Political Chinese Cartoon

The 19th century saw an evolution of the way paintings were done which tended to reflect the different perceptions, stereotypes and attitudes among the different people of the United States. One of the most poignant attitudes was with regard to people of Asian origin most of who were of Chinese descent. The imagery in this cartoon paints a particularly clear picture of the racial relations between the different cultures in the United States. This was a period during which there were still a lot of feelings towards the maintenance of culture. The dominant groups in the United States the largest of which was the Caucasians were interested in enhancing the European culture on all the peoples of the United States. In the picture this is clearly portrayed by the Chinese tradition of keeping long hair which is contrasted by the image of the Caucasian attempting to cut it off to make the Chinese conform to his ways.

The painting makes the use of several aspects in order to bring out its message of Chinese defiance of Western ideals and culture and of the Caucasian attitudes of superiority of Western culture over all others. The picture first of all makes use words which are inserted on the various objects and parts of the painting in order to portray these attitudes. The picture makes use of words which are engraved on the scissors used to cut off the Chinese man’s hair. These words are 19th century and progress while the hair is engraved traditional. There is also the use of lighting which has made to portray the Chinese man as shielding himself from sunlight while the Caucasian woman is in the sunlight. The imagery of an umbrella and sunlight is therefore used to show the Caucasian attitudes towards Chinese culture. The Caucasians deem the Chinese to be resistant to progress they see as Western culture which is represented by sunlight in the painting.

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The term manifest destiny is attributed to John O’Sullivan who wrote an editorial min a popular newspaper with regard to the proposed annexation of the state of Texas by the United States. According to O’Sullivan it was manifest destiny of the United States to spread Westward over the entire continent. According to the author this was the only way through which the United States could become a social and political power. It was the destiny of the United States to populate the west of the continent and to establish civilization. The idea of manifest destiny applies to the cartoon in as far as it relates to the principle of civilizing the continent. Since the Caucasian majority deemed the Western ideals to be superior, it is only natural that they deemed not only the native culture to be superior but all other cultures. According to manifest destiny it was therefore the duty of the Caucasian to civilize the United States by spreading Western civilization among all the people.

Chinese Artists working in the United States during this period have been unidentified and unrecognized for the most part. There are several reasons that may be the cause for this lack of recognition including; unjust laws such as the exclusion, act, anti Chinese feelings among the general white population, feelings of cultural inferiority of Chinese culture by the white audience and lastly illiteracy. The exclusion act took away many rights of the Chinese population in the United States which discouraged artistic expression.  The Chinese also faced anti Chinese feelings which were on the verge of Xenophobia. The Chinese culture was also deemed inferior and hence it was not documented by historians. Lastly since most Chinese immigrants were illiterate and from the lower classes of rural China they lacked skills of painting which were a preserve of the higher educated classes.

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