Includes Hyperlinked Cartoon Timeline Below
With some isolated exceptions in his work, the body of Nast scholarship agrees that Nast was one of the few cartoon artists who defended the rights of Chinese in America and argued against the Chinese Exclusion Act. Unquestionably, Nast attacked those who promulgated anti-Chinese sentiment.
The vast majority of cartoons drawn by others for white audiences came down hard on the Chinese, and contributed to the visual culture which depicted the Chinese Americans as disease-ridden, invading hordes of morally corrupt “others” eager to infest American society and take over labor interests in the United States. This perception of the Chinese flourished in California, the birthplace and hub of anti-Chinese hysteria.
To represent that visual culture, I selected works of George Frederick Keller, the lead artist for a satire weekly, The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp, (The Wasp). Keller was by no means the only anti-Chinese cartoonist operating from the West Coast. Because I have some excellent resources from which to consult, (Richard West and his book, The Wasp, An Illustrated History) and since Keller’s work is representative of anti-Chinese sentiments overall, his cartoons offer an ideal foil to compare against Nast’s efforts regarding the Chinese.
This image below, published in The Wasp on March 9, 1878 employs a classic technique used to dehumanize the Chinese. The image depicts the Chinese not only as insects, but as a horde of invading locusts, a species with a particularly fearful connotation for rural and farming communities such as would be found in California. Ironically, early successes in agriculture along the West Coast owed an enormous debt to Asian immigrants and Asian Americans who shared their innovative talents and techniques to establish California as major agricultural powerhouse. To depict the Chinese as a destructive force in American agriculture rings particularly false. Please double click the image below to enlarge.
Below is a listing of selected Keller cartoons from The San Francisco Illustrated Wasp that are featured on this site:
18 November 1877 – “The Equal Persons Gibson and Loomis” (The Wasp’s first anti-Chinese Cartoon (West))
1877 November – “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner”
5 December 1877 – “The First Blow at the Chinese Question” (First anti-Chinese cover)
8 March 1878 – “Uncle Sam’s Farm in Danger”
11 May 1878 – “The Chinese Must Go, But Who Keeps Them?”
16 February 1879 – “The Balky Team”
2 October 1880 – “Devastation”
20 May 1881 – “The Coming Man”
11 November 1881 – “A Statue For Our Harbor”
3 March 1882 – “What Shall We Do With Our Boys?“