3.) American Roman Catholic Church and Democratic Party’s stance against abolition, and lastly,
4.) Irish-Democrats pro-labor violence against Chinese immigrants.
Whether Nast was justified in his decision to attack Irish-Catholics is complicated. Today, modern sensibilities judge Nast quite harshly. For these reasons, he remains the subject of passionate debate. These images must be weighed against other cartoons where Nast drew positive images of the Irish, but these representations often blend into the background. Modern lobbying efforts to keep Nast out of the New Jersey Hall of Fame have so far been successful.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
The queue (pronounced cue) was a distinctive hairstyle of the Jürchen-Manchurian or Manchu tribes who occupied the northeast region of what is now modern China. In the early part of the seventeenth century Manchu general Nurhaci demanded that all males who surrendered to his victorious army “must imitate Jürchen practice and shave the fronts of their foreheads and braid their hair into a long pigtail or “queue,”” (Spence 29).
By the mid-seventeenth century, the Manchus ushered in the Qing Dynasty and dominated the major cities of China. The Ming Dynasty disintegrated. To successfully rule China, the Manchus adopted many Chinese practices, but the hairstyle was not one of them. The new Manchu rulers insisted that the Chinese adopt the Manchu style of dress and hairstyle. By 1645 the mandate read that “every Chinese man must shave his forehead and begin to grow the queue within ten days or face execution.” The queue hairstyle remained a key to identification of soldiers in battle.
Therefore in their native homeland, the queue was both a military necessity and a symbol of submission to Qing rule.
Few Chinese women were permitted entry into the United States. For Americans, Chinese men were the only representation of Chinese people and the queue added to the perception that the Chinese men were unnatural. Most Americans could not help but notice the queue.
Queue as a tail
Queue as a hangman’s noose
Queue as barometer of emotion
Queue as a lifeline
Queue as a means of control
Queue as an instrument of expression
Queue as a weapon or tool
Queue as an animal tail
Male populations dominated the gold mines of California, Chinese men, along with white miners, “did their own domestic work – they cooked, sewed and washed their own clothes.” Along with their long pajama-like tunics and long hair, “Chinese men were depicted as lacking virility. In this mostly male world, Chinese men became targets of white men’s fears of homosexuality or the objects of their desire” (Pfaelzer 13).
A few Chinese men, particularly the early Chinese in New York, behaved as mandarins, adopting western dress and “intermarrying with neighboring Irish women” and contributed to a “creolized community” (Meagher). Most western Chinese retained the Manchu identification. In visual art Chinese “otherness” focused on their flowing native clothing, eye shape, diet and overall American perception of facial features as exotic. Of particular fascination was the queue – a key and central marker in visual art representations of the Chinese. In New York City, the traditional hairstyle had become a problem, “their queues were constantly the target of pranks by white boys and men,” (Tchen 83).
By 1856, the New York Times estimated 150 Chinese in New York City. Tchen notes, “the more assimilated these men appeared–equipped with a Western name and some knowledge of standard English–the more access to the dominat cultuure they could gain,” (Tchen 85). Combined with thier “adoption of Anglo-American names–like the marriages to Irishwomen and the establishment of families–signaled that many of these Chinese intended to stay,” (Tchen 86).
But Nast’s Chinese always wore the queue hairstyle. They are often frayed at the base of the neck and almost always braided. Nast used queues in a number of ways: as a weapon for the Chinese, a weapon against the Chinese, as a tool, as a barometer of emotion, as a lifeline, as a hangman’s noose, as a tail, and on Americans as a symbol of irony.
As John Kuo Wei Tchen has noted, Nast likely did not possess first hand personal experience with Chinese people in New York. If he had, he likely would have encountered a Mandarin Chinese who assimilated to western culture, learned the English language, invested in real estate, adopted western style and behaviors including inter-racial marriage (often with Irish women). Nast’s reliance on the queue affirms Tchen’s suggestion that Nast’s knowledge of the Chinese people was “representational” rather than experiential.
Webster’s Dictionary offers a very succinct definition of “stereotype.” It reads: 1. to make a stereotype from a.) to repeat without a variation b.) to develop a mental stereotype about.
Loaded with meaning and consequence, “negative” is frequently paired as a prefix. Stereotypes are rarely considered positive.
Webster’s has gotten it right, particularly as stereotypical representations flourish in visual culture – in works of art – and in particular in cartoon caricatures.
To stereotype an individual is to strip them of their unique qualities, rendering them as one-dimensional figures with a singular behavior, dress, or unifying physical trait. Stereotypes strip away diversity. It denies a unique individual personality. A stereotype creates the suggestion that the subject or person only dresses, eats, talks or behaves in one limited way. To perpetuate a stereotype is to repeat that suggestion verbally, mentally, and visually. Through repetition, the stereotype gains a strange form of legitimacy that is difficult to unravel and reverse.
Editorial art historian Donald Dewey feels that American caricature’s “sorry history” need not have been inevitable. However “the pandering of artists to the opinion of readers was certainly a very large lure” (25-26). Dewey takes little credit away from Nast’s talents, but argues that a great portion of his art succeeded because it responded to people’s own “preconceptions about the last word in viciousness and degeneracy.” Repetition of images “tickled readers’ assumptions” (27).
Dewey calls visual symbols “an economic language in a frontier society where literacy wasn’t always available currency” (11). A weekly deadline didn’t provide artists with the luxury of time to deliver nuanced images. Like many cartoonists, Nast had a sketchbook of references, a repertoire of stock images that he could utilize and quickly drop into place as an ingredient to a scene. Nast’s home studio in Morristown, New Jersey was filled with objects; vases, weapons, classical works of art and likenesses which served as prop models. In the flurry of the Tweed years, Nast contributed as many as seven images over two issues. Meeting deadlines with a respectable level of detail required artists to take short cuts by repeating visual symbols.
John Kuo Wei Tchen believes that when it came to China, the American representation of Chinese people and wares changed drastically from 1776 to 1882. During the early part of this era using “Chinese things, ideas and people in the United States, in various imagined and real forms, has been instrumental in forming this nation’s cultural identity” (xv).
Tchen explains by the end of this period, as the U.S. approached the turn of the century, the rank and file American saw the Chinese as interfering with America’s “Manifest Destiny.” Chinese American men posed a direct threat to Caucasian laborers. Competition for labor to build America’s railroad infrastructure shifted to white labor. To facilitate this change in attitude, it was important to point out the differences and the dangers of Chinese people living and working in America.
Through the mechanical reproduction of art, the Chinese and other minorities became products or salable representations of a racialized other. As Tchen observed, the Chinese soon became exploited in all aspects of media,
Each time real Chinese were mimicked, simulated, and reproduced … abruptly altered, reduced and/or simplified. Visual images abstracted from real people were also disengaged from the real complexities of their lives, from the layered, creolized cultural practices of Chinese New Yorkers. The resulting abstractions – narrow racialized types-were easily recognizable and therefore highly salable…Such images, however, had a powerful effect on the real, everyday options of real, everyday Chinese, the representations became the real thing. (125).
Tchen’s definition of stereotype and its effects is an excellent one. Complexities become simplified. Easy representations become the truth.
And particularly with the second half of the nineteenth century cartoons on Chinese immigrants depict Chinese as males wearing their native dress and the long queue hairstyle. Many American cartoonists elongated Chinese heads and exaggerated the slants of their eyes. The most negative Chinese stereotypes include the addition of rats as companions and a staple of the Chinese diet. Smoking opium and living in squalor are common stereotypes. Since labor issues surrounded the presence of the Chinese, they are often shown working as launderers, cigar makers, shoe cobblers, tea merchants, miners or railroad workers. Chinese American men are rarely shown with Chinese wives, which was indeed rare. Chinese men and never shown to wear western clothes – a confirmation of their refusal to assimilate. In cartoons, particularly on the West Coast, it was common to show the Chinese as members of invading hordes, vectors of malaise and disease.
Stereotypes exist in all forms of communication – on stage, television, film, music, in casual conversations and through the use of expression in high and low art.
San Francisco artist George F. Keller struck again, aided by The Wasp’sincreased investment in color lithography, with AStatue For Our Harbor, November 11, 1881. Although the Statue of Liberty and its base had yet to make a physical appearance in New York’s harbor, discussions about the statue and controversies in fundraising and artists’renditions, were broadly covered in East Coast media and beyond. Keller’s image serves as a reminder that he and or The Wasp kept their attention on their eastern counterparts and applied regional topics to switch focus on West Coast concerns. The image is a cry for attention to examine West Coast immigration issues.
The image was preceded by a popular book, The Last Days of the Republic (1880) written by newspaper editor Pierson Dooner who “described immigration as a “vicious conspiracy” against the U.S. by the Chinese, and illustrated his point with Keller’s drawings” (Tchen/Yeats, 231).
No warm welcome from a copper French Lady Liberty here — immigrants to San Francisco’s harbor are welcomed by a menacing Chinese effigy. His clothes in tatters, this slimy figure, with his long snakelike queue wafting with the breeze, illuminates the American way for Asian immigrants. A few steamboats rest in the harbor, but a larger number arrive via antiquated Asian sail boats or “junks.”
The implication is clear. Modern European immigration has acquiesced in deference to an infiltration of backward, invading forces from Asia. A full moon with a Chinese likeness sneeringly supervises the scene. His celestial light bathes the night sky. Six beams of light emanate from the statue’s unseen torch or lamp. They illuminate the harbor with “Filth,” “Immorality,” “Diseases,” and requiring three beams,“Ruin to White Labor.” In the statue’s other hand is an opium pipe. The Chinese man’s foot is triumphantly perched upon a human skull, presumably that of a white human, and behind the skull is a rat’s tail. The rodent has picked the skull clean.
The Wasp’s indoctrinated readers knew all too well that the Chinese ate rodents. Western press delighted in repeating the disgusting stereotype. In Keller’s illustration, the Chinese have ascended to the top of the food chain. A position that is complicit with the cannibalism of white humanity. Rodents thriving along the embankment collect at the base of the star-shaped pedestal, strewn with trash.
While labor issues dominated one of the six categories The Wasp repeated about the Chinese, the overarching theme in this image is one of disease and immorality. The Wasp suggests there can be no question that the Chinese are to blame for dark and dismal polluted condition of San Francisco’s harbor.
Light and dark divides the image. As a “celestial” the Chinese figure is awash in light as he extends his arm and face toward the source of his “otherness” the celestial sky. The clouds part in his presence. The colors darken as the figure connects with the earth and his roots and foundation into his new San Francisco home.
The Chinese Must Go, But Who Keeps Them? was drawn by George F. Keller and published on May 11, 1878. The cartoon is The Wasp’s interpretation of the Workingmen’s Party’s rallying cry against Chinese presence in California. Front and center is a donkey in military garb, an indication of a war- war against the Chinese, and liberal immigration policies. On the epaulets of the donkey’s uniform, the initials “D.K.” represent the faction’s self-styled military leader, Irish-born Denis Kearney and chief crier of “the Chinese Must Go” mantra. Kearney, a charismatic Irish American “began his infamous outdoor “Sandlot” meetings on vacant lots…and understood how to turn rage about unemployment, the price of food, and the huge land grants to the railroads against the Chinese” (Pfaelzer 77).
The cartoon’s title question has a double meaning. Kearney and his Workingmen’s Party were clear on one goal. They wanted the Chinese out of California- out of the West Coast – out of the labor market. Go back to China, go East – as long as they went. They cared little about who would take care of the Chinese afterward.
The title challenges the readers to look within. Who was taking care of the Chinese in California? Who was keeping them, enabling them, to stay in California? The Wasp pointed the finger at their readers.
Surrounding the braying Kearney, six vignettes show the consequences of white citizens patronizing Chinese business; a cigar shop, shoe cobbler, laundry, horse livery and meat butcher. All professions that the Chinese successfully established and sustained through white patronage. White dollars kept the Chinese in place. By asking, “But who keeps them?” the cartoon places the blame directly upon white households. The editorial called for widespread boycotts of Chinese goods and services.
White woman in California were reluctant to give up the freedoms they had enjoyed by subbing out the domestic work to Chinese businesses. “Their freedom to travel east, to visit friends and family, and their time for church and artistic clubs – all the result of inexpensive Chinese servants – was in jeopardy” (Pfaelzer 66).
As the 1873 economic collapse persisted well into 1876, anti-Chinese zealotry organized into groups, such as the Supreme Order of the Caucasians, who vowed to “annihilate” white people who did not follow their “hit list” of boycotts (Pfaelzer 67).
However, the image is not entirely flattering to Irish-born Kearney and his followers. According to Richard Samuel West, The Wasp abhorred mob violence and the paper adopted the editorial position that while it believed in the true threat of Chinese labor at the expense of white labor, Kearney’s method lacked dignity. Unlike Nast who drew Kearney’s realistically, The Wasp rarely used Kearney’s face in their magazines and in this particular instance, preferred to use the Democratic donkey in his place. “The animal appealed to illustrators for its jackass connotations” (Dewey 17).
Nevertheless, Kearney’s Sandlot speeches resonated with California Democrats and the working class who comprised Kearney’s Workingmen’s Party. “Just two years later, the new party managed to rewrite local anti-Chinese codes into the second California constitution” (Pfaelzer 78-79). Other anti-Chinese measures would follow in California, and loomed on the federal horizon. Back east, Thomas Nast took notice as he watched the Democratic Party gain influence over the electorate and contribute to the shifting public policy against the Chinese. To Nast’s horror, Republicans came under the influence, as well.
It should be noted that Keller’s donkey wears a bicorn military hat. A few of Nast’s anti-Chinese cartoon figures contain a military figure wearing a bicorn hat. This may or may not serve as a symbol for Kearney. In the context of Nast’s cartoons, the suggestion seems plausible.
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 byThe 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.
George Frederick Keller used the invasion theme once again with the Burlingame Treaty as the subject. West called Keller’s Devastation, October 2, 1880 “the best drawn of the many cartoons that Keller created decrying Chinese immigration…The tattered ineffectual scarecrow is Denis Kearney, the leader of the Workingmen’s Party”(148).
Instead of insects used in Uncle Sam’s Farm is in Danger, here the Chinese immigrants are dehumanized and represented as pigs bursting through an Asian gateway, named “Burlingame Treaty.” The brown, hairy, porcines with Chinese faces make a bee-line toward Uncle Sam’s cornfield, and devour everything in sight. In addition to their tails, a queue grows from the back of each of the pig’s head. Cornstalks, represent the job-rich industries of “watch making,” “laundries,” “shirt factories,”” broom factories,” and “cabinet makers,” to name a few, that fall victim to the crunching, ravenous appetite of the pestilent pigs.
Kearney’s scarecrow is left in tatters. He swings around a pole emblazoned with “The Chinese Must Go!!!!!!!” Uncle Sam, exasperated, watches from his lawn on the other side of his fence. Columbia peers out a window of their modest American home. Both she and Uncle Sam are minimized, weak and ineffectual. The Chinese have caused utter devastation.
Employing agricultural symbolism to suggest that the Chinese would destroy California agriculture is deeply ironic. California agriculture owed a great deal to Asian Americans.
Ronald Takaki explains that the Chinese were at the very center of California’s success as an agricultural producer. “Their work boosted the value of the land from twenty-eight dollars an acre in 1875 to one hundred dollars an acre two years later” (89).
As livestock animals, pigs or hogs were considered the lowest form of animal because of their greedy, rooting nature (McNeur 641). In the early nineteenth century, particularly in New York City, hogs were believed to be the carriers of disease and pestilence.
“Swine were closely tied to the filth and unpleasant smells that characterized the streets and public places of the city. Hogs and garbage, after all, went hand in hand” (McNeur 643). It is not unreasonable that these attitudes traveled westward. Comparing the Chinese to swine helped to define them as “others” and cement a perception that the Chinese were unsanitary and disease ridden – a pervasive stereotype attributed to the Chinese.