Yellow Kid

So, there I was, looking for pictures of Li Hongzhang, and I found this Apparently Li met the Yellow Kid.


For those of our readers who may be American, Li Hongzhang was perhaps the most important Chinese statesman of the 19th century, and did in fact visit the U.S. For those of our readers who may be Chinese, the Yellow Kid was America’s first comic strip character, and he and his street urchin buddies were very big in the 1890’s.

I found a few things interesting about this. The calligraphy in Li’s name is actually quite good, which surprises me a lot. Even much later Chinese writing might be gobbledegook or just badly written. This is pretty good. The Yellow Kid usually had humorous ads in the background, and in this case they are for Li Hongzhang corsets. Maybe a reference to footbinding and ways of controlling female bodies? Of course one should not think the artist R.F. Outcault was too modern in his thinking. The main gag is that the Kid and Li are both Yellow. Later he would describe the Kid as

this same infantile terror who falls of tenement roofs, plays with matches, chases Chinamen, gets nearly drowned twice a day, breaks windows, keeps his mother’s heart beating like a trip-hammer, and generally makes so much trouble and excitement that we wonder how there can be any left for us other mortals.1

So maybe not a real modern view, but a pretty interesting view of the Chinese in American popular culture.

  1. Outcault, Richard Felton. R.F. Outcault’s the Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics. First Edition. Kitchen Sink Pr (Nrt), 1995. p.146  


  1. Fantastic image: I wish the resolution was great enough to read all the smaller text (not your fault; I went back to the image source). I’m particularly curious about the dog standing on its tail in the right front row…

  2. Li made quite an impression on Americans, in spite of the fact that he lobbied them to end the recently enacted Chinese Exclusion Laws. He caught the popular imagination so much that the Chinese restaurant owners played up to the idea that Li was somehow involved with the invention of Chop Suey. One legend held that Li invented it himself, another that his cook invented it, and still another that a local restaurant invented it when Li strolled in late at night. All nonsense, of course, but very useful in casting a romantic aura around Chop Suey, which was actually just a simple village dish from Toisan.

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