Friday, January 24, 2014

1894 Year of the Wooden Horse

The Chinese Wooden Horse
By Alison Bruce

February 6, 1894 was the first day of a Year of the Wooden Horse. Twelve years previous, May 6, 1882, in the year of the Water Horse, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed and not repealed until December 1943.

Chinese immigrants were encouraged come to America to work on the railroads and mining. In China, the United States was also known as Gold Mountain.
In an 1882 diary, Levancia Bent noted that “the Chinese seemed to do everything that our own people wouldn't or couldn't do.” Most of the businesses they started involved little capital and lots of labor. A restaurant owner had only to purchase what he needed for one day; a Chinese laundry service needed only tubs and a washboard, plus a little soap. And unlike many European business owners, the Chinese were willing to cater to all elements of society. By the 1880s, one could find a Chinese restaurant–and probably an apothecary shop–in every red-light district from Alaska to Guatemala.

More so than most immigrants, the Chinese kept to themselves. Little Chinatowns cropped up wherever there was a significant Chinese population. They included at least one boardinghouse for railway and domestic workers, a restaurant, apothecary and a laundry which primarily served the non-Chinese workers. There also might be a gambling house, bordello and opium den.

Opiates were not illegal at this time so Chinese apothecaries also catered to the white population. One product, Heaven’s Balm, was particularly popular with the ladies for treating the pain of child birth and “that time of the month”.

When the railway was built and the gold rush slowed to a trickle, the smaller Chinatowns disappeared–as did many of the mining towns. Chinese workers moved to larger urban centres and started to compete for industrial jobs. Like women and blacks, Chinese men could be paid less than white men. Herein lies the real source of the “Yellow Peril”.

January 31, 2014 is also the beginning of a Year of the Wooden Horse. The Chinese zodiac has a sixty-year cycle of twelve animals and five elements. (Those of you born in 1954 are also Wooden Horses.) The fact that this is probably not news to you, that you probably know what “year” you were born in (I’m a Dog) or know where to look to find out, speaks to the metaphorical wooden horse of Chinese culture. Instead of hiding soldiers, like the horse in Troy, it has brought us Feng Shui, Szechuan Chicken, Cantonese Noodles and Manderin Duck. (Fortune cookies, on the other hand, are an American invention.) It introduced America to acupuncture, holistic medicine (both practised in the old west) and the ubiquitous Chinese Laundry.

The Horse is traditionally well respected by the Chinese as a means of transportation and representative of speed, progress and romance. In that respect, they are not that different from the cowboy. People born in the year of the Horse are competitive,  freedom loving, and enjoy travel. They are known for being quick tempered and passionate, but also for being good leaders. The year is thought to generally imbue those traits. So, what were some of the highlights of 1894?

Feb 7th - The Cripple Creek miner's strike, led by the Western Federation of Miners, begins in Cripple Creek, Colorado.
Feb 8th - Enforcement Act repealed, making it easier to disenfranchise blacks
Mar 8th - The state of New York enacts the nation's first dog-licensing law. (Well, they couldn't very well do it in the Year of the Dog.)
Mar 12th - In Vicksburg, Mississippi, USA, Coca-Cola is sold in bottles for the first time.
Mar 13th - J L Johnstone of England invents horse racing starting gate
Mar 25th - Coxey's Army of the unemployed sets out from Massillon Oh for Wash
Apr 5th - 11 strikers killed in riot at Connellsville, Penn
Apr 14th - 1st public showing of Thomas Edison's kinetoscope (The first movie - progress which was nothing to be sneezed at except that's exactly what it showed: developer Fred Ott sneezing.)
Apr 20th - 136,000 mine workers strike in Ohio for pay increase
May 11th - American RR Union strikes Pullman Sleeping Car Co
May 15th - 20th Kentucky Derby: Frank Goodale aboard Chant wins in 2:41
May 30th - Bobby Lowe is 1st to hit 4 HRs in 1 baseball game
Jun 17th - 1st US poliomyelitis epidemic breaks out, Rutland, Vermont
Jun 21st - Workers in Pittsburgh strike Pullman sleeping car company
Jun 23rd - The International Olympic Committee is founded at the Sorbonne, Paris, at the initiative of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. (No horse but lots of running involved.)
Jun 25th - American Railway Union under Eugene V Debs goes on strike
Jun 26th - Karl Benz of Germany receives US patent for gasoline-driven auto (horse-power)

Jun 28th - Labor Day established as a federal employees holiday
Jul 2nd - Government obtains injunction against striking Pullman Workers
Jul 4th - Elwood Haynes successfully tests one of 1st US autos at 6 MPH
Jul 4th - Republic of Hawaii proclaimed, Sanford B Dole as president
Jul 6th - Cleveland sends 2,000 troops to Chicago to suppress Pullman strike
Jul 16th - Many negro miners in Alabama killed by striking white miners
Jul 20th - 2000 fed troops recalled from Chicago, having ended Pullman strike
Aug 17th - Phils get 36 hits, Sam Thompson hits for cycle beating Louisville 29-4
Aug 18th - Congress creates Bureau of Immigration
Aug 27th - Congress passes Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, which includes a graduated income tax later struck down by the Supreme Court
Aug 31st - Phillies Billy Hamilton steals 7 bases
Sep 2nd - Forest fires destroy Hinckley Minnesota: about 600 die
Sep 4th - In NYC, 12,000 tailors went on strike protesting sweat shops
Sep 27th - Aqueduct racetrack opens in NY
Oct 17th - Ohio national guard kills 3 lynchers while rescuing a black man
Nov 17th - Daily Racing Form founded
Nov 18th - 1st newspaper Sunday color comic section published (NY World)
Nov 18th - 1st comic strip "Origin of a New Species" by Richard Outcault
Dec 22nd - United States Golf Association forms (NYC)

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