Editor’s Note :

(Translated by Shin-wei Chang; edited by Olivia Yang)

Peter Liang, a 28 year-old Chinese-American, had joined the New York Police Department (NYPD) for less than 18 months when he accidentally shot and killed an unarmed African American man. Liang now faces up to 15 years in jail, which is a longer sentence than for committing an intentional shooting. As a result, Asians in America and Canada have started to protest against the verdict.

According to a New York Times columnist, the case is the most critical moment for Asian Americans since the riot in 1992 in Los Angeles. The article says that Asian Americans seldom fight for social justice in American society.

Asians immigrating to America can be traced back to the 18th century. In addition, the major wave of Asian immigrants happened in the 19th century, when many people headed to California to become railroad workers.

Back then, American society was not friendly to Asians, and it even passed Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Reports from the media of the time show images of people with black hair and yellow skin, indicating the stereotypes of Asians at that time. To learn more about the images, we asked for permission from the Hsu Chung-Mao Studio to analyze the cover images of several magazines.

Trio of Trouble



Color lithograph from Wasp Magazine of December 16th, 1881.
Title: The Three Troublesome Children.

In the picture, Miss Columbia is surrounded by three impish children. On her left, a Chinese is yanking her hair, while a Mormon claws at her pruriently from her right.

An Indian sits near her feet, playing with soldier models on the floor. The three children are emblematic of the three most pressing political issues at that time, with the first being the problem of the Chinese immigrant workers and anti-Chinese animosity.

The Mormons attracted conflict because of their beliefs in polygamy; several Mormons were convicted of bigamy, despite their appeals to the Supreme Court. Legislation was later passed, explicitly forbidding polygamy.

And last, the conflicts between Spain and the United States in the West Indies, here represented by the Indian figure, culminated in the Spanish-American War in the late nineteenth century. Political issues such as these were not only highly controversial but also costly; behind the faces of war, legislation, appeals, and repeals lay the reality of high debts.

The Chinese As Seen By the Western Illustrators In the 19th Century, Nueva Vision Co. Ltd; 1ST edition (2012)

“Omnipotent” Chinaman



Color lithograph from Judge Magazine between 1885 and 1890.
Title: The coming curse

The drawing is illustrative of the fear Americans harbored towards Chinese immigrants, fearful that they would steal everything away from them.

Starting from the picture on the lower left corner, the picture shows a Chinese man, dressed in a blue Tang suit and a Westernized bowler hat, clobbering an American with a bat. The Chinese man has the American by the collar and has now become the power-holder of the society. Studying the pictures from a clockwise order, we can see the Chinese stealing jobs from the Americans because of their cheap labor: the Chinese have usurped all trades, ranging from plumbing to child care.

The ultimate nightmare is realized in the picture of a Chinese lounging in an expensive carriage, wearing a designer suit and enjoying a cigar with all the embellishments of an upstart. It was the fear of all Americans back then that the Chinese immigrants would someday join in the ranks of upper society.

The Chinese As Seen By the Western Illustrators In the 19th Century, Nueva Vision Co. Ltd; 1ST edition (2012)

Pestilence Flanking from Both Sides



Color lithograph from Judge Magazine, December 17th, 1892.
Title: The pests of our Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

In the picture, Uncle Sam declares, “There shall be no discrimination. I will shut you both out.” Uncle Sam glares disdainfully at the two immigrants that have come from the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts.

To most Americans then, immigrants were the origin and perpetrators of poverty, violence and disease. The Chinaman on the left of the picture brings forward the threats of opium and cheap working wages, while the European immigrant on the right carries with him diseases and the even more contagious spreading of socialist and anarchist thought. The shadow of death looming in the far right is meant to represent cholera, one of the most notoriously infectious diseases at that time and whose transmission was blamed upon the European immigrants.

Governments were pressured to take up extreme measures of prevention: the New York City government once quarantined immigrants from Eastern Europe on their boats for fear of transmission. Forced to stay on the ship, which provided only closed spaces and poor hygiene situations, every member of the ship eventually died after they all contracted the disease.

High Hopes for Equality



Color lithograph from Judge Magazine, 1893.
Title: Be Just Even to John Chinamen.(JUDGE to Miss Columbia – “You allowed that boy to come into your school, it would be inhuman to throw him out now – it will be sufficient in the future to keep his brothers out!")

Anti-Chinese sentiment was further inflamed after the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act. In the picture, Miss Columbia is expelling the Chinese immigrant from school while other racial minorities, African-Americans, Native-Americans, and Irish immigrants cheer on. Placed at a severe political disadvantage, the Chinese were desperate to seek any means of validation: they gave their children Anglo-Saxon names, they participated avidly in church to remedy their images as heathens, and they avoided any connection with African Americans.

Their efforts however were often in vain and they were still told that they had to straighten their appearances, both in their wearing and the storefronts they owned, before they could wish for approval.

A Battle of Uneven Strengths



News article from Le Petit Parisien, April 3, 1904.
Subheading: A duel between Caucasians and Asians.

With the visual representation of a wrestling ring, the illustration cleverly demonstrates how Europeans perceived the power play between nations and the Russo-Japanese War in particular.

From the picture, we can see that the strengths of the two players are uneven: On the left, the hulking Russian representative has a golden belt studded with the words “Champion of Europe,” and he calmly surveys his opponent, a person whose height only falls to the Russian fighter’s waist. The differences in physique, as portrayed by the illustrator, are not entirely without reason.

According to estimations, Russia had been increasing military expenditures by an annual 48% for nearly a decade before the Russo-Japanese War, and in the case of the Russian navy, the increase had been an annual 100%. The efforts the Tsarist government had devoted to building up the muscles of its military also explain the confidence of Aleksei Kropotkin when he assured the Tsar that victory was easy and inevitable.

Japan is shown in the picture to be feeble and puny; the Japanese representative has the words “Champion of Asia” printed on his well-worn shorts, and it would seem that controlling both Japan and Korea has depleted him of most of his strength.

Yet still, he provokes his opponent and squeals in defiance of the Russian player. On the upper right corner, China stands as a “neutral outsider,” despite the fact that Russia and Japan are waging war on Chinese terrain. In the eyes of the foreign power nations, China is not qualified enough to merit a seat by the ring and is therefore consigned to the outskirts.



Color lithograph from Judge Magazine, 1904.
Title: The New Square-Deal Deck. In the picture, President Roosevelt coaxes the gentlemen, “Come, now, gentlemen; it is time to throw aside that worn-out deck and try one which will give both of you a square deal.”

The passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 pushed Chinese workers into a deeper mire of discrimination and restrictions. Although the act was originally designated to last for only ten years, it was postponed repetitively by the Parliament. The Extension Act of 1904 made the act permanent, a political decision that instigated strong remonstration from the Chinese immigrants and the government of China. As a response to the Extension Act, the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce threatened to launch a nationwide boycott of American exports if the American government refused to repeal the act in two months time. Alarmed, the United States-Asia Chamber of Commerce alerted President Roosevelt of the economic losses that would have to be suffered if the boycott was put into practice.

Roosevelt tried to remedy the situation by issuing a political order stating that apart from the Chinese merchants, students, tourists, and officials would be received from a most favored nation status. They would be allowed free entry to the United States and racial discrimination or harassment from the officials would not be tolerated. The change of diplomatic policy was of course not all carrots and no bones: in exchange for this, the Qing government was expected to suppress the boycotting of American goods.

In the picture, the Chinaman and Uncle Sam face a stalemate on the card table, neither of them willing to give in. President Roosevelt comes in from the door, calling truce between the two parties, and holds up a new deck of cards to announce a new set of playing rules.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original piece was published on HSU CHUNG-MAO STUDIO here.