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View Full Version : A question for you all knowing Western nuts



skttrbrain
11-20-2009, 02:17 PM
Hey everyone,

I'm working on a Western story set in the 1870's and I have a question. Chinese immigration was at its peak in the 1870's, as was general anger and discrimination towards the Chinese which led to several riots and so forth.

I'm trying to create an original story, with as much authenticity as possible. I've decided to have a Chinese outlaw as my MC but am having trouble with alot of the basics. The Chinese must have been saints, because I can't find a single Chinese outlaw to have ever existed (perhaps my googling skills are crap). Perhaps the Chinese we're dealt with differently back then?

What I'm getting at is, my MC is a Chinese outlaw that is due to be hanged. Essentially, he is to be made an example of. So, is this plausible? If the Chinese broke the law, were they punished accordingly? Eg murder = death?

Oh and also, I've read that some Chinese immigrants started their own businesses. Would this mean that some of the wealthier Chinese immigrants would live in houses as opposed to tents or whatever they lived in?

I really don't have much knowledge of this era, so would love your input.

alleycat
11-20-2009, 03:02 PM
You might also Google for the Tong or Tong Wars in the old west.

Puma
11-20-2009, 04:44 PM
There was a series on the old West done by Time/Life books back in the 70's. Your library might have it. Look at the volume on the railroads which has a fair amount about the Chinese labor (basically brought in to build the railroads.) And there was a lot of animosity.

On Chinese businesses - almost every town along all the western railroads did (1960's) have at least one Chinese restaurant and Chinese laundry. Those were the primary businesses. And a few towns actually had China towns. There were also some opium dens. You might want to set your location and then google to see if you can find better specifics. Puma

skttrbrain
11-20-2009, 10:39 PM
Also, I was wondering what was the general time between being found guilty and getting hanged? Are we talking days, weeks or months here? And what about the trial. If a person commits a crime on monday and are captured, will they're trial be during that same week? Do all offenses require a trial, or is it at the marshal discretion?

I'm pissing in the wind here, and have no idea....

Canotila
11-20-2009, 11:05 PM
From what I understand, they weren't treated all that well at all. My husband's family are hispanic copper miners from Morenci, AZ. The town is weird, ghost town but with people still living in it. Anyway, there was a huge chinese mining faction, and the hispanic miners, and then the wealthy anglo owners/bosses. The two mining groups weren't hostile to each other, but they definitely kept to themselves. My grandfather-in law said none of the Chinese ever opened up businesses in town or anything, though a lot of the hispanics did.

Even their dead weren't treated well. There is one hill in town that has good clay for making adobe, and it happened to be the same hill where dead chinese miners were essentially discarded in shallow unmarked graves. There are two formal graveyards in Morenci with anglo and hispanic miners buried in them, but no Chinese. Grandpa told us about how he and his brother would go to the hill to dig clay for adobe, and often found human bones while they were digging. They would just cross themselves, and carefully move the bones somewhere where they wouldn't be disturbed. They're a superstitious bunch.

Puma
11-20-2009, 11:51 PM
skttrbrain - It sounds to me like you need to do a lot of reading and research before you start to write this story. Your comment about being found guilty and hanged scares me. You need to have a good foundation knowledge for your story or it isn't going to come off well at all - no matter how good your plot is. So my suggestion is - hit the books, watch some cowboy movies from the 50's, and get a better handle on the ways of the old West. Puma

blacbird
11-21-2009, 12:59 AM
watch some cowboy movies from the 50's, and get a better handle on the ways of the old West.

Cowboy movies from the 1950s are probably the most misleading image of the Old West imaginable.

But by all means, read the finest novel with an Old West setting ever written: The Ox-Bow Incident, by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. It's about a lynching.

caw

quickWit
11-21-2009, 01:03 AM
Cray is too embarrassed to come by himself, but he wanted to say that he's quite knowledgeable about western nuts for anyone who might have questions.

Carry on.

:D

Tsu Dho Nimh
11-21-2009, 01:29 AM
The Chinese must have been saints, because I can't find a single Chinese outlaw to have ever existed (perhaps my googling skills are crap). Perhaps the Chinese we're dealt with differently back then?
I have read extensively in western history, and I can't remember one either. They were not accustomed to riding horses or using weapons when they arrived, so that would make a career change difficult.

There were a few Chinese cowboys:
http://www.cowboysofcolor.org/profile.php?ID=67


If the Chinese broke the law, were they punished accordingly? Eg murder = death?
Usually lynching, but outside the large "chinatowns", they were notoriously law-abiding. Most were young men who came to make money, send it home and go back and get married.


Oh and also, I've read that some Chinese immigrants started their own businesses. Would this mean that some of the wealthier Chinese immigrants would live in houses as opposed to tents or whatever they lived in?

Start researching the background of the Chinese in California and the West ... you have a unique idea, but you need serious background.

skttrbrain
11-21-2009, 08:33 AM
Thanks for your replies everyone... I probably should have stated that this is infact for a screenplay I'm working on. It's my first screenplay, and they say you need to write a few bad ones before you're capable of writing a good one. So I've taken this to heart, chose the hardest genre to sell, discarded any hope of success and am writing purely to futher my skills as a screenwriter. Of course I wan't to make the script as fun and original as I can, that's why I'm so set on having a Chinese MC.

All in all, this is a movie so a certain level of historic authenticity can be blured for the sake of entertainment...

And I'm pretty sure it's the all the western movies I've watched recently that have programmed me with this "get hanged" attitute.

I know Deadwood introduces some cool stuff about the Chinese, but I can't comment on any authenticity. But does it matter? Deadwood is a poetic masterpiece (even despite its wrap up).

Perhaps I should introduce sparkling vampires, or transforming robots and discard my plot. Maybe that way it could be succeful :P

blacbird
11-21-2009, 10:24 AM
Deadwood is a poetic masterpiece

A very fine piece of TV drama, but probably not a particularly accurate piece of TV history.

caw

skttrbrain
11-21-2009, 12:10 PM
Would anyone happen to know the title of a film where a woman dressed and lived as a man and took in/puchased a chinese man to work on her farm and they soon became lovers?

Cheers

Or further still, can anyone recommend some Westerns that actuaully feature the Chinese?

Tsu Dho Nimh
11-22-2009, 05:34 PM
Again I say, your best sources of information are going to be hard-core history books and memoirs of Chinese immigrants. Westerns don't have them - only character I can think of was the cook in the old Bonanza series.

Canotila
11-22-2009, 09:26 PM
Brisco County Jr. featured some major plot involving Chinese railroad workers and had some named characters with screen time who were Chinese. There was the whole "Scarred Foot Clan" story arc.

ETA: you could always watch Jackie Chan's Shanghai Noon. Not that either show is a paragon of historical accuracy...

Kalyke
11-22-2009, 10:08 PM
Well, there were pirates in the straits of Malacca and Indonesia (near Australia) in the 1870's. If you shifted your story to Australia, you might have a Chinese pirate who decided to go on horseback to lard his treasure trove with some inland booty.

skttrbrain
11-22-2009, 10:23 PM
Brisco County Jr. featured some major plot involving Chinese railroad workers and had some named characters with screen time who were Chinese. There was the whole "Scarred Foot Clan" story arc.

ETA: you could always watch Jackie Chan's Shanghai Noon. Not that either show is a paragon of historical accuracy...

I actually watched Shanghai Noon today, but yea, from what I've read the historical accuracy is rather lax.

Considering that Bruce Campbell is in Brisco County Jr, I can't believe I haven't heard of it. It's definately at the top of my to watch list now, so cheers.

Chinese pirate -- could be an interesting idea. Also watched The Proposition today which is a great Aussie western film (I'm Australian btw).

My story incorporates the well overused revenge plot which is the driving force for the Chinese dude to resort to violence, thus becoming an outlaw. Even though it's only outlined in my head, it's a rather brutal and bloody tale...

Another question:

During this time period (late 1800's), was an arranged marriage a common (or atleast, not an uncommon) thing in Chine? How about becoming pregnant before marriage? I'm trying to brainstorm a backstory for my MC to essentially flee from China to America.

Evaine
11-22-2009, 10:58 PM
Well, Kwai Chang Caine killed the Emperor's nephew! That was, of course, in Kung Fu, the first TV series to look at the Chinese experience of the Old West.
In that series (I'm slowly working my way through season 1 at the moment) it starts off with Chinese railway workers, and also includes Chinese families who own stores, and so on - and deals with how they are treated by the white majority.

For other depictions of Chinese characters in Westerns - well, off the top of my head, I'm sure I remember a Chinese cook in Bonanza, and John Wayne lived with an old Chinese man in True Grit.

not_HarryS
11-23-2009, 07:24 AM
During this time period (late 1800's), was an arranged marriage a common (or atleast, not an uncommon) thing in Chine? How about becoming pregnant before marriage? I'm trying to brainstorm a backstory for my MC to essentially flee from China to America.

It wasn't just common; it's what everyone did. There wasn't much choice in the matter.

As for becoming pregnant before marriage--that's a toughie. Women were watched pretty damn close by their families in those days, but it really depends on your MC and his intended's economic class (namely, whether or not there was any disparity between the two). Usually there would be a process (albeit idiotic) to determine virginity before any nuptials took place, which led women and their families to be pretty careful about that sort of thing. That's not to say that there wasn't any boot-knockin' before marriage, but the way of going about it would've been markedly different than, say, British Aristocrats sleeping with their guards.

Depending on who your MC knocked up, however, and the difference between their social classes... yeah, that might be a good reason to get the hell out of the country.

skttrbrain
11-23-2009, 08:06 AM
Kung Fu looks like it may be pretty cool, and definately right down my alley in terms of similar media.

What about an arranged marriage to the Emperor, or someother high up person? How does that work? Does the woman have to be noble blood?

Cyia
11-23-2009, 08:48 AM
Also, I was wondering what was the general time between being found guilty and getting hanged? Are we talking days, weeks or months here? And what about the trial. If a person commits a crime on monday and are captured, will they're trial be during that same week? Do all offenses require a trial, or is it at the marshal discretion?

I'm pissing in the wind here, and have no idea....

Seriously? For a Chinese guy in the west?

Jim: Hey Zeke, {butchers name} happened to look up when that woman half a mile over walked by.
Zeke: Well, we can't have that, Jim, but the judge won't be back around these parts for a month 'r so.
Jim: Do we really need to bother him with a Chinese guy (he'd say worse, but I won't)?
Zeke: Nah. That tree's as good as any. Or heck, a bullet's cheaper than a rope.
Jim: I don't know... you think we could get a pool going on how long the horse can drag him 'fore he croaks?


And the Emperor would have wives and concubines, both of which would be behind the gates of the Forbidden City and under guard. So, they wouldn't be going anywhere with anyone. They wouldn't even leave the building. (Most wouldn't be seen in public.)

skttrbrain
11-23-2009, 08:57 AM
Yea, I do have a lynch mob coming after the Chinese guy when he's locked up in jail. But he's protected by an incorruptible Marshal who wants to hear the Chinaman's story. The marshal is conflicted also, because he has orders to protect the Chinaman until he will be hanged so he can be made an example out of.

It's plausible right?

Cyia
11-23-2009, 09:13 AM
Yea, I do have a lynch mob coming after the Chinese guy when he's locked up in jail. But he's protected by an incorruptible Marshal who wants to hear the Chinaman's story. The marshal is conflicted also, because he has orders to protect the Chinaman until he will be hanged so he can be made an example out of.

It's plausible right?

Not really.

skttrbrain
11-23-2009, 01:06 PM
oh well, its fiction... plausibility doesn't need to fit into the equation. Especially now since the western genre is dead.... :D

Tsu Dho Nimh
11-23-2009, 03:34 PM
Yea, I do have a lynch mob coming after the Chinese guy when he's locked up in jail. But he's protected by an incorruptible Marshal who wants to hear the Chinaman's story. The marshal is conflicted also, because he has orders to protect the Chinaman until he will be hanged so he can be made an example out of.

It's plausible right?

Yes, it's plausible. There are quite a few such stories.

I think Elfego Baca and John Slaughter both had at least one such incident while they were sheriffs. Allowing a lynch mob to take you prisoner meant yu wold have trouble later, because it eroded your authority.

skttrbrain
11-23-2009, 05:07 PM
Thanks, Tsu Dho Nimh for confirming my story has at least a merit of plausibility. The question is, how would one man stop a lynch mob? I guess you could do it like Costner (Wyatt Earp) did at the end of Wyatt Earp.

Does anyone else think that the western genre is going to sprout back to life over the next few years? From what I've heard, over the next few years we have Jonah Hex, Preacher, Cowboys & Aliens, True Grit (Coen bros remake), Blood Meridian and hopefully The Brigands of Rattleborge will get made, because that was one badass script.

Now all these have the potential to be great films (except Jonah Hex, I read the scrip and it was trash). Now, if only Westerns can start making some real money at the box office there may be hope yet....

Jonah Hex may do alright, mainly because Megan Fox plays a whore... so she would only have to be herself.

skttrbrain
11-24-2009, 01:13 PM
Here's a question that was brought up in this thread (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=135763) which I thought was interesting. I'm also wondering if it was common for Chinese restaurants to exist in medium to small sized western towns?

And would they serve traditional Chinese food or more American-like stuff?

Tsu Dho Nimh
11-24-2009, 08:13 PM
During this time period (late 1800's), was an arranged marriage a common (or atleast, not an uncommon) thing in Chine? .

It was far more common than not. They were arranged for business and political reasons, and a family without sons would adopt a son to marry one of their daughters.


How about becoming pregnant before marriage?

Not a girl of good family - they were kept inside, in harem-like conditions!

And no one cared about the servant girls.

***********
As you are finding out, it takes a pile of research just to get to the starting line.

Tsu Dho Nimh
11-24-2009, 08:16 PM
Thanks, Tsu Dho Nimh for confirming my story has at least a merit of plausibility. The question is, how would one man stop a lynch mob? I guess you could do it like Costner (Wyatt Earp) did at the end of Wyatt Earp.

Pure cussedness?

Slaughter and Baca did it because the mob knew that they were good enough shots that quite a few of the mob would die ... it's one thing to mob an undefended building, but few lynch mobs were desperate enough to risk death. This wasn't Les Miserables,they were just likkered up and pissed off.

And they had deputies :)

skttrbrain
11-24-2009, 08:30 PM
Also, another question...

Did wills work in the same way they do today? I presume that is what they used back then? Could someone please fill me in on the whole process of property and items if a person died?

skttrbrain
11-26-2009, 08:46 PM
I've read that the Chinese weren't allowed to testify in court? Could someone elaborate further on this? If a Chinese immigrant witnessed a murder does that mean that the murderer couldn't be brought to justice?

Tsu Dho Nimh
11-28-2009, 12:47 AM
skttenrain
Where did you read this? What level of reliability did the source have?

You really need to settle down, dig out some solid published histories of California in the 1860-1890 era and get your background figured out.

Find out what was going on, what the laws were, and then figure out ways to make them work in a plot.

skttrbrain
12-27-2009, 01:54 PM
I've read it from numerous sources, and I think a documentary I watched long ago mentioned it. Also, Mark Twain mentions it in Roughing It.

Here's a snippet from the wikipedia entry for Chinese American History. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_American_history)

The position of the Chinese gold seekers also was complicated by a decision of the California Supreme Court which decided in the case "The People of the State of California v. George W. Hall" ("People v. Hall") in 1854 that the Chinese were not allowed to testify as witnesses before the court in California against white citizens, including those accused of murder. The decision was largely based upon the prevailing opinion that the Chinese were

“ a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior, and who are incapable of progress or intellectual development beyond a certain point, as their history has shown; differing in language, opinions, color, and physical conformation; between whom and ourselves nature has placed an impassable difference" and as such had no right " to swear away the life of a citizen" or participate" with us in administering the affairs of our Government.[34] ”

The ruling effectively made white violence against Chinese Americans unprosecutable, arguably leading to more intense white-on-Chinese race riots, such as the 1877 San Francisco Riot. The Chinese living in California were with this decision left practically in a legal vacuum, because they had now no possibility to assert their rightful legal entitlements or claims – possibly in cases of theft or breaches of agreement – in court. The ruling remained in force until 1873.[35]

And you're right, I probably should sit down and figure out my background properly before jumping in....

However, I am having a hard time finding out exactly when the law was abolished. If someone could point me in the right direction, that would be great.