The Chinaman and the Chink

by David Oh

Yale University, Spring 1998

Someone once asked me about the difference between a chink and a Chinaman. "I know the word chink is offensive," he said. "But what's wrong with calling someone a Chinaman?" To illustrate the difference between the two, I decided to tell him a story:

There was once a superhero named Chinaman, like there once was a superhero named Superman. Superman could lift cars and fly and run real fast, while Chinaman did nothing cool at all. He only built miles and miles of endless railroad tracks, like his ancestors who once built miles and miles of endless stone walls. Back home in China he pulled rickshaws for miles and miles as extremely fat men sat in the back and yelled at him to go faster. When he moved here he slaved away on sugar plantations in Hawaii, fishing canneries in Alaska, gold mines in California, and hand laundries everywhere for half a penny an hour. This meant it took him two hours to make any real money. And while Superman didn't have to take shit from anybody, Chinaman took shit from everybody, kind of like Jew Man. Chinaman was thrown down wells, deported about fifty million times, excluded from America for sixty years, beat up for his money everyday, and taxed for all the gold he ever found in the lonely Californian hills. And if Superman and Chinaman ever got into a fight, Superman would win because he can punch Chinaman all the way to the moon while Chinaman can barely dent the Man of Steel. So how can Chinaman even be considered a superhero if he was such a loser? Superman would have done everything a zillion times faster and better than Chinaman, right? I'll let you think about this one.

And just like Superman had an arch-nemesis in Lex Luther, Chinaman had an arch-nemesis in a villain known as the Chink. Everybody hated the Chink. The Chink would take away jobs from another superhero called White Man by flooding the whole country with his evil yellow brothers. The Chink would marry White Man's sisters and make evil little half-Chinks. The Chink would open opium dens, gambling parlors, and whorehouses, and the innocent youth of America would go to these places and be corrupted. The Chink also ate rats and dogs and anything else that crawled because he was not human. Chinaman, however, had a hard time fighting the Chink. This was because the Chink was a part of Chinaman, just like Mr. Hyde was a part of Dr. Jekyll and the Nigger was a part of the Negro. What made it worse was that Chinaman could turn into the Chink at any time. Someone only had to call the Chink's name, or get angry at Chinaman, and the Chink would magically appear. Pretty soon Chinaman became inseparable from the Chink, and their names became interchangeable. Realizing that he would never win the war against the Chink or the people who could summon his enemy, Chinaman retreated to his Chinatown base. He hid there in fear of himself and other people.

Chinaman passed away many years ago. Nobody killed him; he just grew old like acid-washed jeans and went the way of Negro and Red Indian (You'll have to ask someone else about these two other superheroes). Chinaman's children are still around, but are no longer referred to by their father's name because it was so synonymous with the Chink. Many of them also moved out of Chinatown, living wherever they want. But the Chink never died. He's a part of Chinaman's children, and if you want to see him you simply have to say or think Chinaman or Chink. Instantly the Chink will appear to you, one billion strong, ready to take over your world and your jobs, eat your dogs, breed you out of existence, drive in the wrong lane, take a zillion pictures of the same thing, and do better than you on the hardest of math and science tests. That's what the Chink means to you. And that's why he still exists.