Academic journal article ARIEL

Mark Twain, Anson Burlingame, Joseph Hopkins Twichell, and the Chinese

Academic journal article ARIEL

Mark Twain, Anson Burlingame, Joseph Hopkins Twichell, and the Chinese

Article excerpt

Mark Twain's liberal attitudes toward black citizenry and women's suffrage are better known than his defense of the Chinese, even though his interest in Chinese culture and people pervades his literary and journalistic writings. Recently, more extensive scholarly attention has been devoted to researching Twain's experience with and ideas on the Chinese (Zehr 8, Kanellakou 7). Some scholars assert that Twain understood the Chinese only in a general sense because he did not seem to have any close contact or personal relationships with any Chinese people (Li 44). To dispute this allegation, this article examines a specific Chinese connection that may have influenced Twain's references to the Chinese in his fiction and nonfiction. In particular, I argue that Twain's pro-Chinese sympathies are to a large extent attributable to his friendships with Anson Burlingame and Joseph Hopkins Twichell. Twains growing empathy for Chinese immigrants resulted from his own humanitarianism, but, according to Martin Zehr, it was also reinforced by his admiration for Anson Burlingame. Moreover, Steve Courtney illustrates howTwichell's personality, theological education, and abolitionist background shaped his friendship with Twain, and Peter Messent traces the lifelong effects of their friendship on Twain's attitude toward religion. Drawing upon these findings, this article demonstrates that Twain's relationships with Burlingame and Twichell had significant impact on Twain's democratic ideas as a champion of the disenfranchised. This is apparent in his short stories, sketches, and newspaper and biographical articles.

I. Twain's Responses to Chinese Immigration before 1870

Twain probably met Chinese immigrants for the first time when he was seventeen. During his first trip to New York to seek his fortune, he wrote, on August 31, 1853, to his mother Jane Lampton Clemens in Missouri about being appalled by the "mass of human vermin," including "[n]iggers, mulattoes, quadroons, [and] Chinese," who "would raise the ire of the most patient person that ever lived" (qtd. in Foner 195). Three months later, he was likewise revolted by foreigners in Philadelphia and wrote to his brother Orion expressing his indignation: "There are so many abominable foreigners here ... who hate everything American" (Mark Twain's Letters 29). Although these commentaries are indicative of racial discrimination, in his autobiography Twain explicates the anti-foreign attitude of his youth as being affected by convention, observing that in his boyhood "I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it" (The Autobiography of Mark Twain 6). Twain spent his childhood in the community of Hannibal, in which nativist politics strengthened intolerance of foreigners, and consequently he acquired a xenophobic perspective; further, in a letter to Frank E. Burrough in 1876, he admitted his "intolerance" of other races at the age of nineteen and twenty (Foner 237).

At this time, there were few Chinese in New York, and they were in general regarded as a novelty. In Twain's early western journalism in the 1860s, his depictions of the Chinese were resplendent with exoticism and sarcasm and were designed to entertain readers. As a young newspaper reporter for Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, Twain published an account of his tour of the local Chinatown during late 1863 or early 1864, and the article was later reprinted in Chapter 54 of Roughing It. Initially, Twain seemed to be disgusted by the "two or three yellow, long-tailed vagabonds, coiled up on a sort of short trucklebed, smoking opium" ("The Gentle, Inoffensive Chinese" 180). Later in the article, however, Twain presents Chinatown as a tourist spot full of exotic merchandise and amiable businessmen. He was impressed by Mr. Ah Sings grocery store at No. 13 Wang Street, which had "a thousand articles of merchandise, curious to behold, impossible to imagine the uses of, and beyond our ability to describe" (180). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.