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The Laundry Man's Got a Knife!

China and Chinese America in Early United States Cinema

On August 28, 1896, Li Hung Chang, the former viceroy of China, arrived in New York harbor to commence the final stage of his world tour. On hand to greet him were a large crowd waving banners, children twirling yellow dragon flags, a row of government notables, and a boisterous scrum of journalists who offered him cigars and inquired how many wives he had. "It was a unique display for New York," observed The New York World, "where the Chinese have always stood for less than nothing ... a despised race." President Grover Cleveland journeyed from Washington expressly to meet with Li, and the mayor presented him with the keys to the city. Though foreign dignitaries had often visited the United States without generating significant fanfare, Li Hung Chang had become an instant cynosure. [1]

Li's visit created a sensation by exciting two separate groups of Americans for two very different reasons. Businessmen, politicians, and missionaries believed that China's humiliating defeat in the recent war with Japan would spur the Qing government to accelerate and widen its efforts to modernize. Perceiving Li Hung Chang as friendly to the West, they assumed he would take the vanguard position in opening Chinese institutions and markets to greater American influence. For this reason they viewed his visit as ripe with possibilities. As it turned out, their hopes were misplaced because in China the elderly official's power was beginning to wane. [2] But to a second and much larger group of Americans, Li's progressive policies made little difference. These people had lined the streets, climbed trees and lampposts, and crowded on top of buildings to glimpse a wonderfully exotic Oriental statesman--a "Grand Pooh-Bah" in the flesh. And unlike the first group, they were not disappointed. Li wore colorful silk r obes, rode in a golden sedan chair borne by four carriers, and brought twenty-two servants, two parrots, his own cooking staff, and a supply of hundred-year-old eggs. [3]

As Li disembarked against a background of cheering crowds and exploding fireworks, he probably noticed, just several yards off, what to him would have been a novel sight--a large and rather cumbersome mechanical apparatus behind which a young man crouched. Cameraman James H. White of Revere, Massachusetts, had been dispatched by the Edison Manufacturing Company to record every aspect of the Chinese official's American tour. Indeed, White may have taken his instructions too literally, which would explain the visually unspectacular film entitled The Baggage of Li Hung Chang--a full 50 feet of celluloid showing the luggage of the great man leaving the pier, though not the great man himself. But as Li's visit continued, White improved, and he eventually shot impressive films such as The Arrival of Li Hung Chang, in which the subject steps into his carriage at the entrance to the Waldorf Hotel while the U.S. Sixth Cavalry, sabers drawn, adds pomp to the scene. [4]

The resulting series of moving pictures marked the first time a mass American audience viewed a Chinese person on the screen. [5] And though much of the tremendous interest in Li's visit was misguided, the films made of him probably sent a generally beneficent image of China to Americans everywhere. However, this mostly auspicious beginning would prove no match for the waves of hostile images that were to follow Li onto the screen; in the ensuing years, most films portrayed the Chinese as a ludicrous, clownish people, the salacious seducers of white women and heartless murderers of innocent Christians. Ironically the same Sixth Cavalry deployed to celebrate the wise statesman's visit would reappear in film five years later in a drastically altered context-- the Boxer Uprising.

This article examines the image of China and Chinese America in film from 1894 to 1910, a period that begins with the short films viewed through peephole flip-card devices and that extends to cover the early narrative features. [6] These films merit inspection for several reasons. First, though China had piqued the curiosity of Americans for more than a century, interest surged in 1900, when the U.S. military played a major role in suppressing the Boxer Uprising. Several dozen films reflect this fascination. As discussed below, some film makers hoped to arouse the passions of their audience by portraying the Boxers both as inhumanly cruel monsters and as the violators of white womanhood. Second, some films discussed here were among many people's first experiences with the new technology, and this novelty conferred greater potency on the images, allowing them to etch lasting marks in the American memory Third, since many saw moving pictures as accurate depictions of objective reality, this trust among viewer s lent film an aura of realism stronger than that held by either the printed word or the photograph. In short, people took the images quite seriously.

Fourth, Americans all across the country saw these films. Although it is difficult to estimate the total number of viewers, the wide variety of venues suggests that these films were nearly ubiquitous: as a part of vaudeville shows; at plays in between the acts; in opera houses; as visuals illustrating lectures; in storefront theaters; at carnivals in black tents; at local churches; and through peephole machines in arcades, railway stations, post offices, hotel and theater lobbies, billiard halls, barbershops, saloons, and drugstores. This great diversity of venues also reflects the early cinema's ability to attract audiences from nearly all sectors of society Though a gentleman of the upper crust might not step through a tent flap at the county fair to watch (and perhaps wager on) The Pugilistic Bullfrogs or take in The Chinese Juggler and Mesmerizer at a vaudeville house, he might well attend a narrated travelogue composed of short films from China at the opera house or at his church. [7]

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, the early films deserve attention for what they failed to do: disabuse audiences of false, outdated, reductive, or exaggerated notions of China and the Chinese. With a few notable exceptions, the early films reflected neither the complexity of the situation in China nor the humanity of Chinese people. This shortcoming is hardly surprising because in these early years the studios borrowed heavily from preexisting popular culture forms, such as vaudeville acts and Chinatown tours, and merely transferred the derogatory material from these into their films. Compounding the problem, the film industry was competitive almost from the start, which meant that studios needed to please mainstream audiences by releasing pictures that would confirm their assumptions rather than challenge them. The resulting films tend to reflect not actual life in either China or Chinatown but the numerous images of these that were adrift in the American consciousness around the turn of the century St eeped in stereotype stew; the Chinese characters in these films come across as rat eaters, inscrutable human puzzles, the practitioners of barbaric tortures, worshippers of gaudy pagan idols, inveterate opium addicts, lascivious seducers of white women, and silly laundrymen who deserve a beating.

And so the golden opportunity to rid Americans of false and damaging stereotypes slipped away Although the dawning of moving pictures coincided with great changes in China, the powerful medium of the new century fed the popular imagination more worn-out nineteenth-century imagery, guaranteeing that future generations would think more or less as past ones had.


In the early days of moving pictures, the Edison Manufacturing Company (hereafter EMC) vied with its foremost rival, the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company (later simply called "Biograph"), to dominate a market that also included Selig Polyscope, Lubin, and American Vitagraph. [8] These companies produced short single-reel films that fell into two general categories: acted films and "actualities." Before 1903, acted films seldom included narratives; instead, they comprised short stage performances such as magical acts, dances, and vaudeville routines. Actualities captured the unrehearsed occurrences of everyday life, such as a man sneezing or a train pulling into a station, and newsworthy events, such as the arrival of a foreign dignitary like Li Hung Chang. With hundreds of the latter variety, Biograph could boast of supplying the United States with a "a great pictorial newspaper." [9]

Though many films from this era survive, gleaning information from them can be problematic because, as film historian Charles Musser warns, a sizable gap exists between the surviving product and the original practice. There is a "tendency among film historians," he writes, "to treat film exhibition and the process of spectator appreciation as constants. They have read history backwards in these two areas, using a framework of contemporary procedures." [10] Unlike movies today, these short films did not stand alone as self-sufficient texts, watched in dark theaters by attentive audiences. Rather, once EMC or Biograph released a film, it became a building block in a larger program conceived by the vaudeville manager, carnival showman, or lecturer who purchased it. For example, audiences seldom viewed "silent films" in silence. Instead, sounds would accompany the images to enhance their overall effect: piano music; whistles, bells, and splashing water; phonographic recordings; lectures; or dialogue spoken by pe ople hidden behind the screen. Since sound varied according to the taste and ingenuity of the manager of a particular venue, two people watching the same film in different locations might report very different viewing experiences. [11]

For this reason, a film such as Biograph's Chinamen Returning to China (1903) defies our attempts to measure its effect on audiences. According to the catalogue, the film shows "a large number of Chinamen who have made their fortunes in America, starting on the return trip across the Pacific. They...form a very odd company" Except for a minor slight implied in the word "odd," this description and the film itself appear to be more or less innocuous. However, in such cases the way that exhibitors presented the film made all the difference, Did they remind audiences that a common complaint leveled against the Chinese accused them of being mere sojourners-taking jobs from "real" Americans, squirreling away their earnings, and then one day embarking for China? And if so, did the film elicit jeers as the Chinese first appeared on the screen and applause as they boarded the ship taking them far away? [12]

In addition to the variable of sound, the arrangement of a film program could influence the audience's perception of a given film. For example, someone viewing the Li Hung Chang series today might assume that past audiences felt respect for the man; indeed, Li's nobility seems unambiguously intrinsic to the film itself. But here again, film practices of the day undermine this assumption. Although we might expect an exhibitor to show all the films of Li Hung Chang at one time, sequencing them chronologically and complementing them with a spoken piece explaining the importance of Li's visit, this was not necessarily the case. Especially before 1898, a spectator was just as likely to view an eclectic hodgepodge of films as he was a program that adhered to a single theme. In fact, some exhibitors placed Li with some fairly odd company In the summer of 1896, one traveling vaudeville show juxtaposed Biograph's Li Hung Chang at Grant's Tomb with scenes from Rip Van Winkle and A Hard Wash, an ethnic comedy in which an African American woman scrubs and scrubs her infant (but alas, she cannot make him white). That same year, Proctor's Pleasure House, a vaudeville theater in New York, gave The Arrival of Li Hung Chang top billing in a film medley that also included lighthearted scenes of popular amusements: New Bathing Scenes at Rockway, The New Skirt Dancer, and The Coney Island Chutes. [13] Looking back, we cannot say for certain what impression of Li audiences would have gathered from these shows.


Not only did vaudeville serve as a venue for early films but its entire brand of entertainment spilled over into the content of the moving pictures themselves, creating what Tom Gunning has called "the cinema of attractions." Unlike the later narratives, the early acted films showcased performers who were exhibitionists rather than actors. Instead of concealing their awareness of spectators, these performers tried to establish contact with the audience with their constant bowing, excessive gesticulating, and habitual smirking at the camera. [14] Magical acts and comedy routines typified this style of early cinema.

In the magic business, both actual Chinese magicians and westerners dressed as Chinese conjurers toured the country at the turn of the century Leading this group was the great Ching Ling Foo, a legitimate Chinese magician who became one of the top draws in vaudeville as a contracted performer in B. F Keith's circuit of theaters. [15] Moving picture makers captured the acts of a handful of these performers in films, most of which were released by EMC. Typically, the films combined tricks from the magician's own repertoire with the stunning special effects now possible with the new medium. Not surprisingly, the Chinese conjurers appeared to be exotic, mysterious, and connected to occult powers. In one film, the magician makes a devil's head appear that is a cross between a dog and a man. As it hovers several feet off the floor, the face contorts itself "in a hideous and most frightful manner, twisting its mouth in unbelievable shapes." The conjurer then orders the head to leave the premises, which it obedientl y does by rising and floating off on its own. For the climax of another film, a Chinese magician commands his body to shrink and his head to grow larger. As he spreads his arms, the loose sleeves of his costume become gigantic bat's wings, and "he flies directly at the audience." [16]

In a performance filmed against the elaborate backdrop of a Chinese temple, Ching Ling Foo transforms a "hideous Chinese head" carved on a temple door into "a beautiful Chinese maiden." Through the conjurer's magic, the maiden disappears into a Chinese lantern, only to emerge from a giant vase seconds later, at his command. But the master magician is not finished. He waves an oriental rug over the maiden, and--to his apparent consternation--she becomes "an ugly Chinaman." Aghast at his own work, the furious Foo commands the "Chinaman" to vanish, which he does, dropping through the stage "like a lightning flash." Perhaps unintentionally, this film recapitulated the trajectory of the Chinese in the popular imagination. Seen as a people of beauty and enchantment in the early nineteenth century, the Chinese darkened in the American mind to objects of loathing when large numbers of mostly male immigrants arrived in the United States after mid-century Hatred continued to build until the Exclusion Acts of 1882 atte mpted to make the Chinese disappear "like a lightning flash." Ironically, in 1899, immigration authorities tried to deport Ching Ling Foo as well. [17]

Unfortunately, film makers were more apt to use the "ugly Chinaman" than the enchanting magician in their creations. With a few exceptions, such as Biograph's Hot Mutton Pies (1901), in which a Chinese street vendor's pie filling turns out to be feline, acted films involving the Chinese revolved around the twin stereotypical stock characters of the laundryman and the opium user. [18] Film makers were not the first in the entertainment industry to situate a comic scene in a Chinese laundry; they followed the lead of vaudeville and even adopted specific vaudevillian routines. All laundry scenes involved white actors in baggy costumes with queues attached to their heads, and nearly all offered variations on a couple of themes: the clown-like antics of one or two Chinese laundrymen, and the harassment of laundrymen by a white pest. In 1894, the first year when large numbers of people viewed films through the peephole machines, EMC released a film featuring the vaudeville comedy team of Robetta and Doreto, whom o ne newspaper acclaimed as "the two cleverest Chinese impersonators on the stage." Shot in EMC's Black Maria Studio in New Jersey, the film is set in the "New Fun Laundry," where the mischievous Hop Lee eludes an irate but foolishly inept Irish policeman. Hop Lee scampers in and out of a series of doors, sometimes slamming them in the face of the foolhardy man in blue. The chase continues until the Chinese trickster climbs to the top of the set and drops a sign on the head of his unsuspecting pursuer. [19]

Despite the success of Hop Lee's evasive tactics, in most films it is the laundryman who looks foolish in the end. In Biographs In a Chinese Laundry (1897), a laundryman makes amorous overtures to a white girl who comes to pick up her clothes. The catalogue's succinct description underscored both his ineptitude and the unfeasibility of the match: "His efforts are very ludicrous." Interestingly, the historical experience of Chinese laundrymen contradicted the explicit claim of this film that their advances on white women yielded only comical failures. Jacob Riis, in his 1890 photo-text How the Other Half Lives, reported that nearly all the women living in Chinatown were white and that many were under age; to illustrate, he cited the case of a Chinese man who had been arrested for "inveigling little girls into his laundry." [20] Lew Chew, a former laundryman who was interviewed in 1903, took a less alarmist view of the interracial relationships. In all of New York, he stated, one could find fewer than forty Ch inese women as the direct result of immigration restrictions. Since men "need the society of women," was it any "proof of the demoralization of our people" if Chinese men chose willing white women to be their "faithful wives and mothers"? [21] The makers of this film, however, chose to mask rather than confront this social reality by making light of the laundryman's sexuality In this way, the film reassured white audiences by encouraging them to laugh at a phenomenon that was actually a source of anxiety for them. Simultaneously, the film sent an unmistakable message to young white women that Chinese men were not to be viewed as viable partners.

Other films using the Chinese laundry motif were driven more by special effects than by sensitive social issues. After the English technician G. A. Smith invented a cinematic technique for producing apparitions in 1898, the film industry experienced a vogue for films involving ghosts. Following this trend, Biograph's Ghosts in a Chinese Laundry (1900) shows two Chinese laundrymen who are spooked by an apparition that rises out of their basket. Though the film plays with the reputation of the Chinese for living in a psychological state governed by the spirits of dead ancestors, the laundrymen here serve primarily as a convenient vehicle for the studio to show off its ability to create stunning new effects. [22]

Other films driven by special effects took place in the laundry, and several of these promulgated the disturbing message that abusing a Chinese person was perfectly acceptable behavior. Both Lubin and EMC produced moving pictures entitled Fun in a Chinese Laundry, and in both cases the "fun" was violence. In Lubin's 1901 film, the "proverbial bad boy annoys two Chinese hard at work at their washtubs." When the Chinese retaliate against the instigator, he seizes them both and, with a herculean effort, lifts them over his head. Next, he kicks them and rolls them all over the floor, twisting and contorting them into all kinds of unnatural positions until they are lifeless. After he departs, "the Chinks suddenly come to life and wind up the picture with one of their peculiar dances." Here, the new medium allowed film makers to execute a stunt that would have been impossible for live stage performers. Just as the bad boy is about to hoist the laundrymen over his head, he freezes, the camera stops rolling, and the two Chinese impersonators walk off the set, to be replaced by two lightweight dummies. For the conclusion, the impersonators reinsert themselves into the action so that they can spring to their feet and dance, thus showing amazed spectators that they were never injured. Though the trick camerawork probably accounted for most of the entertainment value of this film, it nevertheless contained the message that the Chinese were a kind of rubber race that could be physically beaten all in good fun. [23]

Just as the film industry appropriated vaudeville acts that ridiculed Chinese laundrymen, so, too, did it borrow from another popular culture form to produce its scenes set in opium dens. Around the turn of the century, a sightseer visiting New York would more than likely take a tour of Chinatown, the highlight of which was a "forbidden" peek into an opium den. [24] Many studios incorporated such peeks into their films, with Biograph making the connection explicit by including the apparatus of the tourist industry in its Rube in an Opium Joint (1905). [25] In this film, a megaphone-toting tour guide conducts his flock through an opium den, the beds of which are occupied by comatose Caucasian addicts. Though the film was a comedy, it touched on a pressing social issue of the period. Starting in the 1870s, opium became a popular drug among non-Chinese Americans, many of whom frequented opium dens run by Chinese. Though whites and Chinese typically avoided each other in the light of day, their mingling in this hazy underworld eventually set off alarms that the sensitive ears of film makers were quick to detect. [26]

If the laundryman in baggy clothes bordered on the innocuously asexual in films, the opium smoker constituted a sexual threat. Two Biograph films, A Chinese Opium Joint (1898) and A Raid on a Chinese Opium Joint (1900), depict white women who have lost their will to act and are in the thrall of the master of a Chinese opium den. In the first, the Chinese man prepares the drug for the woman, who proceeds to smoke it while reclining on a luxurious divan. In the second, the police break in before the master of the opium den can corrupt his white prey by teaching her how to smoke. [27] These films mirrored the prevalent fear among middle- and upper-class white Americans that the Chinese were luring respectable white women into their opium dens. And since opium was thought to arouse sexual desires, the abhorrent prospect of miscegenation loomed behind this anxiety San Francisco physician Winslow Anderson voiced this concern when he wrote indignantly about the "sickening sight of young white girls from sixteen to twenty years of age lying half-undressed on the floor or couches, smoking with their 'lovers.' Men and women, Chinese and white people, mix in Chinatown smoking houses." [28]

In nearly all these acted films, white actors portrayed the Chinese as an unreal people--ludicrous laundrymen or treacherous opium fiends. Going one step farther, the Lubin Company released a film in 1903 that encouraged audiences to participate in the mocking imitations. The catalogue entry for Chinese Dance urged prospective exhibitors to treat the film as an instruction guide:

Who ever saw a Chinese dance? Very few of us. If you buy this film you will have something to overwhelm your competitors with. It brings to mind the dainty and delicious "chop souee" ...served in the Chinese restaurants. See this dance, "hit the pipe," eat a dish of that Chinese mixture and in their language of the street, you will be a Chinaman, "for fair." The dance is comical in the extreme. John Chinaman calls on his friend, Half Lung, and tells him a funny story They enjoy it so much together that it starts them dancing in real Chinese fashion. Very funny [29]

In demonstrating how one can mimic the Chinese, Lubin's film was following rather than initiating a trend. In addition to vaudeville routines (the acts of Robetta and Doretto being the most famous example), popular home entertainment books detailed how children could perform imitations of "Chinamen" for friends and family members. Some books provided scripts and stage directions for derogatory plays about the Chinese, instructions and diagrams for dressing like "John Chinaman" (use a skullcap, a rope for a pigtail, a basket for a rice-paddy hat, and colorful clothes), and magic tricks for those who wanted to play the Chinese conjurer. [30] By portraying the Chinese as the alien and silly "other," those who enjoyed these impersonations showed what constituted an American by demonstrating quite clearly who did not qualify.


Even if most Americans did not choose to impersonate the Chinese, they most likely harbored a strong curiosity about Chinese life that they satisfied by viewing "actualities" shot both in American Chinatowns and in China. In the summer of 1897, James White, then in his early twenties, embarked on a trip that would take him halfway around the world to shoot film for EMC. His itinerary included stops in San Francisco, Hawai'i, Hong Kong, China, and Japan. [31] White reached San Francisco in time to see the Golden Jubilee, a city-wide celebration commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of gold. Since some residents of Chinatown were scheduled to march in the parade, White had an opportunity to capture the Chinese at their most colorful. Though he did successfully film the Chinese procession, he missed the ugly event that had transpired earlier that day. After receiving the go-ahead to march, the Chinese found themselves confronted by "a crowd of toughs" intent on destroying all their floats and b anners. The Chinese fought back, however, and with the help of police managed to save their costumes, banners, and musical instruments and to march in the parade as planned. [32]

If James White was conscious of the racial strife that smoldered beneath the parade's sunny surface, that awareness certainly did not manifest itself in the EMC trade journal's description of the film that exhibitors may have used to introduce the piece to audiences. The trade journal also failed to elucidate Chinese culture so as to render the procession more comprehensible to audiences. Although each object and emblem in the procession signified a particular aspect of Chinese religion or tradition, the experience of viewing the film severed those vital connections, leaving the visual signs free-floating in the minds of viewers. No longer signifying anything real, the signs did continue to function in the audience's minds: they signified the mystery of their subject. What did audiences learn from the film under these circumstances? Most likely, they received the same impression as spectators who witnessed the parade in person. The two major San Francisco newspapers, the Chronicle and the Examiner, both repo rted that the crowds were thrilled by the "gorgeousness" and "splendor" of the "colors," "costumes," "lanterns," and "banners," yet were at the same time utterly baffled by the "mystery" and the "unfathomable nature" of the Chinese. [33] In this way, White's cinematic effort resulted in a paradox: this "actuality," which by definition showed life as it truly was, served only to enshroud its subject in mystery.

Indeed, around the turn of the century, anyone who presented the Chinese to the public knew that the easiest way to please people was to feed their craving for exotica. In the medium of documentary photography, for example, Arnold Genthe cropped and retouched his photographs of San Francisco's Chinatown to remove Caucasians, telephone wires, and signs written in English--all to preserve the illusion of Chinatown as the "Canton of the West." Interestingly, Biograph was sometimes able to resist this temptation. Unlike Genthe's pictures, Biograph's Scene in Chinatown (1903) does not try to hide elements that do not conform to the audiences exotic image of the place. The film not only shows very few people dressed in distinctively Chinese apparel but also includes several non-Chinese pedestrians. [34]

Another Biograph film, American-Chinese Naval Reserves (1899), provided the antithesis of White's parade scene by showing the Chinese marching not with banners and gongs but in American military uniforms. The Chinese Naval Reserves had made a name for themselves by serving Admiral Dewey in Manila. They had performed so admirably, in fact, that in March 1899 they sought U.S. citizenship on the grounds that exemplary military service should exempt them from the restrictions laid out in the Exclusion Acts. One month later, an opportunity to film this unique regiment presented itself to Biograph in the form of Philadelphia's celebration of "Grant's Day" As President McKinley and Grant's widow looked on, the ceremonies culminated in the unveiling of a new statue of the former president and general. Because the Chinese government had thought fondly of Grant ever since the latter's post-presidential visit, Wu Ting Fang, China's foreign minister in Washington, sent a giant wreath on the behalf of his country. [35] A s Biograph's cameras rolled, the Chinese Naval Reserves marched into Fairmount Park carrying the U.S. flag and placed the wreath at the base of the statue. [36]

Biograph made one other film in which a Chinese American comes across as masculine and strong. For the extremely popular boxing genre, the company shot 314 feet of the Chuck Connors vs. Chin Ong (1899) boxing match, which it described as a "lively set-to with the gloves, between the well-known Bowery character and a new Chinese aspirant for pugilistic honors." Chuck Connors was a New York entertainer who capitalized on the public's fascination with Chinatown by offering guided tours (he displays his dexterity with chopsticks in Biograph's 1903 film, Scene in a Chinese Restaurant). Although Biograph almost certainly produced this boxing film knowing that a pugilist with a queue would intrigue viewers as a curiosity, the film did have one beneficial side effect: like American-Chinese Naval Reserves, it put a muscular Chinese American on display at a time when Americans were obsessed with issues of masculinity Around the turn of the century, many American men described themselves not as strong, vital, and vigor ous but as enervated, flaccid, and lacking vitality; the comforts of modem urban life, some thought, had had an overcivilizing or even feminizing effect on them. In response, some sought regeneration in the so-called strenuous life, a mode of living, endorsed by Theodore Roosevelt, that stressed the virtues of physical exertion and that hence might involve military service, an outing to the rugged American West, or even boxing. Since Americans of this era constructed masculinity in terms of bodily strength and power, they held up the prizefighter as an ideal. Although we cannot say how viewers reacted to Ong, they quite possibly respected the manhood and skill of "the Chinese champion." [37]

James White traveled on to China, where he filmed primarily street and wharf scenes in Canton, Hong Kong, Tientsin, and Shanghai; these became the first moving pictures of China to reach a mass audience in the United States. [38] Though the films are grainy, they show White's fascination with the bustling streets and waterways of China, with the European-American presence there, and with the forms of conveyance used by the Chinese. In fact, the prevalence of junks, sampans, rickshaws, sedan chairs, carts, and wheelbarrows--all powered by animals and Chinese people--is the most salient characteristic of these films. [39] When viewing these films in a vacuum, it is difficult to label how they present the Chinese; depending on how an exhibitor presented them, they could have given a positive, negative, or neutral impression. However, we do know that EMC encouraged exhibitors to string together films from James White's world tour into a travelogue. [40] And since the words accompanying such a program would neces sarily shape an audience's perception of the films themselves, the various approaches that lecturers may have taken warrant our attention.

As one possibility, lecturers may have placed the numerous images of Chinese manpower in the context of American technology and machinery By comparing China to the United States using this criterion, a lecturer could conceivably please members of his audience by encouraging them to feel superior for living in the more technologically sophisticated society. [41] Though we cannot say whether or not James White intended his films to be used in this condescending fashion, as a cameraman he was working with the amazing new technology of motion pictures and just might have viewed the world through this lens. Yet if EMC remained mute on the matter in its catalogue, its chief competitor did not. Commenting on a slightly later but similar line of films, Biograph called attention to "the primitive methods of transportation" used by the Chinese. [42] If the nontechnological aspect of China highlighted in the films truly fascinated lecturers, then the first moving pictures from the Middle Kingdom probably drew more cond escension than praise from viewers. [43]

Lecturers might also have used the bustling thoroughfares and market activity captured in White's films to illustrate China's vibrant economy Though ostensibly complimentary, such a usage may have served a larger purpose. When viewing the films, one cannot ignore the Caucasians in black business suits who wave to the camera as they pass in rickshaws pulled by Chinese men. Europeans and Americans are so visible in the films because White limited his scope to the several Sino-foreigner contact zones of Canton, Shanghai, and Tientsin; he never got beyond these cosmopolitan port cities to film the vast regions of China that were not organized by Western or Japanese capital. As a result, he probably spent his spare time not with the Chinese but with the international community, chatting with and gathering information from the businessmen and diplomats who had a large stake in China and who exerted considerable pressure on Washington. [44] Since they could easily have influenced White's understanding of China, one could argue that his footage of Chinese people coexisting peacefully and profitably with foreigners was a visual affirmation of the McKinley Administration's China policy, articulated the next year in John Hay's "Open Door" notes. Quite possibly, lecturers placed the films in this political context.

Since the architects of the Open Door Policy intended that it preserve China's independence from the colonizing designs of foreign powers, on the surface, at least, the policy appeared to be in China's best interests. Yet that seeming benevolence masked a harsh economic reality By the 1890s, the United States had become an industrial power that many deemed capable of manufacturing much more than its own markets demanded. Fearing overproduction, American industry looked to China's millions to absorb its surplus, and as the century drew to a close, propitious export statistics bolstered this optimism. However, the presence in China of Russians, Japanese, and Germans (who forced China to relinquish Kiaochow Bay, a prime coaling station, in March 1898) placed these hopes in peril. If these countries were to establish their own spheres of influence, they would regulate the flow of commerce to and from China in a way favorable to the sale of their own goods--and keep the U.S. at a disadvantage. But if China could remain sovereign, the current system of free enterprise that granted equal access to all foreign powers would prevail, and the United States could continue to conduct profitable trade with China without seizing a colony. It was this beneficial status quo that the McKinley administration sought to preserve.

This arrangement had a dark side, however, in that China was not free to develop on its own terms. Were the Chinese to grow into a sophisticated economy with competitive technology of their own, they would have no need for exports from the United States. Therefore, it was in U.S. interests that China remain not only independent and self-governing but also locked in a remedial stage of economic development characterized by selling raw materials and purchasing finished goods. This was, according to Thomas McCormick, "the imperialism of anti-imperialism." [45] One could argue that White presented a China that was perfectly in line with this philosophy By showing bustling streets packed with people and commodities on the move, all conveyed by either animal power or human sweat and muscle, White's films mirrored the aim of U.S. policy: China as a dynamic, mercantile country but one that lagged hopelessly behind the United States. In other words, China was the perfect trading partner for a maturing industrial gian t.

Though some lecturers may have framed the films in this way, at least one welcomed a modernized China. Biograph's Raymond Ackerman teamed up with the noted Asia expert Thomas FJ Millard, whom he had met while shooting film in China in 1901. The two hopped onto the lecture circuit that same year, with Millard doing the talking and Ackerman providing the films and serving as projectionist. Although Millard's lecture notes have not survived, he does expound on Chinese industry and technology in his several books on the Far East, from which we can get a sense of what his commentary may have been like. First of all, Millard dismissed the theory that the Chinese were "unfit" for modern industry. On the contrary, he believed they would adapt so well to it as to one day pose a threat to industrial nations like the United States. China, he warned, "may, in time, disturb the economic equilibrium of the world." Unlike those who dreaded a modern China, calling it the "bugaboo" of Western industry, Millard believed not o nly that China's development was inevitable but also that it could be advantageous to American industry. Since the United States needed markets for its goods, Millard believed that American factories could keep busy feeding the growing industrial giant what it needed--oil, rails, and machines. He urged American businessmen not to cringe in fear but to hustle: conduct research, write proposals, and secure contracts with the Chinese. [46]


While James White was filming China's eastern port cities, a movement was brewing in northwest Shandong Province, a poor agricultural region prone to flooding and banditry. Along with these age-old blights, new and strange forces were increasingly intruding upon the region: Christian missionaries, serpentine railroad tracks, miles of telegraph wires and poles, and vast mining projects. Many people saw these encroachments as tentacles of the West that were capable of altering not only the Chinese landscape but the Chinese mind as well. It was out of this environment of flux, unrest, and volatility that the Boxers United in Righteousness arose, deriving their name from the martial rites they practiced and believing in a form of spirit possession that could render their bodies invulnerable to bullets. To the consternation of foreigners, the Boxers soon began to focus their rage on them, rallying around the slogan "Support the Qing; destroy the foreign!"

After requesting support from the Qing government and receiving only tepid reassurances, the foreign powers sent in modest military forces to protect their citizens and assets. These units were unable to forestall what occurred next. On June 19, 1900, Boxer forces laid siege to the foreign legations in Peking, forcing the members of the foreign community to barricade themselves inside. Had it not been for a buried cannon discovered fortuitously while digging for water, the foreign community could not have resisted the siege. On August 4, a foreign expeditionary column of about twenty thousand soldiers from various nations (including Americans sent over from the Philippines) commenced their march on Peking. After Boxer resistance crumbled, the allies raised the siege on August 14. [47]

For film companies, the Boxer Uprising was a major windfall, offering a lucrative opportunity commensurate with that of the Spanish American War: here was a dire situation in a distant land that required the heroic intervention of American soldiers. Movie makers rushed to produce films of the crisis and to release them as quickly as possible to an eager American public. In publications geared toward exhibitors, film companies placed advertisements that announced in bold print, "China Films Just Received." EMC even offered to send out "special advance lists of Chinese subjects" so that ambitious exhibitors could get a leg up on the competition. [48] At the start of the new century, the hot topic was China, the cameras were rolling, and Americans were watching.

EMC took the lead by seizing upon an early sea engagement. On June 17, 1900, cannon fire from the Chinese fort at Taku on the mouth of the Pei Ho River provoked retaliatory measures from the allies, whose subsequent victory allowed them to control this strategically important waterway to Tientsin and Peking. The New York Times first broke the story on June 19, and in that same issue stated that an American warship had been in the vicinity. The news of a sea battle combined with the hint of American involvement must have ignited a fuse at EMC, for that same day a film team produced a magnificent 81-foot film, Bombardment of Taku Forts by the Allied Fleets (Figure 1). The team successfully re-created the action by maneuvering toy boats in a large tub, rippling the water with their fingers to simulate waves, and blowing cigar smoke to cloak the scene in a haze of cannon fire. Since they lacked a photograph of the actual area, they constructed the miniature Chinese fort and surrounding landscape according to the ir imaginations. A mammoth gateway composed of two giant towers stands erect before a dense Chinese city ensconced between water in the foreground and stereotypical misty mountains in the background. In reality, no mountains grace the shore at Taku, and the low-lying fort did not include any towering structures. Though the Times reported on June 20 that the Americans had in fact stayed out of the engagement, a remarkable cinematic recreation was by that time in the bag. [49]

The film commences with a period of calm as the allies patrol the water before the fort. Oddly, a lonely Chinese junk drifts among the iron-clad titans before exiting the scene just as the firing begins. Though perhaps piloted by misguided fishermen unaware of their impending peril, the junk more likely served simply as a recognizable Oriental symbol, signaling to viewers that China is the setting. After cannonballs from the Chinese fort splash in the water near the allied ships, they respond with heavy fire, and soon the whole of Taku, mountains and all, becomes enshrouded in smoke. For the climax, the allies engage in a stunning battle maneuver in which the many ships and cruisers come together to form a single weapon. By sailing in a circular pattern, they become a deadly firing wheel that blasts the fort from a single point as it revolves. As an emblem of the destruction wreaked by the allied assault, the fort loses one of its towers by the end of the film. The New York Clipper heralded this picture as a "wonderful and realistic naval battle," and for its time, it certainly was. [50]

Surpassing EMC's effort, Biograph actually sent cameramen to China. Although the allies had already taken possession of Peking by the time Raymond Ackerman and Robert Bonine arrived, the duo nonetheless sent back footage that would become more than sixty films. [51] Since the American War Department granted the cameramen access to places in Peking heretofore sealed to outside eyes, a few of the films contained strikingly original material. Audiences must have held their breaths as they beheld the first moving pictures ever taken from inside the Forbidden City, films that truly inspired awe by capturing the vast scale, spectacular architecture, and overall grandeur of the ancient home of China's rulers. The majority of the films, however, did not dazzle; they consisted mostly of ordinary shots of troops in a line, generals just standing there, and Chinese walls and buildings, often in ruins. Despite Biograph's boast that West Point used their films for teaching purposes, the truth was that the films conveyed little that the American public would judge sensational. Bonine and Ackerman had simply arrived too late to capture the kind of action, suspense, and deeds of valor that audiences craved.

That being said, there was still celluloid gold to be mined in China. Ackerman realized that although the opportunity to film combat had passed him by, most of the important players from key events were still on hand, so that he could shoot a choreographed reenactment on the precise spot where a decisive engagement had taken place. In Sixth Calvary Assaulting the South Gate of Peking (1901), the lofty walls of the Chinese capital are the backdrop as American forces execute a remarkable military maneuver (Figure 2). First, ground troops rush in, establish a position behind a dirt mound, and begin firing at the nonexistent Chinese soldiers on the top of the wall. With this threat eliminated, the Sixth Cavalry valiantly charges through the gates and on into Peking. [52]

At least one reviewer (and probably others) did mistakenly believe that he was watching an actual military engagement, but the film did not need to fool audiences to succeed. Though not "authentic" by the current definition of the word, Ackerman's "reconstructed newsreels" (or staged actualities) probably did satisfy the truth criteria of turn-of-the-century audiences, many of whose members valued verisimilitude more than verity. To them, a film that succesfully conveyed the spirit or essence of a given event was even more truthful than one that faithfully captured objective reality. Regardless of how one viewed this film, it inspired patriotic pride, and audiences must have found it thrilling. [53]

Companies that did not send cameramen to the Far East did not stand idly by and allow Biograph alone to capitalize on the Boxer Uprising. Unlike Ackerman, who staged what had at least been a genuine historical event, these other film makers took tremendous liberties in fashioning their "actualities." Using all white actors in gruesome scenes of Boxer barbarism, both Lubin and Selig Polyscope shot pictures on their rooftop studios in New York that surpassed real Boxer atrocities in cruelty and that beat the more mundane actualities of Ackerman as far as graphic or provocative content was concerned. In this way, they out-boxed both Boxers and Biograph, and forced the latter to produce sensational films of its own. Without exception, these films oversimplified the situation by packaging Americans and Chinese in neat and understandable binary concepts: white/yellow, good/evil, heroes/villains, victims/aggressors, progress/backwardness, and Christians/heathens. In this way, they encouraged the audience to reduce what was in truth a complex conflict into a simple clash of polar opposites.

In June 1900, the Lubin Company filmed Chinese Massacreing [sic] the Christians, which it falsely claimed to be a "perfect realistic picture." In this film, the Boxers batter down the door of a missionary home and force the family outside. One Boxer takes a child by the feet, throws her over his shoulder, and stomps off with his human plunder; a second drags the screaming mother away by her hair; and a third puts the father on a block and decapitates him. By having the Boxers target a Christian family, the Lubin Company clearly intended to provoke a visceral response. In 1900, most Americans persisted in holding the Victorian vision of the home as sacrosanct. In addition to providing a safe haven from the outside world, the home was the locus of morality, virtue, Christianity, reproduction, innocent childhood, and angelic motherhood. The Boxers' violation of this most cherished of cultural institutions was certain to incite the passions of the audience. [54]

Selig Polyscope released a film in this same vein entitled Beheading Chinese: "Our picture shows a line of unfortunates on their knees awaiting the executioner's sword, and although somewhat horrible, it shows truthfully the methods of executing in this far-off country." In a scene the catalogue labeled "grewsome" [sic], the executioner walks down a row of prostrated criminals, slicing through their bowed necks in a rapid succession of clean swipes with "his razor-like sword." Once separated from the body, each head then "rolls into the basket prepared for its reception." In addition to this description, the catalogue offered a short history lesson: "This film depicts a scene familiar not only during the recent Chinese Boxer uprising but at almost any time in China. The universal punishment for all offences, large and small, in China is the beheading of the culprits." [55] Despite the claim made here, the Chinese penal system, though sometimes harsh, did not behead people for petty offenses. Even worse, some one reading this description might infer that barbaric insensitivity to human life in China was not an aberration caused by recent events but only the most recent manifestation of a cruel streak that ran through the culture itself. Though average Americans typically would not peruse these film catalogues, film exhibitors surely would. And since the majority of them could not profess much knowledge of China, they could easily allow misleading ideas such as these to filter into their film programs.

Perhaps acknowledging the success of these sensational staged actualities, the only company to send cameramen to China ironically began to produce the same. In Biograph's Tortured by Boxers (1900), a painted pagoda on the backdrop performed the same function as EMCs junk--to tip off audiences that China is the setting. At the film's start, two Boxers drag in an American prisoner who struggles heroically but in vain to free himself from his captors. They then strip him down to the waist (but no farther, since Biograph's Boxers respect the puritanical sensibility of Americans), tie him to a stake, and gleefully build a fire at his feet. [56] As inspiration for this film and the handful of others that characterize the Boxers as knife-wielding savages (such as Chinese Massacreing [sic] the Christians), the film makers seem to have borrowed from the image of Native Americans in American popular culture. Many books, prints, dime novels, and films depicted Native Americans as bloodthirsty marauders who attacked pio neer families out West and who stood as an obstacle to the advance of civilization. Despite their dramatically different contexts of China and the American West, Boxers and Native Americans were understood by white Americans as representing essentially the same state of mind: both groups were viewed as anti-Christian and anti-progress, both resisted the spread of Western civilization, and both acted on their beliefs with violence. For this reason, traits and stereotypes traditionally ascribed to Native Americans seemed to fit the Chinese Boxers as well. [57]

In a second film, Rescue of a White Girl from the Boxers (1900), a Chinese villain materializes out of the shadows wielding a long knife and approaches the innocent "white girl" with malevolent intent. At the last moment, American soldiers rush in to save the girl from the clutches of her assailant. Though the catalogue described the film as "based on the troubles in China," such dramatic episodes seldom if ever took place, which means the action of the scene was largely invented by film makers. For this reason, the film probably tells us more about Americans' views toward race in their own country than about their opinions of a conflict overseas. [58] If this film succeeded, it did so by capitalizing on racial anxiety inside the United States. By having the Boxer approach his intended victim holding a phallic object, film makers loaded the picture with a potentially explosive cargo-the implicit rape of a white woman by a Chinese man. Though the last-minute heroics prevent this outcome, it is nevertheless li kely that the film aroused the latent fears of interracial sex harbored by some members of the audience. Once imported into the viewing experience, these feelings toward a sensitive domestic issue could easily distort audiences' understanding of the Boxer Uprising, which really had very little to do with the violation of white womanhood.

In addition to these deliberately inflammatory films, Bio-graph produced Boxer-related comedies. In How the Artist Captured the Chinese Boxers (1900), produced by Arthur Marvin, two armed Boxers approach an artist (apparently a risk-taking one) happily painting a Chinese landscape in plein air. Cognizant of his impending danger, the artist quickly paints a large rat, the sight of which prompts the hungry Boxers to drop their guns and dive through the canvas after the rodent. The artist then picks up a gun and triumphantly marches them off. Another film, The Downfall of China (1901), cleverly played on the audience's exposure to so many films on China. Instead of another depiction of China's troubles, F. S. Armitage filmed a woman who, while washing the dishes, drops a porcelain plate. [59]

These comic pieces aside, most films were clearly intended to provoke terror and outrage rather than chuckles. And, it should be said, the Boxers did constitute a real threat to the lives of Americans in China and thus did merit substantial coverage. Yet except for one appearance by Li Hung Chang. [60] the Boxers were the sole representatives of China on screen during this period. This narrow focus on a single element of Chinese society was unfortunate because, after its overwhelming military defeat by Japan in 1895, China engaged in a great debate both about how much to modernize and about the fate of the Confucian ethic. The national character itself was at stake, and a cacophony of competing voices arose from various factions, each claiming to offer the prescription for China's ills. Those who felt that traditional Chinese ways could not adapt to the pressures of the twentieth century called vociferously for an overhaul of Chinese institutions and a swift end to the dynastic system itself. Moderates press ed for substantial but limited reform under the auspices of the Qing government; many of them advocated a strategy of adopting Western weapons and technology to form a protective shell that would preserve the Chinese essence. Conservative elements wanted only to stand pat and hardly change at all. Well past even this group on the political spectrum, the Boxers registered their opinion with violence. The film industry, which prided itself on presenting a visual newspaper, conveyed none of this complexity; as a result, in the minds of filmgoers the Boxers expanded to represent not just one faction but all Chinese people.

The motion picture industry reported the crisis in China in this narrow way so as to tap into the emotional energies engendered by "the Yellow Peril." As a subset of a virulent nativist movement in the United States, the Yellow Peril was a national paranoia rooted in a fear of Asian races. Though more inchoate than well defined as far as ideologies go, the notion of the Yellow Peril did tend to revolve around a core of three related fears that spooked many Americans. Some believed that sexual relations between Asian and white races would effect a detrimental mixing of blood that would weaken or dilute American stock--a fear that explains why films about white women in opium dens could strike a sensitive nerve. For others, labor competition from Chinese immigrants was the paramount threat. And the most paranoid of all viewed the rapid modernization of Japan with foreboding. With strong leadership and technological know-how, the Japanese might one day organize China's millions into an Asian horde that could ov errun the West. [61]

Though unfortunate, the film industry's strategy of fanning the fiery embers of the Yellow Peril was far from unique; in fact, it followed exactly the profitable patterns of other popular publications. Harold Cleveland, for example, timed the release of his book, entitled Massacres of Christians by Heathen Chinese and Horrors of the Boxers, to cash in on the Boxer craze. [62] Similarly Leslie's Weekly took the lead among news agencies by sending both a reporter and photographer to China. As its headlines illustrate--"The Thirst of the Chinaman for Human Blood," "Queer Chinese Superstitions," "The Yellow Terror," and "Cruelty of the Chinese"--Leslie's mostly paralleled the film industry in its use of material meant primarily to incite outrage. [63] Though films by themselves would probably have exerted significant influence over public opinion, here the several media actually worked in conjunction with one another. With films corroborating the information of printed sources, the end result was a fearsome syne rgy of propagandistic force that could fuel beliefs of racial superiority and generate further antipathy toward the Chinese. [64]

To account for the nation's tremendous fascination both with the Boxer Uprising and with the subsequent siege at Peking, one could argue that these events captivated Americans on a psychological plane that was divorced from the actual historical situation. At a time when massive immigration was bringing new peoples, languages, and cultures to major urban centers, some white Americans began to view their values, religion, and traditions--even the American character itself--as threatened. Though exclusion laws prevented further large-scale immigration from China, white Americans felt compelled to resolve the "problem" posed by the large Chinese population already present in the United States--people who for obvious reasons did not want to be regarded as perpetual outsiders. As has been demonstrated, moving pictures about Chinese Americans reflected the besieged mentality of many members of the audience. By grossly misrepresenting their Chinese subjects as the exotic, silly, or dangerous "other," these films ap pealed to those who hoped to push the threatening group to the margins of society, safely outside the mainstream of American life.

This same besieged mentality may well have colored the way some white Americans viewed films about the Boxers. [65] For example, two Biograph films, Rescue of a White Girl from the Boxers and A Raid on a Chinese Opium Joint, share essentially the same plot: white males save a white female from the harmful designs of a Chinese man. Though one film is set in China and the other in Chinatown, their matching patterns suggest that a single racial anxiety animated both in the minds of white Americans. To put it differently Americans understood an international conflict using a mental framework that had evolved in response to domestic racial tension. By broadening this pattern of innocent victims, Chinese villains, and white rescuers, one could even include Sixth Calvary Assaulting the South Gate of Pekin in this group: as the Chinese lay siege to the legations, the American cavalry rushes through the gates of Peking to save the imperiled foreigners within. In sum, Americans who in 1900 saw their way of life at hom e as under attack needed only to look across the Pacific to witness their neuroses being acted out in grand fashion. There they found the beloved foreign legations--bastions of Christianity Western values, and whiteness--surrounded by what they perceived as a strange and alien yellow people. In this way, an invisible bond in the American consciousness linked the master of the opium den with the Boxer, rendering the two as inseparable as the Siamese Twins Chang and Eng. [66]


As longer narrative films became more common after 1904, Boxer mania gradually faded away and the industry reverted to its older conceptions of the Chinese; accordingly, actors dropped their knives and turned again to their opium pipes and washbasins. [67] In Biograph's five-scene film The Heathen Chinese and the Sunday School Teachers (1904), three women invite the Chinese workers of the Sam Kee Laundry to participate in their Sunday school. The laundrymen do attend, but instead of the Gospel appealing to the Chinese, the Chinese appeal to the women, and by the third scene they are all cavorting together in an opium den. Though the police eventually intervene to arrest the Chinese and place them behind bars, as the film concludes the Sunday school teachers, far from being ashamed, are attempting without success to bail out their Chinese friends. [68]

As with many racial stereotypes, this one about the lust of Chinese laundrymen for their female Sunday school instructors does emanate from a genuine social dynamic. Chinese laundrymen did come into contact with white women through Sunday schools, and though the laundrymen attended the classes primarily to learn English, they also lived in a mostly male society and understandably enjoyed any time they could spend with female teachers. Sometimes these frequent meetings resulted in interracial relationships that sparked the ire of church leaders. In some cases, church elders even discouraged women from teaching laundrymen because they believed that if the Chinese achieved proficiency in English, a crucial barrier blocking Chinese men from white women would fall. Biographs film may have served as an admonition to young women, warning them of the potential for trouble that excessive contact with the Chinese could bring. [69]

Despite its title, Biograph's The Yellow Peril (1908), starring D. W Griffith, has nothing to do with an invasion from the Far East. In this comedy, a wealthy wife dismisses a young cleaning woman because her own flirtatious husband cannot keep his eyes and hands off the female help. Thinking herself ingenious, the wife fills the vacancy with a Chinese man, but her plan backfires when he proves to be an incredible nuisance. He thinks the goldfish are snacks and swallows several, causing a burly servant woman who "has a strong aversion for anything yellow" to drag him around the house by his queue. The situation doesn't improve as he is also tossed out a window and given a beating by a policeman. Toward the end, the Chinese servant finds a rodent ensnared in a rat trap and (being of course a rat eater himself) assumes the cook has set the trap to catch that evening's main course. When he enters the kitchen holding the furry carcass, pandemonium breaks loose. The women shriek and leap onto chairs, and the agitated cook forgets about the turkey in the oven. Soon the room fills with smoke, and "the Chink... finds his occupation gone." [70] Unlike other Chinese characters in film, this house servant does not have bad intentions. In fact, if this film had any message, it was that the Chinese bring such strange customs and habits to the United States that they cause disruptions simply by acting in ways that they consider to be normal.

That same year witnessed the release of Selig Polyscope's Lights and Shadows of Chinatown, the first film ever to employ a predominantly Chinese American cast. In this romance set in San Francisco, the protagonist, Chon Yet, leaves his betrothed, Kim Soy, in China while he sails for America. He quickly establishes himself as a successful merchant in San Francisco's Chinatown, despite the presence of Li Ching, a business rival and member of a secret society On a visit to China, Li Ching spies the lovely Kim Soy and is so entranced by her that he concocts a plan to make her his own. He tricks her into believing he has been dispatched by Chon Yet to reunite her with him; in reality, upon arriving in San Francisco, Li Ching places her in captivity in his own house, leaving the despairing maiden to pray to her household god for deliverance.

Hearing of his wife's captivity, Chon Yet and his friend the fortune teller put the police on Li Ching's trail. Meanwhile, inside a mysterious Joss house filled with bronze idols and burning incense, Li Ching plots the murder of his rival with a corps of hatchetmen who together "swear to carry out the decree of death." In addition, he has dragged Kim Soy to the Joss house to force her to take an oath of matrimony before the Chinese gods. But before Li Ching can complete the ceremony, Chon Yet and the police break into the Joss house. The hero and his nemesis engage in a duel of knives in which the latter gains the upper hand; Li Ching then orders his henchmen to finish off the wounded Chon Yet in an underground opium den. Later, the police free Kim Soy from the clutches of Li Ching, who is then stabbed unexpectedly by a denizen of the Chinese underworld. The dying Li Ching tries to kill Kim Soy before he expires, but fails. In the end, Chon Yet retums alive, and the lovers are reunited. [71]

Selig Polyscope proclaimed that the "splendid Chinese spectacle" of this film was "the first real Chinese story of love and adventure ever put into a moving picture." Though striking originality certainly did characterize this film on one level, the company also understood that audiences craved familiarity To fulfill this wish, it superimposed the novelty of star-crossed Chinese lovers on a hackneyed backdrop of colorful ethnographic images:

The pictures presented give one a faithful idea of life in the Chinese quarter.... The street scene where Kim Soy attempts to fly to her lover's arms by scaling a balcony, gives the spectator attractive glimpses of Oriental life. Here are seen the merchants plying their trade; fish dealers selling their wares; vegetable vendors carrying monstrous baskets suspended from their stooping shoulders; fortune tellers practicing their mysterious rites to secure a nickel of the "white devil's" money; tourists moving amid the sea of humanity. The Joss house scene ... is replete with interesting objects lavishly displayed. The drama has its comic as well as pathetic side, and much fun is provided by an Irish policeman and a mischievous Chinese boy named See-See. [72]

In this film, Selig Polyscope rolled out many worn-out themes and stereotypes, all of them proven winners in the marketplace. In this montage of Chinese life, one finds the proverbial opium den, the expected "sea of humanity" and the indispensable superstitions, idol worship, hatchetmen, and fortune tellers. There is no modern technology to be seen among the Chinese, and the hatred of Caucasians, manifested in the term "white devil," would have been familiar to viewers who had watched Boxer films only a few years earlier. As for the comic interlude in which the dopey Irish policeman chases the sprightly Chinese trickster boy, isn't that a recycling of the 1894 film Robetta and Doretto Chinese Laundry Scene, which was itself the rehash of a popular vaudeville routine?

As the title Lights and Shadows suggests, the film claimed to present two strikingly different sides of a single people. The "glimpses of Oriental life," in other words, juxtaposed light with shadow, the known with the unknowable, the mundane with the exotic, and the gritty vendors hawking fish with the strange, dark rituals of the Joss house. In this way the film performed the same function as the popular tours of Chinatown (tourists appear in this film) and films of Chinatown that paired parades of an exotic people with quotidian scenes of daily life there. [73] By mixing these two impressions of a single culture, Selig film makers unwittingly reiterated the China paradox. Although they wanted the film to have an ethnographic component that would present the Chinese as they truly were, they knew all too well that China pleased precisely because it perplexed. As a result, they advertised realism's claim to uncovering the truth ("lights") along with a counterclaim that subverted the first--namely, the claim that the Chinese were by nature a mysterious people whose inscrutability defied any attempt to comprehend them ("shadows").

Two years later, in the Orange Mountains of New York, D. W. Griffith directed one of his earliest films for Biograph, a 369-foot Western entitled That Chink at Golden Gulch (1910), based on a play by Charles Townsend. [74] In the town of Golden Gulch, the protagonist, a Chinese laundryman named Charlie Lee, bids farewell to his hoary father, who has decided to return to the "Flowery Kingdom" after years of labor in California. Before departing, the old man admonishes his son to cherish his queue, for were he to lose it, he would necessarily become "an outcast...disbarred from returning to his native country, which every Chinaman who leaves looks forward to doing." Saddened by his father's departure, Charlie stops in the street to play with a pack of children he meets while delivering laundry. Once the children disperse, a gang of ruffians, led by Gentleman Jack, seize the opportunity to terrorize poor Charlie for sport; they shove him to the ground and discharge their pistols in his direction. While poor Cha rlie squirms in the dirt, Bud Miller, a strapping young cowboy, steps in and puts an end to the harassment. Though Charlie is very grateful, he is well aware that Bud Miller has a problem of his own. Miller hopes to wed his sweetheart, Missy Dean, but lacks riches enough to provide for her. To make matters worse, Miller's nemesis, the very same Gentleman Jack, has designs on her as well.

At this time, we learn that a bandit has repeatedly held up the U.S. mail carrier en route to Golden Gulch; a wanted sign promises a $5,000 reward for anyone who can capture the outlaw. On a hunch, Charlie follows Gentleman Jack outside of town and into the forest, where he finds his suspicions confirmed: Jack dons a mask, stops the mail carrier at gunpoint, and collects the booty. As the outlaw retires to a shady spot beneath a tree to take a nap, Charlie falls into a panic. He wants to capture Jack and bring him to justice, but carries no rope with which to tie up the scoundrel. After a moment of tortured deliberation, he elects to sever his queue despite his father's admonition. After making the decisive cut, a caption reads: "The Chink's supreme sacrifice makes him forever an outcast." Charlie then sneaks up behind Jack, binds his wrists behind the tree, disarms him, and marches him back into town.

Though Charlie collects his reward and becomes an instant hero, he is not content because Bud Miller's financial woes continue to keep him apart from Missy Dean. In a second extraordinary sacrifice, Charlie decides to leave the reward money for the two lovers and depart Golden Gulch forever. Before leaving, he writes the following valedictory note:

Missie Dean alsame Bud Miller too. Charlie Lee wishee much glad you two when alsame one. Hope take money for blidel plesant--Goodby Charlie Lee have went way.

In the final scene, Charlie somberly heads into the wilderness alone; unable to return to China, he is an outcast of the world. [75]

That Chink at Golden Gulch stands today as something of an enigma. On the one hand, Griffith was ahead of his time in selecting a Chinese laundryman, a figure of ridicule in other films, as the hero of a Western. And rather than making Charlie Lee a mere patchwork of tried and true stereotypes, Griffith endowed him with admirable human qualities, including kindness to children, a self-sacrificing nature, bravery, and generosity On the other hand, for those who enjoyed ethnic humor, Griffith provided plenty of opportunities for laughter at the protagonist's expense. Charlie's heroic sacrifice of severing his queue verges on the ludicrous. And the captions throughout the film repeatedly refer to him using the derogatory terms "Pagan Chink" or "Mongolian." As for the $5,000 gift Charlie leaves for his friends, the accompanying note contains such ridiculous pidgin English as to undermine the magnanimous gesture. This ambiguity leads us to wonder how audiences reacted to the final scene. Did the sight of the soli tary laundryman leaving town genuinely touch people, or would the film by this time have brought on fits of hysterical laughter?

Far from answering this question, the Biograph Bulletin accompanying this film contains a sentence that augments the ambiguity: though "a saffron-skinned pagan," Charlie's "soul is white and real red blood pulsates his heart." The sentence derives its ambiguity from a mixed metaphor. Does the "red blood," since all humans share it, imply an underlying commonality among people that overrides the superficial difference of skin color? Or does the "white soul" suggest that one should credit Lee for deviating from the norm established by the "saffron-skinned" Chinese--namely, that he is a welcome aberration because his inner self closely approximates that of a white man? Perhaps both readings are valid, in the sense that the film may have acted as an inkblot test in which the assumptions and beliefs an individual viewer brought to the film shaped his or her opinion of it.

However, if the reviewer for The Moving Picture World mirrored popular sentiment, then his criticism of the film suggests that audiences did not regard Charlie Lee as a mere joke:

Perhaps if everyone could see such heroic self-sacrifice in a Chinaman as this one displayed, the aversion which most men feel toward them would disappear. It is doubtful, however, if such unselfishness and generosity abide in more than one occasional individual. The picture is not up to the Biograph standard but is an interesting study in human nature, well acted and clearly photographed. [76]

The Chinese protagonist was unrealistic, the reviewer argued, because actual Chinese people were incapable of such grand acts of "self-sacrifice." That being said, the reviewer applauded Griffith's genuine attempt to extinguish the public's longstanding "aversion" to the Chinese by shattering the nineteenth-century mold and forging a new Chinese type. Charlie Lee the laundryman is neither silly nor philandering, and his selfless actions mark a departure from the longtime popular perception of Chinese immigrants as mere sojourners who came to the U.S. for economic reasons, added nothing to American society, and then returned to China with their riches. By giving the reward money to his friends and cutting his queue, Lee both contributes to society and eliminates the possibility of going home. Whether reluctantly or not, Charlie Lee proves that he is an American. [77]


Griffith's noble laundryman did not spawn imitators, whereas the pitiless Boxer and the lecherous master of the opium den reappeared for decades in various guises, offering strong testimony to their enduring popularity As late as the 1930s, when Pearl Buck was celebrating the humanity of Chinese peasants, the film industry persisted in trotting out sinister Chinese villains who terrorized the white world in films such as The Yellow Menace, The Red Lantern, The Exploit of Elaine, The Perils of Pauline, Crooked Street, A Tale of Two Worlds, Shame, Tell It to the Marines, Mr. Wu, Ransom, Ace Drummond, Terry and the Pirates, and the entire Fu Manchu series. [78]

Did frequent exposure to sinister Chinese characters make an indelible impression on viewers' minds? For his 1953 dissertation, Paul Siu interviewed several white Americans who, in looking back to childhood, recalled thinking of the Chinese as "criminal" or "villainous" people who would slit throats without remorse. What was particularly revealing was that most of Siu's interviewees attributed their harmful impressions to the movies. [79] In response to all these damaging films, the China Institute of America had earlier decided to take action. In the 1920s, it launched a two-pronged campaign to disabuse the filmgoing public and to hold studios accountable for the pernicious stereotypes their films were spreading: "To correct possible misunderstanding as a result of impressions received from ... motion pictures in this country which often contain gross misrepresentations of Chinese life and customs, the Institute has spared no effort to bring the matter before the attention of the responsible parties." [80]

Despite the prevalent negative imagery, Americans did occasionally encounter sincere efforts to explicate Chinese culture through film. In the 19l0s, Benjamin Brodsky conceived of the grandiose plan to film all of China--not just the coastal port cities. Born in Russia in 1875, Brodsky fled a life of poverty when only a teenager and joined a circus upon reaching American shores. Saving his earnings, he purchased several nickelodeons on the West Coast and eventually departed for China, where he helped establish that country's motion picture industry and at one point owned 81 theaters. More importantly, Brodsky shot the most complete documentary of China to that date--a ten-reel feature that used over a hundred thousand feet of film. People across the United States viewed A Trip Through China (1917) in educational venues such as schools, lecture halls, and universities. Though only a single reel of Brodsky's opus has survived, reviews attest to the film's thorough treatment of its subject. It was "comprehensiv e," wrote The Motion Picture News, covering "every conceivable feature of Chinese life." Quite fittingly, another reviewer-one well aware of Brodsky's precursors--thought the film might overturn at last the widespread misconception that China was a country populated entirely by laundrymen. [81]

John Haddad is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His dissertation examines popular ways that Americans learned about China in the nineteenth century.


(1.) "President Greets Li," New York World, August 31, 1896; Albin Dearing, "Visiting Chinese Big Wheel Inspired New York Furor," Smithsonian (October 1975), 89.

(2.) As China's representative to Shimonoseki, Japan, Li negotiated the peace that ended the Sino-Japanese War (he even took a bullet from a Japanese fanatic in the process). However, many Chinese held the view that Li had brought shame on his country by conceding too much to Japan, and Li was subsequently stripped of many of his former offices and saw his rank reduced. Gerald G. Eggert, "Li Hung-Chang's Mission to America, 1896," Midwest Quarterly (Spring 1977), 242-243.

(3.) Dearing, "Visiting Chinese Big Wheel," 87-92.

(4.) Charles Musser, Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900: An Annotated Filmography (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1997), listings 209 and 210.

(5.) Before 1896, peephole machines permitted only one viewer at a time to see films. However, exhibitors knew that they could increase revenue by projecting films onto screens before large groups, and soon projectors began to appear, with Edison's "vitascope" quickly becoming the industry standard. By the time of Li's visit, one could find vitascopes in all major cities and in any location possessing a suitable electrical system; as a result, the "vast majority" of Americans had the opportunity to see Li Hung Chang on the screen. Charles Musser, The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1990), 109, 122.

(6.) The account of this period derives from screening more than forty one-reel films in the Motion Pictures and Television Department at the Library of Congress, Paper Print Collection (hereafter abbreviated LCPPC). For films that no longer exist, I have sifted through catalogues, trade journals, filmographies, and newspaper reviews for written descriptions.

(7.) New York Herald, August 29, 1896. Lubin's frogs and the Chinese jugglers, mesmerizers, and acrobats of Cinematographes are listed in those companies' respective catalogues. Charles Musser, Catalogue Editor, Motion Picture Catalogues by American Producers and Distributers, 1894-1908 (Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1984).

(8.) Musser, Emergence of Cinema, 1, 145.

(9.) "The ... Mutoscope might be likened to a great pictorial newspaper, constantly in touch with all of the most interesting activities of the world and reproducing them as crisp and as fresh as the latest budget of news in [the] daily press. The chronicling of events of the day through the medium of moving pictures has become a most important function of the Mutograph--the camera with which pictures are taken, and the up-to-date theatre now shows in the evening the action which has only occurred in the morning or afternoon of the same day" See essay, "The Mutoscope, A Money Maker" in the Biograph section of Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues.

(10.) Charles Musser, "American Vitagraph: 1897-1901," Cinema Journal 22, 3 (Spring 1983): 5.

(11.) Musser, Emergence of Cinema, 178-179.

(12.) LCPPC. See also Biograph's picture catalogue (November 1902) in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues; Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1989), 10.

(13.) Musser, "American Vitagraph," 8, 20; idem, Emergence of Cinema, 150, 259.

(14.) Tom Gunning, "The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde," in Thomas Elsaesser, ed., Early Cinema: Space Frame Narrative (London: BFI Publishing, 1990), 57-58.

(15.) Ching Ling Foo should not be confused with Chung Ling Soo, the stage name of Bill Robinson, an American who toured the world dressed in elaborate Chinese costumes. Val Andrews, A Gift from the Gods (Goodliffe Publications, Ltd., 1981); New York Clipper, December 16, 1899, 885; Henry Ridgely Evans, History of Conjuring and Magic (Kenton, Ohio: International Brotherhood of Magicians, 1928), 185-186; Musser, Annotated Filmography.

(16.) Some of these films may have European origins, with the Edison Manufacturing Company handling their distribution in the United States. See The Chinese Conjuror and the Devil's Head (1902), in Elias Savada, comp., American Film Institute Catalogue: Film Beginnings, 1893-1910 (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1995, referenced hereafter as AFI Catalogue); and Extraordinary Chinese Magic (1902), in Alan Gevinson, American Films Institute Catalogue Feature Films (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).

(17.) Ching Ling Foo's Greatest Feats (1902), in Savada, AFI Catalogue; "Chinese Juggler Wants to Stay Here," New York Tribune, April 7, 1899. In addition, the French company Cinematographes offered films of Chinese jugglers, mesmerizers, and acrobats for the American market. Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues.

(18.) A fondness for consuming cats and dogs was a stereotype ascribed to the Chinese for decades. See Biograph's picture catalogue (November 1902) in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues.

(19.) Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, December 20, 1896. The film is stored in the Library of Congress, Motion Pictures and Television, in the Hendricks Collection.

(20.) Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives (New York: Hill and Wang, 1957), 71-73. For a white woman's account of her interracial marriage with a Chinese man, see the comments of "Hazel" in William Brown Meloney, "Slumming in New York's Chinatown," Munsey's Magazine (September 1909), 827-828.

(21.) Hamilton Holt, The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans (New York: Routledge, 1990), 183. This interview with Lew Chew was originally published as "The Biography of a Chinaman" in The Independent (February 19, 1903).

(22.) Biograph's picture catalogue (November 1902), in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues; Savada, AFI Catalogue; Erik Barnouw, The Magician and the Cinema (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 89. For a different special effect, see the Ambco Company's 1903 film, The Chinese Rubbernecks: after one laundrymen singes the rear end of his partner with a red hot poker, the latter retaliates by seizing the other's head and stretching his neck to a length of six feet. This stunt required a dummy head attached to a cloth-covered, accordion-like tube. LCPPC.

(23.) Savada, AFI Catalogue. Edison's 1901 version, though similar in idea, is less violent. A character named "Miss Mischief' hurls lit firecrackers at the laundrymen's feet, causing them to dance. Similarly, in Biograph's A Boomerang (1902), two Chinese laundrymen who are repeatedly bothered by a small boy decide to retaliate. One places a pail of water above the door, intending for it to douse the boy next time he enters. Of course, the plan backfires and only the other laundryman gets wet. LCPPC.

(24.) Speaking of Chinatown tours in New York, a writer for Harper's Weekly wrote, "the tens of thousands of sightseers, the great majority from out of town. . . have inhaled the odor of incense in the joss-house, made purchases in the quaint shops, partaken of weird aliments in the gorgeous tea-houses, looked in on the interminable and incomprehensible performances at the Chinese theatre, or witnessed by stealth bogus opium orgies in mysterious basements" (August 17,1907), 1208. For an account of a guided tour of San Francisco's Chinatown by someone who believes what the guides tell him, see Fiscar Marison, O'er Oceans and Continents with the Setting Sun (Chicago: Calumet Publishing, 1904), 9-16.

(25.) Rube in an Opium Joint, in LCPPC.

(26.) David Courtwright, Dark Paradise: Opiate Addiction in America before 1940 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 70-71.

(27.) Biograph's picture catalogue (November 1902), in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues. Not all films treated the opium den as a sensitive issue; some merely transferred the comical high jinks from the Chinese laundry to the opium den. In Lubin's Fun in an Opium Joint, two opium smokers in a bunkbed yank on each other's queues until the bunk crashes, sending them rolling about on the floor. See the Lubin section in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues.

(28.) Courtwright, Dark Paradise, 67-70, 78.

(29.) See Chinese Dance. Savada, AFI Catalogue.

(30.) One could find these books in homes across the country; parents used them to structure their children's free time with games, tricks, dramas, and scientific experiments. Since many of the activities described in the book involve magic, one author chose the apt pseudonym "Leger D. Mayne" for his What Shall We Do Tonight? (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1873), 222-227. Cecil H. Bullivant, Home Fun (New York: Dodge, 1910), 28-29, 81-82, 174, 191-193, 199-200.

(31.) Charles Hastings, "A Cameraman Who Runs into a War," Moving Picture World (January 29, 1927), 327.

(32.) Parade of Chinese. LCPPC. Musser, Annotated Filmography, listing 487. See also San Francisco Chronicle, January 25, 1898.

(33.) Edison's (EMC's) trade journal, quoted in Musser, Annotated Filmography, listing 487. See both the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner, January 25, 1898.

(34.) John Kuo Wei Tchen, Genthe's Photographs of San Francisco's Old Chinatown (New York: Dover Publications, 1982), 14-15. Scene in Chinatown, LCPPC.

(35.) After his second term as president, Grant traveled to China as a part of his world tour. While in China, he made a favorable impression on those who received him and formed a close friendship with Li Hung Chang, with whom he had a lot in common. Both men had commanded armies that helped suppress rebellions, and both had subsequently enjoyed highly successful political careers.

(36.) New York Tribune, March 29, April 26, and April 28, 1899. The Lubin Company's Chinese Sailors Placing a Wreath on the Monument (1899) almost certainly captured this same moment. Savada, AFI Catalogue.

(37.) Though the film Chuck Connors vs. Chin Ong no longer exists, one can find stills of it in Biograph's picture catalogue (November 1902), in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues. William Brown Meloney, "Slumming in New York's Chinatown," 830; "Seeing Chinatown," New York Times, April 28, 1905; T. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981), 4-7 Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 7-10. According to Joel S. Franks, Chinese American pugilists had appeared on boxing cards since the mid-1880s, so Chin Ong would not have been unique. See Franks, "Chinese Americans and American Sport, 1880-1940," in Chinese America: History and Perspectives 1996 (San Francisco: (Chinese Historical Society of America, 1996), 135.

(38.) To avoid confusion, I refer to Chinese cities using the names as they appear in film titles (Tientsin, Canton, and Peking/Pekin) instead of the spellings under the more current pinyin romanization method (Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Beijing).

(39.) LCPPC includes eight of these films.

(40.) Musser, Annotated Filmography, 51, 53.

(41.) Michael Adas has argued that Europe's perception of its own technological superiority helped form its attitudes about peoples it encountered overseas. See his Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), 4,177-193.

(42.) See Biograph's picture catalogue (November 1902) in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues, for Raymond Ackerman's Street Scene, Tientsin (1901) and An Oriental Highway (1901), both of which are described in this fashion.

(43.) According to Musser, some of the surviving lectures from travelogues carried "rich and often disturbing meanings--assumptions about imperialism, racial and cultural superiority sexism and Social Darwinism." Charles Musser, "The Travel Genre in 1903-1904; Moving towards Fictional Narrative," in Thomas Elsaesser, ed., Early Cinema: Space Frame Narrative (London: BFI Publishing, 1990), 123.

(44.) For a wonderful picture of the ambitions, schemes, and dealings of these men, see Marilyn Blatt Young's The Rhetoric of Empire: American China Policy, 1895-1901 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968). For an account of their significant lobbying efforts, see James Lorence, "Organized Business and the Myth of the China Market: The American Asiatic Association, 1898-1937," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 71, 4(1981).

(45.) Thomas McCormick, China Market: America's Quest for Informal Empire. 1893-1901 (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1967), 26-27, 125, 179, 184.

(46.) Boston Herald, March 10, 1901, 17. Thomas Millard, The New Far East (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906), 256-269. See also Millard, America and the Far Eastern Question (New York: Moffat, Yard, and Company 1909), 322-336.

(47.) Joseph Esherick, The Origins of the Boxer Uprising (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), xiii-xiv, 14-17; Anne Skelly, "The Eagle and the Dragon," American History Illustrated 22, 9 (January, 1988): 44; Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China (New York: W.W. Norton), 231-235.

(48.) New York Clipper, August 11 and 18, 1900.

(49.) These film-making tactics (and perhaps the tub itself) had been previously employed in a film about Dewey's victory in Manila. See the documentary by Daniel Miller and Daniel Polin, The Crucible of Empire: The Spanish American War (Great Projects Film Co., 1999). New York Times, June 19-20, 1900. Leslie's Weekly, July 28, 1900, 67.

(50.) LCPPC. Musser, Annotated Filmography, listing 837.

(51.) According to Biograph's picture catalogue (November 1902), in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues, films no. 1732 to no. 1797 covered the situation in China. Other films related to the Boxer crisis appeared in other sections of the catalogue, and a few additional films were released in 1903.

(52.) Sixth Calvary Assaulting the South Gate of Pekin was shot on January 6, 1901. LCPPC.

(53.) Boston Herald, March 10, 1901, 17; Miles Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1894 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 73-102; Frank Manchel, Film Study, Volume 3 (Rutherford, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990), 1601.

(54.) Musser, The Emergence of Cinema, 284. The George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, owns Chinese Massacreing [sic] the Christians. See also Savada, API Catalogue. The Lubin Catalogue had an entire section devoted to "Chinese Subjects," and at least two other films possess similar content. In Beheading a Chinese Prisoner, a Chinese magistrate orders the summary beheading of a criminal, the "sentence is immediately executed," and the executioner displays the head to admonish all other would-be "evildoers." In a second film, In the Pillory, Chinese soldiers taunt an American whose hands and head are locked in a wooden frame. Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues.

(55.) Though Beheading Chinese is listed in the Selig Polyscope 1903 Catalogue, it was probably released earlier. Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues.

(56.) Biograph's picture catalogue (November 1902), in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues.

(57.) Within the film genre, plots involving Native Americans and Boxers could be strikingly similar. Compare, for example, Rescue of Child from Indians (1903) with Rescue of a White Girl from the Boxers. The film industry was not the first to make this connection. Leslie's Weekly printed that both "Indians" and Chinese possessed an "unadulterated fiendishness." See "The Cruelty of the Chinese" (July 28, 1900). Furthermore, Harold Cleveland, who wrote Massacres of the Christians by the Heathen Chinese and Horrors of the Boxers (Chicago: Horace Fry, 1900), probably found the inspiration for both his provocative title and disturbing cover in an earlier work by Henry Davenport Northrop called Indian Horrors; or, Massacres by the Redmen (1891). That catalogues from Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold both books suggests they appealed to the same type of reader. And finally, Buffalo Bill Cody had no reservations about dressing up the Sioux as Chinese Boxers in his 1901 reenactment of the allied advance on Peking. John Hadda d, "Boxers, Buckskins, and Buffalo Bill: The Chinese in the Wild West Show and Dime Novels" (work in progress).

(58.) Biograph's picture catalogue (November 1902), in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues.

(59.) Savada, API Catalogue.

(60.) In what was probably the first film of a person watching a film of himself, Ackerman shot a film in 1901 of Li viewing Li Hung Chang at Grant's Tomb (1896) through a parlor mutoscope. LCPPC.

(61.) Richard Thompson, The Yellow Peril, 1890-1924 (New York: Arno Press, 1978), ii-iv.

(62.) Cleveland's Massacres of Christians by Heathen Chinese and the Horrors of the Boxers was one book that readers could judge by its cover. The garish and disturbing images of Boxers with maniacal grins beheading white men reflected the pages inside: much of the volume acted as a guide instructing readers how to fear and loathe the Chinese. By documenting all incidents in the past in which the Chinese had tortured whites, the book implied that the Chinese people were murderous by nature. And by connecting the dots of past atrocities, the author could extrapolate a future race war: "The Yellow Man is to come into direct contact with the White Man and the fitter will survive. Which will survive?" Cleveland, Massacres of Christians by Heathen Chinese, viii, 57, 546-556.

(63.) See Leslie's Weekly, June 23-September 15, 1900.

(64.) Some newspapers did attempt balanced reporting. Pulitzer's New York World expanded its coverage to include the Chinese side of the story; its journalists interviewed the Chinese Ambassador and reported the deaths and losses incurred by Chinese citizens. In addition, the paper avoided words loaded with Yellow Peril connotations, such as "swarm," "teem," "hordes," and "mob." Jane Elliot, "Who Seeks the Truth Should Be of No Country: British and American Journalists Report the Boxer Rebellion, June 1900," American Journalism 13, 3 (Summer 1996): 276-279.

(65.) As John Higham writes of the Spanish American War, "two anti-foreign movements--one international, the other internal--complemented each other, so that the jingoist atmosphere of the decade helps explain the depth and intensity of its nativism." See his Strangers in the Land (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1955), 77; Young, The Rhetoric of Empire, 4.

(66.) Some Chinese viewed America's treatment of Chinese immigrants as exacerbating the situation in China. The Imperial Chinese Consul General in the United States wrote that those who gloried in the anti-Chinese legislation and riots "may now feast their eyes on the logical sequence of their work in the ruins of Tien-Tsin, or in the blood that has washed the valley of the Pei-ho like a tide." See "Chinese Exclusion: Benefit or Harm?" North American Review 173 (1901): 314.

(67.) Catalogues did, however, continue to list Boxer films for several years after the resolution of the crisis.

(68.) LCPPC.

(69.) Paul C. P Siu, The Chinese Laundryman: A Study in Isolation (New York: New York University Press, 1987), 250, 275-279. Originally published as the author's Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1953.

(70.) LCPPC. See also Kemp Niver, ed., Biograph Bulletins, 1986-1908 (Los Angeles: Locare Research Group, 1971).

(71.) Selig Polyscope section, in Musser, Motion Picture Catalogues.

(72.) Ibid.

(73.) Compare Chinese Procession, No. 12 (1898) and Parade of Chinese (1898) to Scene in a Chinese Restaurant (1903) and Scene in Chinatown (1903). LCPPC.

(74.) Robert Henderson, D. W Griffith: The Years at Biograph (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970), 107. The play The Golden Gulch (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1893) is listed in Donald Hixon, Nineteenth-Century American Drama: A Finding Guide (Metuchen, NJ.: Scarecrow Press, 1977).

(75.) LCPPC. See also Eileen Bowser, ed., Biograph Bulletins, 1908-1912 (New York: Octagon Books, 1973), 237.

(76.) Moving Picture World, October 22, 1910, 936.

(77.) Ironically, after the revolution in 1911, Chinese without queues could return to China.

(78.) Jay Leyda, Dianying; An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1972), 30-31; Eugene Wong, On Visual Media Racism (New York: Amo Press, 1978), 93-102; Dick Stromgren, "The Chinese Syndrome: The Evolving Image of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in Hollywood Films," in Paul Loukides and Linda K. Fuller, eds., Beyond the Stars: Stock Characters in American Popular Film (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1990), 66; Dorothy B. Jones, The Portrayal of China and India on the American Screen, 1896-1955 (Cambridge, Mass.: Center for International Studies, 1955), 13-14, 30-32.

(79.) Siu, The Chinese Laundryman, 9-12.

(80.) Dr. Eugene Shen, pamphlet printed by the China Institute of America (New York, 1924), 6. Available in the New York Public Library.

(81.) Though Burton Holmes, the famous travel lecturer, produced an earlier documentary also entitled A Trip Through China, all the evidence strongly suggests that the lone reel in the Library of Congress is a remnant of Brodsky's work. First, in the Human Studies Film Archive, one can see that Brodsky's later film, Beautiful Japan, employs the same format as the reel in question (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History). Second, the content of the lone reel in the Library of Congress matches the description of Brodsky's film found in several publications: Motion Picture News, March 17, 1917, 1719; Variety, May 18, 1917, 29; Moving Picture World, March 17, 1917, 1761; New York Dramatic Mirror, June 9, 1917, 30; and New York Times, May 22, 1917. See also Alan Gevinson, ed., American Film Index Catalogue: Feature Films, 1911-1920 (Berkeley: University of California, 1988). Biographical information on Brodsky found in Leyda, Dianying, 10-17; Li Suyuan and Hu Jubin, Chinese Silent Film Industry (Beijing: C hinese Film Press, 1997), 23-29.
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Title Annotation:the image of China and Chinese America in film from 1894 to 1910
Author:Haddad, John
Publication:Chinese America: History and Perspectives
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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