The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939



[illustration - The Chinese New Year]

EXCEPT at the Chinese New Year, which comes in February, it is very hard to catch a glimpse of children in China. Little beggars will run beside you for miles to earn one "cash," a copper coin with a square hole in the middle of it, worth the twentieth of a cent; but children who have parents to care for them seem to be kept indoors all the time, or only allowed to play in walled yards and gardens. We used to say to each other, "Why, where are the
children? Have n't they got any?" But at New Year's we found out that they had.[illustration - Japan's blossom-time.] This is the great holiday of all the year in China, when everybody hangs out fags and colored lanterns and sets off fire-crackers. (We borrowed our custom of fire-crackers for the fourth of July from Chinese New Year's.) All the people put on their very best clothes, and the children the best of all, jackets and trousers of bright blue or green or yellow or purple, the boy's and the girl's so much alike that you can only tell them apart by their hair. The boy's, of course, is braided in a pigtail, and the girl's is done up on her head with silver pins, or, if she 's a very grand little girl, with gold or jade. Thus decked out, the children go walking with their proud papas and mamas, and often go to the theater, which is a rare Heat for them.

[illustration - Posing for their picture by the old monument.]

Perhaps Chinese children have romping plays together, but they always look as if they were born grown up.

In Korea the little folks were by no means so prim. In that country everybody wears white clothes, but no one seems to say to the children, "Now, mind, don't play in the dirt." Nearly everybody is poor in Korea, and so the children look poor and out-at-elbows. When we were taking a picture of an old, old monument inscribed with the history of a battle so long ago that the letters cut in the hard marble are almost worn away, two children came racing across the field to get into the photograph. Please don't ask, "Boys or girls?" That 's always such a hard question to answer in the East.

If the children are too much looked after in China, and not enough in Korea, the place where child life seems an all-the-year-round picnic is Japan.

Little children in Japan wear all the fine clothes for the family. The grown-ups never dress in bright colors, because it is n't thought proper, any more than it would be proper for
[illustration - "The babies are perfectly happy, and hardly ever cry."] our children to wear their party clothes to school. The only big people you see in gay colors (and they are n't really big—nobody is, in Japan) are the maiko and the geisha. These are the pretty girls who dance and play the lute and sing, to entertain you while you 're eating your dinner at a tea-house.

If it 's your first Japanese dinner you 're having a dreadfully hard time. In the first place, you must sit on the floor, for they don't have any chairs in Japan. You kneel down, and then you turn your toes in till one laps over the other, and then you sit back between your heels. At first you are quite proud to find how well you do it, and you don't think it 's so very uncomfortable. But pretty soon you get cramped, and your legs ache as if you had a toothache in them. You don't say anything, because you think that if the Japanese can sit this way all day long, you ought to be able to stand it a few minutes. Finally both your feet go to sleep, and then you can't bear it a moment longer, and you have to get up and stamp round the room to drive the prickles out of your feet, and all the little dancing-girls giggle at you. This is n't your only trouble, either. All you have to eat with is a pair of chop-sticks, and you 're in terror lest you spill something on the dainty white matting floor.

[illustration - A young folk's afternoon party.]

Now the floor of a Japanese house is n't just the floor; it 's the chairs and sofas and tablesand beds as well. At home it would be mortifying enough to go out to dinner and spill something on the floor; but in Japan, where people sit and sleep on the floor, it seems even worse. So you are unhappy till your little nesan(who is the waitress, and almost as prettily dressed as the dancing-girls, but not quite) comes laughing to your aid, and shows you
how to hold your chop-sticks. After that you manage nicely the rice and the omelet, but the fish and the chicken you can't contrive to shied apart without dropping your chop-sticks all the time. So, between dances, the maiko—little girls about twelve years old—kneel down beside you and help you. They can't keep from giggling at your awkwardness; but you don't mind—you just giggle too; and everybody giggles and has a lovely time. The girl I liked best of all was little Miss Karuta. This was not her real name; it was the play name she chose when she became a niaiko, and it means a playing-card. Little Karuta wore a pale gray kimono with big red poppies climbing from the hem to the waist, and her under kimono, that showed through the openings of her great loose sleeves, was bright red silk. Her broad sash was of heavy red satin, and in her shiny black hair she wore a red silk flower with a long red tassel hanging from the stem. She knew about six English words, and I knew about three Japanese, and it was surprising how much conversation we made with them. She taught me to count in Japanese, and I taught her to count in English,and what fun we did have over each other's queer pronunciation! No matter how much she screwed up her mouth (with the little dab of red paint under the lower lip), Miss Karuta could not say f.

"Hore" and "hive" were the best she could do, while "eleven " she could only call "reven."

Dinner over, we took turns playing a game which you can try when you have a piece of chalk and a piazza about you. On a Japanese floor the matting is n't tacked down in strips, as we lay it, but made into mats, each three[illustration - A street scene during the fist festival.] feet by six feet long, bound round with blue-and-white cotton or silk. The mats are laid close together from wall to wall. A Japanese person does n't speak of a small room or
a large one; he says "a six-mat room" or "a twenty-mat room," and everybody knows at once just how big it is. Well, you find three mats in the middle of the room placed like this:

One player stands in each corner where I have put the crosses, one with a cup and the other with a saki-bottle. At a signal they both start running, the one with the bottle chasing the one with the cup. The rules are that you must always keep on the lines, and that you may never turn back. As soon as the two face each other on the same line, the one with the cup is caught, and must take a sip from the catcher's bottle. While we ran, one of the geishas beat a very rapid tune on her little drum.

When we sat down to rest (on the floor, of course) we played a finger game. A clenched fist means a stone, a fist with the forefinger straight out means a knife, and an open hand means a handkerchief. Whatever the first player makes, the second player must make something better. If I make the handkerchief, you must make the knife that cuts the handkerchief; if I make the knife, you must make the stone that blunts the knife; and if I make the stone you must make the handkerchief that covers the stone. This sounds like a baby game, but just try to play it very, very quickly, and see how sure you are to get excited and make the wrong thing. If I make the knife, and you answer with the handkerchief, you pay forfeit, for my knife will cut your handkerchief; if I make a stone, and you make a knife, out of the game you go, for my stone will ruin your knife.

Talking about games reminds me that I started to tell about the children, and then forgot them. One thing that seems queer to us foreigners is that even the tiny babies are dressed just like the grown people, in long kimonos or loose gowns lapped over in the front, and held together by the wide sash called an obi. But such pretty gay kimonos, covered with flowers or birds or butterflies, tied with sashes of red or pink or yellow or light green! A streetful of children looks like a walking flower-bed. The streets are always full of children, too. You see, in Japan there are hardly any horses, and no automobiles and trolleys and delivery-wagons. Even the drays are small enough to be drawn by one bare-legged coolie in a mushroom hat rather bigger than he is, and instead of taking a carriage you take jinriki-sha, that funny little buggy on two wheels, with a funny little man bobbing up and down between the shafts to pull it. Your 'rickshaw-boy is a very strong, sturdy person, by the way, and he 'll trot you about smilingly from morning till night, if you 'll only let him stop at almost every tea-house you pass for a swallow (out of a tiny cup without a handle) of pale-green bitter tea. So there 's nothing in the streets to harm a child, and even the tiny tots play alone there all day long.

How do you suppose the babies take an airing? In baby-carriages, you say? Of course not: the Japanese never do anything the way we do it. When the baby 's about three days old, it goes out for its first glimpse of the world strapped on somebody's back, and that 's the way it goes every day till it can go on its own feet. Sometimes its mother or its nurse takes it, but very often it rides on the back of a brother or sister, who is perhaps not more than four or five years old. These little nurses don't seem to be troubled at all by their charges, as you would suppose; they play ball and tag, and run races and fly kites, in spite of the heavy loads on their backs. What is more remark-able, the babies are perfectly happy, and hardly ever cry, though when their young nurses run with them, the poor babies' faces bang back and forth against their caretakers' shoulders till an American baby would howl with pain and rage.

One day we were climbing a steep flight of fifty or sixty stone steps leading to an old Japanese temple, when a flock of boys and girls, almost all with babies on their backs, began chasing one another down the stairs. They were wearing geta, wooden clogs three inches high held on by a cord over the toes. You could n't walk in them two steps on level ground with¬out falling on your precious nose. But these children, babies and all, raced down the steep stairs, and nobody even stumbled. The
children were always very friendly, and curious about the queer ways of the foreigners, and sometimes would crowd around us so that we could hardly walk along the street. One of the first words we learned was from the children, who, whatever the time of day, would eagerly call to us, "Ohayo!" This is pronounced just like the name of the State of Ohio, and means, "Oh, honorably early!" which is the Japanese way of saying good morning.

Until they are four or five years old the hair of the boys and girls is cut exactly alike, round a bowl, and strangers can't tell them apart, though I suppose their friends don't have any trouble. Presently the little boy's hair is cut off, and the little girl's is done up with long wooden hair-pins on the top of her head just like her mother's. The gay-flowered kimonos are laid aside for sober ones of dark blue, and boy and girl clatter off on their noisy geta to school. I need n't tell you what the schools are like, because they are just as much like our schools as the government can make them, and the children learn not only our language but our games, from kindergarten plays to tennis and football.

The Japanese have a queer way of celebrating birthdays. Instead of a party in June for little Tama, and a party in September for little O'Tatsu, and a party in December for little Ume, there 's a party in February in honor of all little girls, and one in May for all little boys. In February every little girl receives from all her grown-up relatives and friends gifts of dolls, and beside these dolls her mother takes out of the closet many of the dolls she had when she was a child, and some even older dolls that the little girl's grandmother had when she was a little tot; and I dare say there are dolls that belonged to the little girl's great-grandmother, and even her great-great-grand-mother, quaint dolls in faded clothes of a hundred years and more ago,carefully-handed downfrom mother to daughter ever since. I saw one old doll, about six inches tall, dressed as a daimio, or great lord of bygone times, in gorgeous brocade robes, covered with steel armor of little overlapping plates, just as beautifully made as if for a real warrior. He wore a tiny helmet, and carried two tiny swords not as large as matches. You could draw the swords out of their scabbards just like real ones, and they were as sharp as they could be. Well, for about a week all Japan is one grand dolls' tea-party! And then the festival is over, and all the best dolls, even the presents to the little girl, are put carefully away, never to be even looked at for a whole year. I don't see how the little Japanese girls can bear that part of it.

Then at the first of May comes the boys' festival—the Fish Festival, it is called. Every family that 's lucky enough to have a boy puts up a flagpole in the dooryard; or perhaps several families combine to use the same pole, and have it a bigger, handsomer one than one family could afford. On the top of the pole is a gilt ball, or else a basket with something bright and tinselly in it And flying from the pole, in the brisk spring winds, is a whole string of carp, made of oiled paper or cloth, painted in bright colors, and anywhere from five to fifteen feet long. Each fish belongs to some particular boy, and the carp is chosen because it is a big, strong fish, and not only can swim against the most rapid currents, but in its eagerness to get upstream will leap straight up waterfalls. The gold ball means a treasure, which the carp, leaping and struggling, buffeted by the wind, is forever trying to reach. And the whole thing means that the boy, when he 's a man, will have to battle his way as the sturdy carp struggles up the river. The fishes look so very pretty and gay, flying over his house, and the boy gets so many treats at Fish Festival time, that I don't think he minds even if the carp is a nice little jolly lecture on ambition.