"The State of The World" Number 1
Complete Index Of All Issues
The First Chinese American War
There is a legend from the nostalgic era when "Cowboys and Indians" movies and TV shows were very popular. A Hollywood movie producer needed a large number of "Indians" for a major battle scene (keeping in mind that this happened in the time before "Indian" became an offensive, "politically-incorrect" term to many).
The producer's problem? He was unable to hire enough "Indians" for his movie.
Perhaps there simply weren't enough Native Americans available, or perhaps there were - but they didn't want to participate in what, for them, was still a bitter and resentful reminder of the genocide (as many historians insist that it was) that had been inflicted on a vast number of their people, in what had been their homeland, for centuries before the coming of the European "white man."
The advance of the Europeans across what became the U.S. part of the continent in the 19th Century was in fact one of the bloodiest wars in human history - that typically declared no bounds between battlefield warrior and unarmed village civilian. There were many atrocities committed by both sides, often in retaliation for an earlier outrage, that might itself have been only the latest in a very long cycle of response. Perhaps no one really knew "who started it."
The political and military attitudes of that time were very different from today - although wars and massacres are still happening all around the world. The illustration below is from the 1847 "Illustrated life of General Winfield Scott" that made no apologies about killing any of the "savages." It's not at all surprising then that not many Native Americans were interested in even watching, let alone participating in, the production of the "show."
The movie producer had a serious casting problem.
The producer then made a curious discovery. He noticed that the many Chinese-Americans in the area had facial characteristics practically identical to Native Americans. As we will see, he had good reason to recognize the similarity.
Notice below how the "Indian chief" (the famous real-life Sitting Bull) and the Chinese woman and her daughter, in the photographs from the same time in the 19th century, are actually identified as such only by their clothing.
The facial characteristics of all of them are the same - so much so, as the producer successfully discovered for his movie, that either could pass for the other simply by dressing one as the other. Moreover, he realized that, if he had to, he could have traveled in China and found many men who looked very much like Sitting Bull.
But he didn't have to go anywhere.
The movie producer was able to find more than enough costumed, make-believe "Indians" for his movie right in California. It seems that the Chinese-Americans didn't take offense at what was being dramatized in the production. After all, their people weren't being annihilated in the show. Or were they?
Modern-day scientific research has since proven that the major lines of Native Americans - from the "Eskimos" of the Arctic, to the natives of the southern deserts of the U.S., to the rain forests and mountains of Central and South America - originated in Asia. The term "Chinese American" goes far deeper than just a reference to people of Chinese ancestry who immigrated, or were born, in America (a geographic term that covers everywhere from the northern border of Canada to the southern tip of Argentina) in the present age.
Many scientists are now convinced that the first Native Americans were primarily Chinese. The map below shows the migration route, of only a few miles between Asia and North America, across the Bering Strait - easily crossed by small boats, or by simply walking across the fragmented sea ice in winter. To them, it was just a short crossing of a body of water, not a journey to another continent (keep in mind as well that Alaska was itself an Asian possession until Russia sold it to the United States of America in 1867).
Present-day political and military tensions between the U.S. and China have caused many to fear that a war between them is coming. Most rational people hope that such a conflict never happens.
But regardless of whether or not the U.S. and China go war, the first Chinese-American War has already happened - as portrayed by all of those "Cowboys and Indians" movies.