Tag Archives: violence

“Justice for the Chinese” 1886

Lady Justice holds scale of dead white man and Chinese man “Justice for the Chinese” 27 March 1886 by Thomas Nast. Source: Museum of Fine Arts Houston, shared under Public Domain license

In the winter of 1885 and the following summer of 1886, the Chinese were driven out of the Northwest Territories, in what is now Washington and Oregon State. After the Gold Rush, many of the Chinese driven out of California moved upwards into the Northern territory.

A violent outbreak in the mining town of Rock Springs, Wyoming occurred on Sept. 2, 1885. See Here’s a Pretty Mess! (in Wyoming).

In Seattle, Chinese found mining and railroad work. As in Wyoming, the Knights of Labor, an organization with a large Catholic membership were visible actors arguing for an eight-hour work day. To their credit, they called for an end to child and prison labor exploitation, but they were no friend of the Chinese, a race of people the Knights of Labor deemed inferior, and whose willingness to work at a reduced rate was regarded as unfair competition toward white labor interests.

Venture capitalists in the mining and railroad knew exactly what they were doing when they recruited the hard-working Chinese to work for less. The employers cared little about the reaction of organized labor. It is less clear how fully aware the Chinese as pawns to be manipulated by management to break labor union demands.

As in many other industrial towns, mob-pressure ultimately broke out against Chinese labor, and the frustrations found release through mob violence. White workers demanded the Chinese leave. Many Chinese fled to the Portland area where they were welcomed and fit in with the foreign trade atmosphere of the city.

Of the Seattle incident, Harper’s editorial concluded, “It is a national disgrace that having excluded Chinese immigration by law, the hundred thousand Chinese who are so unlucky as to be caught in the country are outraged by foreign mobs, while the government politely regrets that it can do nothing. The coming of the Chinese may be a curse. But if it be a curse, it is now prohibited by law, and honest Americans upon the Pacific slope should be the first to defend those who are here against brutal lawlessness.”

Nast’s second to the last cartoon on the Chinese was drawn four years after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.  Eleven years elapsed since he brought Columbia or her any of her relatives (here in the form of Lady Justice) out of retirement to stand strong on behalf of the Chinese. Denis Kearney and his white labor cohorts achieved their goal, but the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act failed to satiate their fear and mob activities against the Chinese persisted. They wanted all Chinese out, even those few Chinese who met the legal requirements to remain in the U.S.

In the cartoon, Chinese men lay prostrate on the ground from recent violence. On the right, structures smolder in the distance. In her right hand, Lady Justice heaves a large sword as white workers on the ground notice her interrupting presence and begin to leave.

The weighing pans of Lady Justice’s scales are incomplete. One of her pans is missing. From this end of the scale, a white man dangles from the neck as if lynched or hung in order to compensate for the death of the Chinese victim. The dead Chinese figure is cradled upon a bowl-shaped container. His queue hangs over the edge. His hands rest on his chest as if posed in death. The arms of the scales, however, are in balance. Justice has brought her incomplete measuring instrument to the violent scene and weighed each victim despite the missing component.  There are no other obvious white victims. Her broken scales signal that the Justice system is broken and has failed the Chinese workers.

Despite her faulty scales, Nast’s Lady Justice balances the scale with a white victim.  The white man obviously weighs more, yet the atrocities are equal in her eyes. Did Lady Justice scoop up a white perpetrator in a biblical “eye for an eye” moment, exacting justice despite a broken instrument? Has she turned the tables on the white workers, adapting their tactics of lynching to send her message?
Works cited

“Murderers Stop at Nothing” 1886

“Murderers Stop At Nothing” 20 March, 1886 by Thomas Nast. Source: Museum of Fine Arts Huston, shared under Public Domain license

In this issue, which also includes another example from Nast on Chinese immigration policy, two murdered white men lie on the streets of Seattle, Washington, then a U.S. territory. The cartoon depicts an actual news event.

The perpetrators of the double-murders lurk in a darkened alley, their identity unknown. The victims, identified as M. Coleman and Wilson Patten, “well-known” citizens of Seattle, killed for serving on a Grand Jury which indited several men for participating in an anti-Chinese riot.  As the caption states, several Chinese men were killed in labor dispute in nearby coal mines. Similar riots and melees were sprouting all across the pacific Northwest.  Labor issues at coal mines were a frequent backdrop for white versus Chinese intimidation and violence.

The Pacific Reporter, Volume 19, “containing all the decisions of the supreme courts” for western territories states provides additional details.

Subsequently one George H. Miller, described in the transcript as “ignorant and illiterate” was indicted for murder. Miller’s motive, allegedly, was to stop the testimony of Coleman and Patten who would implicate him in some manner.  A Chinese conflict is not addressed in the court documents. The evidence against Miller was circumstantial. Miller was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

“The murder was the shooting of one George M. Coleman and a 16-year-old school-boy by the name of Patten” (50).

Chinese are not pictured in the cartoon, but the image is jarring. The consequences of standing up for or defending justice toward the Chinese is a fatal one. Nast takes some creative license in placing the victims on the street. The men were actually killed on a boat

The bodies of the murdered men lay beneath a wall poster which reads, “The Chinese Must Go! And all whites that enforce the laws of the land.” Another proclamation follows in large letters: “WE DON’T STOP AT COLOR!”

The law of the land is not to be respected. The Chinese allowed to stay under the provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act, must also go. The example of this double-homicide by anti-Chinese vigilantes makes their intimidating message very clear.

In the preceding pages of the issue, Harper’s editors decry the violence and “massacre and mobbing of innocent Chinese” (p. 195). Harper’s short essay praises Washington Territory’s Governor Squire who spoke out against the violence and called upon the people and citizens of his jurisdiction to “rebuke incendiary agitation, secret intrigue, and sedition.”

“It is a national disgrace that having excluded Chinese immigration by law, the hundred thousand Chinese who are so unlucky as to be caught in the country are outraged by foreign mobs, while the government politely regrets that it can do nothing,” Harper’s editor writes.

Curiously, Harper’s summarizes with mixed messages, “The coming of the Chinese may be a curse. But if it be a curse, it is now prohibited by law, and honest Americans upon the Pacific slope should be the first to defend those who are here against brutal lawlessness” (p,195).

 

 

“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.