Nick Carter in the Chinese Joint, or, A Bargain in Crime
Nick Carter in the Chinese Joint or A Bargain Crime was published on November 20, 1897 by Street and Smith Publishers, appeared as a part of the Nick Carter Weekly detective series.
Many writers for Street and Smith wrote anonymously as did the writer of Nick Carter in the Chinese Joint. Some of the authors that contributed to issues within this series are A. L. Armagnac, Frederick Russell Burton, O. P. Caylor, Weldon J. Cobb, William Wallace cook, Fredrick W. Davis, Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey, and E. C. Derby. It is important to note that the majority of issues within the New Nick Carter Weekly were written by Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey (Cox 193).
Nick Carter – Lead private detective
Patsy/Alias Lucy Baxter – Second assistant to Nick Carter
Mr. Commodore Terry – President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Bess Burdette – Woman drifter and opium addict
Hop Ah Long – Owner of opium den frequented by Bess Burdette
Sam Ling – Creator and merchant of opium
Sing Lung – Opium merchant
The novel is set in Chinatown, which is in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. A large part of the conflict within the novel takes place in a neighborhood called the Bowery.
The dime novel opens with a plan devised by Nick Carter to go undercover to solve a case in Chinatown. Detective Carter’s second assistant Patsy is disguised as a blonde, sixteen-year-old girl to go undercover; Nick Carter disguises himself as a Chinese man in order to protect Patsy. Patsy gets into a scuffle with Hop Ah Long, owner of an opium den that escalates into a fight with a large mob of Chinese men in the streets of Chinatown. Nick Carter loses Patsy after he is kidnapped by members of the angry mob. Nick rescues Patsy by scaring the Chinese throng with illusionary serpents and escaping from the den while the Chinese men are distracted. The novel closes with the rescue of a young girl who was concealed from view.
The novel rests upon the idea of white male superiority and non-white inferiority. Nick Carter is depicted as being fluent in a complex and ancient language like Chinese. The author goes further with this egotism by stating that “nobody knew the Chinese character better than he.” (24) It is highly unlikely that he would be an expert on their cultural mores and mentality as a white outsider with little interaction with Chinese people in his daily life.
The depiction of the female gender is highly polarized with the description of opium addict Bess Burdette and the descriptions of Patsy’s alias, Lucy Baxter. Upon mentioning Bess’s lack of beauty that is equated with youth, the author sets the character up to be scorned. In addition to no longer being visually appealing according to the male author, she is an “opium fiend.” (Nick Carter in Chinatown 6) These descriptors work to create an easily understood villainess. The usual villain is depicted as ugly and ugliness is strongly tied to being immoral.
On the other hand, Lucy Baxter is the blushing and reticent female and damsel in distress that makes her into the ideal feminine woman. Lucy is “slender and graceful…with the bloom of health upon [her] cheeks and glowing in ruby-redness upon [her] lids.” (3) The action that Lucy Baxter encounters is supposed to be less violent due to the belief that the image of ideal femininity protects her from any harm. When Mr. Terry meets Lucy Baxter, he could not believe that “she should have seen it at all” when referring to her fictional rough past. (4) Her ideal femininity enables the men around her to project their lust, chauvinism and protectiveness onto her.
The Chinese community is depicted as an epicenter of evil. Nick Carter refers to the “dens of horror and infamy in Doyers street” as a way to cement the attitude that their predominantly white society is more superior and moral than that of the Chinese. (4) Casual racism is constantly present with depictions of the Chinese and their language with phrases such as “many magpies”, “the funny way they talk”, and “yellow fiends.” The author also reinforces the idea that Asian people don’t have any individual identifying features by comparing a Chinese man to a non-descript mouse. (17-18) The Chinese men are not depicted as immoral due to criminal activity; these men are depicted as inherently evil. The novel uses its raced portrayal of morality to draw a clear line between who is an ally to the heroes and who is not. Thus, the author maintains any prejudices that either he or the reader might hold. Furthermore, upholding the racist status quo could be thought of as more palatable for the publishers and readers. Confronting and opposing the prejudices of the era would complicate a story written for simple entertainment.
The inherent inferiority and immorality of Chinese people acts as a central theme in Nick Carter in Chinatown. This type of prejudice finds its basis in anti-Chinese sentiment. New York acted as a major hub for incoming people at the famous Ellis Island. Legislative limitations on the nationality of immigrants allowed to enter the United States prevailed in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented the influx of Chinese Immigrants into the United States for over 80 years. (Kil 663) The dismal economic conditions of the United States economy created an atmosphere of anxiety among unemployed white men who felt threatened by these Chinese immigrants. (Chin 9) In the Nick Carter novel, Chinese men are the antagonists that Nick Carter seeks to thwart. The anti-Chinese sentiment within society supports the author’s portrayal of Chinese people as ignorant immoral thugs and therefore justifies ill treatment of Chinese immigrants. Thus, white superiority is reinforced through Nick Carter prevailing over the Chinese criminals within the narrative.
Chin, Philip. "The Chinese Exclusion Act Of 1882." Chinese American Forum 28.3 (2013): 8
13. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.
Cox, Randolph J. Dime Novel Companion: A Source Book. Westport: Greenwood, 2000.
Kil, Sang Hea. "Fearing Yellow, Imagining White: Media Analysis Of The Chinese Exclusion
Act Of 1882." Social Identities: Journal For The Study Of Race, Nation And Culture 18.6 (2012): 663-677. PsycINFO. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.