This small conical island is a landmark off the windward side of Oahu, Hawaii, and has been known for years as 'Chinaman's Hat' due to its distinctive shape similar to the straw hats worn by Hawaii's first Chinese immigrants working in the sugar cane fields.|
The origin of the term 'Chinaman' is not clear. Some say that it was first used in England applied to Chinese dealers in Chinaware, ie, ceramics from China. But thanks to Wikipedia!, below is more data on its origin and usage.
The term "Chinaman" has been historically used in a variety of platforms, including legal documents, literary works, and speech. Census records in 1800s North America recorded Chinese men by names such as "John Chinaman", "Jake Chinaman", or simply as "Chinaman". In a notable 1852 letter to Governor of California John Bigler which challenges his proposed immigration policy toward the Chinese, restaurant owner Norman Asing, at the time a leader in San Francisco's Chinese community, referred to himself as a "Chinaman". Addressing the governor, he wrote, "Sir: I am a Chinaman, a republican, and a lover of free institutions."
On 1998-07-09, Canada's province of Alberta renamed a peak in the Rocky Mountains from "Chinaman's Peak" to "Ha Ling Peak" due to pressure from the province's large Chinese community. The new name was chosen in honour of the railroad labourer who scaled the peak's 2,408 metre-high summit in 1896 to win a $50 bet, but who himself had named the mountain "Chinaman's Peak" to commemorate all his fellow Chinese railway labourers.
Someone with a Chinaman's chance has no chance at all. The original phrase was "Chinaman's Chance in Hell" it devolved through usage to "Chinaman's Chance"; meaning "a slim chance to make it".
The historical context of the phrase comes from the old railroad and Goldrush days of pre-California, where many Chinese came to work as laborers for the First Transcontinental Railroad, especially the Central Pacific Railroad. In this employ, they were sought out for the demanding and dangerous jobs involving explosives, often for half the pay of the Irish workers. Yet the Chinese had to pay additional and higher taxes, could not testify in court against violence against them, were denied citizenship, and could be forced from profitable property. The use and "devolution" of the slang phrase "Chinaman's Chance in Hell," into "Chinaman's Chance," resulted, ending up as an insult to Chinese people not necessarily as its original intention, but as a reflection of the callous attitude towards the lives of Chinese immigrant workers.
The Chinaman's chance originated from the early 1800s potentially from several events. One explanation is that at that time, Chinese migrant workers in the U.S. were sent into mines and construction sites to ignite dynamite, potentially with disastrous consequences. They were also lowered over cliffs by rope and boatswain chairs to set dynamite to clear mountain and other obstructions to make way for the railroad construction. In this work, if they were not lifted back up before the blast, serious injury or death would result. Therefore the phrase a "A Chinaman's Chance" was coined.
Another explanation for the phrase is the California Gold Rush 1849. The travel time for news of the gold rush to reach China and for workers to arrive was long, and under this explanation, when the Chinese prospectors arrived, many rich mines were already taken. The Chinese had to suffice only those lands which had already been exploited or which were rejected by others. Hence, "Chinaman's Chance" explained an attempt to find gold where no one else would bother to try; attempting to succeed in a situation where the odds are almost impossible. The historical record, however, indicates that many Chinese combined efforts with each other and did very well in the goldfields, and introduced mining techniques then unknown to non-Chinese.
Another explanation is the difficulties Chinese faced from the U.S. laws and non-Asian neighbors. According to historians,
"By California law, citizenship was denied to the Chinese and their immigration was limited to only "male workers". The law also forbade them from testifying in court, but stipulated that every Chinese man in the state "had to pay a Personal Tax, a Hospital Tax, a two dollar contribution to the School Fund, and a Property Tax" and, if he worked in the abandoned placer and hydraulic mines on the Mother Lode, a Permission tax of four dollars plus an annual water tax . In short, the Chinese in California were greatly taken advantage of. Other laws denied Chinese housing, employment, education, citizenship, and other legal protections.
Roy Bean, appointed as a judge in the state of Texas in the late 1800s, used the term Chinaman in one of his rulings. Commenting on the case of an Irishman killing a Chinese worker, after browsing through a law book, he said, "Gentlemen, I find the law very explicit on murdering your fellow man, but there's nothing here about killing a Chinaman. Case dismissed."
According to Nothing Like It in the World by Stephen Ambrose, his book on building the railroad, the phrase was cemented by murders of Chinese that were condoned by state law. "In 1854, in a case heard in Nevada County, George W. Hall was convicted of murdering a Chinese man. On appeal to the State Supreme Court the decision was overturned because all of the evidence against him was from Chinese individuals."
Ching chong is an ethnic slur used to mock people of Chinese ancestry or other Asians who may look Chinese, and an onomatopoeia used to represent Chinese language speech patterns by those unfamiliar with them. Many public commentators on the recent usage of the term have deemed it derogatory, and referred to its derogatory usage in history.
The most probable origin of the phrase "ching chong" is a mimicking of the Chinese language by those unfamiliar with it, as in reality the Chinese language does not have very many "ch"-sounding words that are phonologically equivalent to the "ch" in the English language.
In Mandarin Chinese, various transliteration systems, such as pinyin and especially Wade-Giles, "c" or "ch" are substituted for many distinct consonants that in reality to not sound like the English "ch" at all. Because the Wade-Giles transliteration system in particular tends to substitute "c" and "ch" for many different-sounding Chinese consonants, the transliteration may help give unfamiliar people the notion that the Chinese language does indeed have many "ch"-starting sounds. In fact, in the Chinese language, only "q" in the Hanyu Pinyin transliteration system and "ch' " (but not "ch") in the Wade-Giles transliteration system sound like the "ch" used in the English language.
The prevalent usage of this phrase began as an insult during the gold-rush eras of the 19th century in Ballarat, Australia, when the Chinese gold prospectors were of Ch'ing (Chinese: 清 ; also spelled "Qing" in Pinyin, with the same pronunciation) Dynasty origin.
While usually intended for ethnic Chinese, the slur has also been directed at other East Asians. Mary Paik Lee, a Korean immigrant who arrived with her family in San Francisco in 1906, writes in her autobiography that on her first day of school, girls circled and hit her, chanting:
Ching Chong, Chinaman,
Sitting on a wall.
Along came a white man,
And chopped his head off.
A variation of this rhyme is repeated by a young boy in John Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row in mockery of a Chinese man.
In 1917, a ragtime piano song entitled "Ching Chong" was co-written by Lee S. Roberts and J. Will Callahan. Its lyrics had, e.g., the following words:
"Ching, Chong, Oh Mister Ching Chong,
You are the king of Chinatown.
Ching Chong, I love your sing-song,
When you have turned the lights all down;
A common ethnic joke has varying forms:
How do Chinese name their kids?
They listen as they drop dishes down the stairs
Ching Chang Chong Ching