"John Chinaman," anonymous.

This song, published in The California Songster (San Francisco: Appleton, 1855), became popular during the California Gold Rush.

John Chinaman, John Chinaman
But five short years ago,
I welcomed you from Canton, John—
But wish I hadn't though;

For then I thought you honest, John,
Not dreaming but you'd make
A citizen as useful, John
As any in the state.

I thought you'd open wide your ports
And let our merchants in
To barter for their crapes and teas,
Their wares of wood and tin.

I thought you'd cut your queue off, John,
And don a Yankee coat,
And a collar high you'd raise, John,
Around your dusky throat.

I imagined that the truth, John,
You'd speak when under oath,
But I find you'll lie and steal too—
Yes, John, you're up to both.

I thought of rats and puppies, John,
You'd eaten your last fill;
But on such slimy pot-pies, John,
I'm told you dinner still.

Oh, John, I've been deceived in you,
And all your thieving clan,
For our gold is all you're after, John,
To get it as you can.

Miners, Auburn Ravine, 1852

Miners, Auburn Ravine, California, 1852. (California State Library); click to enlarge

Context: Chinese men arrived in significant numbers shortly after the Gold Rush began in California. Excluded from the best placer mines, Chinese miners frequently worked the "tailings" after Anglos and other European-Americans left a camp for better prospects elsewhere. Most Chinese, though, found work in services (cooking, laundering) and then in the construction of the transcontinental railroad during the 1860s. Anti-Chinese sentiment ran high in California: non-Chinese resented the "cheap labor" that Chinese men provided, while that same racism reinforced the very cheapness of Chinese labor.

"The Heathen Chinee"

Taken from: Bret Harte, "The Heathen Chinee," Plain Language from Truthful James (Chicago: Western News, 1870), 33-35.

Rufus Wright, "The Card Players," 1882

Rufus Wright, "The Card Players," 1882, oil on canvas. (Oakland Museum of California); click to enlarge

Which I wish to remark—
And my language is plain—
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar
Which the same I would rise to explain.

Ah Sin was his name;
And I shall not deny
In regard to the same
What his name might implyl
But his smile it was pensive and childlike,
As I frequent remarked to Bill Nye.

It was August the third;
And quite soft was the skies;
Which it might be inferred
That Ah Sin was likewise;
Yet he played it that day upon William
And me in a way I despise.

Which we had a small game,
And Ah Sin took a hand;
It was Euchre, the game,
He did not understand;
But he smiled as he sat by the table,
With the smile that was childlike and bland.

Yet the cards they were stacked
In a way that I grieve,
And my feelings were shocked
At the state of Nye's sleeve;
Which was stuffed full of aces and bowers,
And the same with intent to deceive.

But the hands that were played
By that heathen Chinee,
And the points that he made,
Were quite frightful to see—
Till at last he put down a right bowers,
Which the same Nye had dealt unto me.

Then I looked up at Nye,
And he gazed upon me;
And he rose with a sigh,
And said, "Can this be? We are ruined by Chinese cheap labor"—
And he went to that heathen Chinee.

In the scene that ensued
I did not take a hand
But the floor it was strewed
Like the leaves on the strand
With the cards that Ah Sin had been hiding,
In the game "he did not understand."

In his sleeves, which were long,
He had twenty-four packs—
Which was coming it strong,
Yet I state but the facts;
And we found on his nails, which were toper,
What is frequent in paper— that's wax.

Which is why I remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark,
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar—
Which the same I am free to maintain.

Studio Portrait of a Chinese-American Man, 1890-1920

Studio portrait of a Chinese-American man, between 1890 and 1920. (Library of Congress); click to enlarge

Context: Bret Harte, whose Overland Monthly we first encountered in reading Palmer's account of Virginia City, also wrote mediocre poetry. This 1870 poem was probably not meant as an anti-Chinese message (in fact, it was written simply as filler for a newspaper), but it became popular among those favoring Chinese exclusion from the United States. Later, Harte wrote the play Ah Sin with Mark Twain.