This article is about the pejorative term. For the Hong Kong journalist, see Ching Cheong
Ching chong is a pejorative term sometimes employed by speakers of English to mock or play on the Chinese language, people of Chinese ancestry, or other Asians who may be mistaken for Chinese that resided in Western countries. Several public commentators have characterized the term as derogatory while noting that assaults or physical intimidation of Asians are often accompanied by racial slurs or imitation Chinese.
The term "ching chong" is based on how supposedly the Chinese languages, or more specifically the Mandarin Chinese sounds to English speakers who don't speak the language and the people of Chinese ancestry that spoke them. While usually intended for ethnic Chinese, the slur has also been directed at other East Asians. Mary Paik Lee, a Korean immigrant who arrived with her family in San Francisco in 1906, writes in her autobiography that on her first day of school, girls circled and hit her, chanting:
Ching Chong, Chinaman,
Sitting on a wall.
Along came a white man,
And chopped his tail off.
A variation of this rhyme is repeated by a young boy in John Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row in mockery of a Chinese man. In this version, "wall" is replaced with "rail", and the phrase "chopped his tail off" is changed to "chopped off his tail".
In 1917, a ragtime piano song entitled "Ching Chong" was co-written by Lee S. Roberts and J. Will Callahan. Its lyrics contained the following words:
"Ching, Chong, Oh Mister Ching Chong,
You are the king of Chinatown.
Ching Chong, I love your sing-song,
When you have turned the lights all down."
In the United States, Asian Americans have historically been slow in responding to negative speech.
In December 2002, NBA star Shaquille O'Neal received media flak for saying "Tell [NBA center] Yao Ming, 'Ching chong yang, wah, ah soh'" during an interview on Fox Sports Net. O'Neal later said it was locker-room humor and he meant no offense. Yao believed that O'Neal was joking, but he said a lot of Asians would not see the humor. Yao joked, "Chinese is hard to learn. I had trouble with it when I was little." O'Neal added, "I mean, if I was the first one to do it, and the only one to do it, I could see what they're talking about. But if I offended anybody, I apologize."
On January 24, 2006, comedian Dave Dameshek created an audio parody of the Asian Excellence Awards for The Adam Carolla Show. The premise of the parody was using the words "ching" and "chong" to mimic the awards show. Branding the segment as demeaning and racist, several Asian American organizations threatened to ask advertisers to withdraw their support from the show if the station did not issue an apology. On February 22, 2006, Carolla read a brief apology for the segment. On April 26, 2006, Carolla had the head of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, Guy Aoki on his show. Aoki opined that "ching chong" is the equivalent to the "N-word".
In November 2006, Bryn Mawr College canceled a performance by the independent band Ching Chong Song, both of whose members are white, after protests from various campus groups, including the Asian Students Association.
On December 5, 2006 comedian and co-host Rosie O'Donnell of The View used a series of ching chongs to imitate newscasters in China. O'Donnell made a comment in reference to people in China talking about Danny DeVito's drunken appearance on the show, "You know, you can imagine in China it's like, 'Ching-chong, ching-chong. Danny DeVito. Ching-chong, ching-chong-chong. Drunk. The View. Ching-chong.'" The Asian American Journalists Association said her comments were "a mockery of the Chinese language and, in effect, a perpetuation of stereotypes of Asian Americans as foreigners or second-class citizens ... and gives the impression that they are a group that is substandard to English-speaking people" Cindi Berger, O'Donnell's representative, said: "She's a comedian in addition to being a talk show co-host. I certainly hope that one day they will be able to grasp her humor." On December 14 on The View, O'Donnell said she was unaware that ching chong was an offensive way to make fun of Asian accents, and she was informed it was on par with the "N-word". She apologized to "those people who felt hurt". Jeff Yang, who tracks Asian and Asian-American trends for a market research firm, said O'Donnell shouldn't have apologized for people's hurt feelings. "She should have apologized for spreading and encouraging ignorance." O'Donnell warned that "there's a good chance I'll do something like that again, probably in the next week, not on purpose. Only 'cause it's how my brain works." Time called it a "pseudo-apology". O'Donnell later wrote in her autobiography Celebrity Detox: The Fame Game that "I wish I had been a bit more pure in my public apology."
In 2010, the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre was forced to release a statement explaining their decision to produce a play by Lauren Yee titled Ching Chong Chinaman. Artistic Producing Director Tisa Chang explained the controversy as follows:
It has come to my attention that some in the community do not understand why Pan Asian is producing a play with the controversial title CHING CHONG CHINAMAN and how much emotional upset and consternation it is creating. This is my open letter to try to clarify this miscommunication.
CHING CHONG CHINAMAN takes its controversial title from the late 19th century pejorative jingle and uses irony and satire to reverse prejudicial attitudes towards Asians and other outsiders. This is a funny and surprising new perspective from a young writer tackling assumptions of stereotype which are not relegated to any one race and can be evidenced within our own.
On January 19, 2011, conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh mocked Chinese president Hu Jintao during his visit to the White House on his radio show. "Hu Jintao -- He was speaking and they weren’t translating. They normally translate every couple of words. Hu Jintao was just going ching chong, ching chong cha," said Limbaugh, who imitated Hu's speech for seventeen seconds. Representative Judy Chu of California said that Limbaugh's words were the same ones that Chinese Americans have heard in the past 150 years as they faced racial discrimination while "they were called racial slurs, were spat upon in the streets, derided in the halls of Congress and even brutally murdered." New York Assemblywoman Grace Meng said it was Limbaugh's prerogative to attack Hu, "but at the same time he offended 13% of New York City's population." California State Senator Leland Yee also criticized Limbaugh for his remarks: "His classless act is an insult to over 3,000 years of cultural history, and is a slap in the face to the millions of Chinese Americans who have struggled in this country and to a people who constitute one-quarter of the world's population." Yee demanded an apology from Limbaugh for what he and others view as racist and derogatory remarks. He also organized with civil rights groups—including Chinese for Affirmative Action, Japanese American Citizens League and the California National Organization for Women—to boycott companies like ProFlowers, Sleep Train and Domino's Pizza that advertise on Limbaugh's talk show. Yee has received threatening messages and also received a fax from an unknown sender which made racist comments and called him a Marxist. "Rush Limbaugh will kick your Chink ass and expose you for the fool you are," part of the memo said.
In March 2011, a UCLA student uploaded a YouTube video entitled "UCLA Asians in the library", ranting about the "hordes of Asians" in UCLA who don't "use American manners". In a rant about Asians speaking loudly on a cellphone in the campus library, she mimicked one as saying, "Ohhh! Ching chong ling long ting tong? Ohhh!". The video went viral, resulting in the student receiving multiple death threats via e-mails and telephone calls. Her rant inspired heated criticism, not only because of her use of the "ching chong" stereotype but also because of the timing: a major tsunami had just occurred in Japan, leading her to complain, "I swear they're going through their whole families, just checking on everybody from the tsunami thing." Responses included a line of T-shirts featuring the "Ching-chong" slur, with all proceeds going to Red Cross relief for the tsunami. Over 40 percent of the school's 36,000 students are Asian American and Pacific Islanders. The Sacramento Bee wrote, "The students [she] mocked can inspire resentment, jealousy and fear—the kindling of ethnic slurs— because their success is about achievement and a pathway to status." UCLA deemed the video offensive and called it "repugnant". The student later wrote to The Daily Bruin, issuing an apology to "the entire UCLA campus". The New York Times published an editorial criticizing the video, but supporting her First Amendment right to free speech. Several days later, UCLA announced it would not discipline the student, but she withdrew from the university. AsianWeek wrote that "any negatives [the student] experienced are just a fraction of what Asian Americans have experienced since coming to America."
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