Mark Twain's Racial Ideologies and His Portrayal of the Chinese 

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Hsin-yun Ou

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Department of English, NTNU


Although Mark Twain's depictions of the Chinese are not always free from contemporary racial stereotypes, they are more sympathetic than what was typically portrayed in the popular media. In "Disgraceful Persecution of a Boy," Twain unfolds his antipathy towards the discriminatory treatment the Chinese suffered. In "John Chinaman in New York," the narrator pities the "friendless Mongol," but finally finds himself only able to understand the Chinese as superficial stereotypes. In "Goldsmith's Friend Abroad Again," through the narrator's initial ironical statements and later sufferings and disillusionment, Twain satirizes American racist attitudes against the Chinese. In Roughing It, Twain characterizes the Chinese with depth and humanity; despite ill treatment from lower-class whites, the Chinese in the portrait Twain paints are hard-working, patient, and benevolent to American society. Ah Sin vindicates the Chinese by presenting a Chinese laundryman who outsmarts most of the white characters. Twain's anti-racism fueled his powerful anti-imperial writings later in his life, in which his humanitarian sentiments and sense of moral righteousness became more prominent in expressing sympathy for oppressed groups, including the Chinese, and insisting on racial tolerance. As such, when Twain observed the Chinese, he was in fact examining the American character in comparison with his ideal vision of the U.S. as a nation that represented the forces of social justice and liberalism.