Ching Chow, up to his usual antics. Artist: Stanley Link.


Original medium: Newspaper panel
Distributed by: The Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1927
Creators: Sidney Smith and Stanley Link
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Ching Chow, a daily newspaper panel, is the sort of syndicated cartoon feature that isn't likely to be duplicated today, for two reasons. First and most obvious, it displayed the sort of racial stereotype that's been out of fashion in …

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… America for decades. But even if were modified to eliminate that, it was a type of cartoon that was popular a long time ago, but has fallen entirely out of favor — a single newspaper column wide, with a single character, wise in the ways of homespun philosophy, dispensing one-liners purporting to impart words to live by. The genre started in 1904 with Kin Hubbard's Abe Martin, and the form was picked up by Aunt Het, Flapper Fanny and more. Ching, who started in 1927 and was seen at least as recently as 1980, was its longest-lasting practitioner.

Sidney Smith was the "name" partner in the team that created Ching, because he was famous as the man behind The Gumps, one of the most popular comics of the time. The other, Stanley Link (the "produce the content" partner), worked as his assistant, but later became known for creating the popular Tiny Tim. The panel was distributed by The Chicago Tribune/New York Daily News Syndicate, which also did even more popular comics, including Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley and Terry & the Pirates.

With a round face, a long queue sticking straight up from his head and a hugely toothy grin, Ching Chow was the very epitome of a stereotyped chinaman from right about then. He imparted his wisdom-packed one-liners in the style of a fortune cookie, but sometimes with what passed at the time for a slightly more "Asian-ized" accent. Often, they were prefaced by "It is truly written", "It is wisely said", or some similar faux attribution. Sometimes he self-effacingly took credit himself with "In my useless opinion" or spread it around widely with "Who can deny …".

Ching wasn't quite so visually static as a stereotype with a word balloon. He was usually shown in the middle of doing something out of the ordinary — rolling downhill in a barrel, holding a balloon shaped like his own head, staring down a bear, even being crushed under a rock. But with only one panel, readers saw neither how he got into that situation, nor how it came out.

Smith signed the cartoon until his death in 1935. Without a noticeable change in style, Link then began signing it, and continued to do so until his own death in 1957. After that it was signed by Link's former assistant, Will Henry, who isn't known for other work in comics. It ended in 1971, but was revived in '75 by Rocco Lotto and Will Levinson, who are similarly uncredited elsewhere in the field. Over the years, especially after Link's tenure, Ching Chow greadually took on a more modern, mainstream Asian look. But he never did get as mainstream as Blackhawk's Chop Chop.

In recent years, Ching Chow has been accused of hiding a strongly Republican point of vew in his aphorisms during the revival. If so, he was a good deal more subtle about it than, say, Mallard Fillmore. In fact, if it was there at all, the point of view was well hidden indeed. Accusers cite examples from long after the syndicate is documented to have distributed it. Apparently, at least, few official feathers were ruffled — nobody is accusing Ching of having lasted until the Democrats re-took the White House in 1992.


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Text ©2007 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Tribune Media Services.