Friday, July 12, 2013

Examples Of Anti-Asian References In Children's Playground Rhymes

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information about and examples of the "Ching Ching Chinaman" 'family' of English language playground rhymes. Those rhymes include definite or possible Anti-Chinese references, and by extension, anti-[East] Asian references.

The examples which are the focus of this post include the verse "Ching ching Chinaman sittin on a fence/tryin to make a dollar out of 15 cents" or words that are similar to that verse. Examples of rhymes in this category include such titles (first lines) as "Ching Ching Charlie", "Choo Choo Charlie", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", and "Shimmy Shimmy China". It's important to note that all rhyme examples with these first lines do not contain anti-Asian content.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, sociological, and cultural purposes. Unfortunately, by no means are the rhymes sampled here the only English language playground rhymes that include stereotypical Asian references. Some versions of the widely known handclap rhyme "I Went To The Chinese Restaurant" contain those images and other stereotypical racial images.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Click for a companion post on this subject.

WARNING & DISCLAIMER: This post includes racially pejorative referents for the purposes of this post. I don't condone the use of such references for other purposes.

"Ching ching" is a form of the derogatory phrase "Ching chong". Here's information about that phrase from
"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 do not 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.[3]

...In 1917, a ragtime piano song entitled "Ching Chong" was co-written by Lee S. Roberts and J. Will Callahan.[4] 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."

[revised 2/16/2015]

"Ching Chong Charlie" or "Ching Ching China"
These alliterative titles are clear adaptations of the "Ching Chong Chinaman" title/first line but with the socially correct name "Charlie" replacing the racial referent "Chinaman".

"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"
This title (first line) reflects the popularity of the book and the 1968 musical "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". Click for information about this subject.

It's likely that some children changed this title (first line) or were told to change to another alliterative title (first line) because of its close similarity to the profanity word "sh&t".

"Choo Choo Charlie"
These words continue the practice of using alliterative "ch" words for the title & lines of these rhymes. The name "Choo Choo Charlie" may have come from 1950s "Good n' Plenty candy television commercials which featured the jingle about a little boy whose nickname wa "Choo Choo Charlie" who pretended he was a train engineer. Click for a clip of that jingle.

"Shimmy Shimmy China"
Shimmy Shimmy China is a variant form of the rhyme "Down Down Baby, I Can Do Karate" and that rhyme is a variant form of "Shimmy Shimmy Co Co Pa" (or similar sounding words).

Given that the martial arts "karate" originated in an Asian culture (Japan), the reference to "China" that follow that title/first line may be an example of conflating or mixing up of two Asians cultures. While the words constitute bragging about doing karate, conflating and/or mixing up two Asian cultures is still problematic.

The words "shimmy shimmy" in this title/line were undoubtedly influenced by the words of the widely known children's rhyme "Shimmy Shimmy Coco Pa". However, in the rhyme "Shimmy Shimmy China" (and not the title/line "Shimmy Shimmy Co Co Pa") those words may be a folk etymology form of the words "ching ching".

I believe that the word "China" in this alliterative title/line refers to a female and not to the Asian nation of China. In the almost entirely African American school (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) where I collected this rhyme example, there was one female student whose name was "China".

The name "China" fits the structure and sound of many contemporary, "African" & "Arabic" sounding* African American (usually) female names in that "China" has two syllables and ends with an "ah" sound. Also, the name "China" fits the aesthetic preference for names with the "Sh" ("Ch") beginning sound.** Consequently, I think it's relatively easy for African Americans to assume that the name "China" is another multi-cultural name for a girl. Note that "Asia" is a very familiar African American female name (post 1980),

*I wrote "African" and "Arabic" in quotations because many of these names aren't traditional African or Arabic names, but are purposefully or accidentally based on or influenced by what African Americans think African/Arabic names sound (and are spelled) like.
**Examples of popular contemporary African American names which include the "sh" or "ch" sound as a prefix: For example "Shontae"/"Chantay" and as a suffix: For example: "Keisha".

These names have multiple spellings. "Shontae" is usually female, but examples can be found of males with this name. "Keisha" is a female name. Among its common variants is "Mykeisha" and "LaKeisha."

(These examples are presented in chronological order based on the date of their collection or their internet posting, with the oldest examples given first.)

Example #1:
Ching ching Chinaman (* Also, 'Tattletale, tattletale' *)
Sitting on a fence
Trying to make a dollar
Out of fifteen cents.
He missed, he missed like this.

Source: Abrahams (1969)
This and other examples on this page are probably from Abrahams’ “Jump Rope Dictionary”. No performance instruction is given for this example other than that it's chanted while jumping rope.

Example #2:
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Sittin on a fence.
Tryin to make a dollar
out of 15 cents
She missed, she missed, she missed like this.*
She missed, she missed, she missed like this.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
I can do ka-ra-te.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!
I can hurt somebody.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!
Oops! I’m sorry.
-Black boys & girls , around ages 6-10 years, (Duquesne, Pennsylvania), 1998, collected by Azizi Powell, 1998

*Boys said "he" instead of "she".

On the words "Oops, I'm so sorry, each handclap partner pretends to slap or to punch the other one. The girls or boys lean back so that they won't be touched by the other person. While they sang the words "She missed she missed etc, the children did criss cross jumps. At the end of the rhyme if your feet weren't side by side, you were out. * Boys said "he" instead of "she". See "Ching Chong China" on this page and "Shimmy Shimmy China" for examples of very similar rhymes. (However, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" may not have been performed the same way as these other two rhymes. Also, see my comments about the word or the name "China" that I posted below.

*I've seen children do imitative movements such as karate moves to this rhyme in videos, but not in my direct observation.

Example #3:
Choo Choo Charlie Sitting on a bench ...
Tryin to make a dollar outta 15 cents
he missed he missed he missed like this...

Its one of those clap games....did it when i was in 2nd or 3rd grade
-brittanie; Octoblog, December 4, 2005 [This website is no longer available]

Example #4:
Shimmy Shimmy China
I can do karate
Shimmy Shimmy China
Oops I'm so sorry.
Shimmy Shimmy China
Sittin on a bench
Tryin to make a dollar
Out of 65 cents
She* missed
She* missed
She missed like this like this like this.
-various African American girls & boys; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and surrounding communities & Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 1990s

*Boys who chanted this rhyme said "he".

Example #5:
Ching Ching China
Sitting on a bench,
Tried to make a dollar
Out of 65 cents.
She did it, she did it
She did it like this...

(you had to jump w/ this one. first feet apart, then legs crossed, then feet apart again (on and on) and if you landed on "this" with your feet apart, you were a boy, and if your legs were crossed, you were a girl :o )
-Grace Kim, ; 12/17/2005


"Ching ching China sittin on a fence
Tryin to make a dollar out of a 15 cents"

Given that playground rhymes & old songs about Chinese were almost always uncomplimentary, I sense that that "tryin to make a dollar out of 15 cents" doesn't refer to those men being resourceful in how they stretch what little money they have.

One meaning for this verse was suggested in this Mudcat discussion about American rhymes & songs that referenced Chinese people:

I haven't heard the term "Chink" in 40 years. And would not hear it without speaking up. In my childhood we recited:

Ching Ching Chinamen
Sittin' on a fence
Trying to make a dollar out fifteen cents.

Nasty little bit of racist ridicule of a foreigner trying to make sense of our money and appearing to be a cheat in the process"...
-Sinsull,, 10 Mar 06 - 01:04 PM
"Origins: Chink a Boo Man"
*Update: 2/17/2015:
I just read a post by an Asian American blogger who wrote that "As a child, I experienced being called a “chink” and having teachers mispronounce my name and classmates taunt me with nonsensical “ching chong ding dong” sounds, just like Eddie did."...
"Eddie" is a boy who is one of the main characters in a new ABC television series about Asian immigrants "Fresh Off The Boat". That comment strongly suggest that that pejorative referent and those offensive sing song sounds are still being used to taunt Asian children.
-end of update-
The words "being a cheat in the process" carries with it the implication that these men were scheming, gambling, or otherwise engaged in some illegal or at least some lower class activity that would enable them to increase the money that they started out with. have.

Furthermore, the "sitting in the bench (or sitting on the fence) line may imply that the men were just lazing away their time instead of engaging in legitimate work like "regular Americans" do. Therefore, this line was probably meant to be part of an insult or demeaning reference to Asians.
In other contexts, the line "tryin to make a dollar out of 15 cents, can refer to "stretching" what little money a person has so that it can go further.

Click for a pancocojams post about the 1993 Hip-Hop song "Keep Ya Head Up" by Tupac. That song includes the line "tryin to make a dollar out of 15 cents" which I believe, in part,has that "stretching a little bit of money so that it might go further" meaning.

Warning: Another song by Tupac also includes the line "tryin to make a dollar outta 15 cents". There also is a Hip-Hop song by another artist which has that line as its title. Unlike the "Keep Ya Head Up" song, I consider both of those songs to be inappropriate for children in part because of their sexual references/inferences.

There are a lot of derogatory words and- in the case of Asian references-accompanying pejorative mimicking actions) in children's rhymes. It's important that children know that these words and actions are hurtful, even if the intent is not to insult, demeen, or cause anyone any hurt.

Thanks to those whose contributed examples are featured in this post. Thanks also to those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publisher of videos which are featured in this post.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Ching, chong, Chinaman, sittin’ on a fence/
    Triyin’ to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.

    by young (7-9 year old) children, while playing -
    possibly jumping rope or even while playing jacks
    in Riverside, California circa 1950.
    Riverside had previously had a "Chinatown", but I
    understand that it tragically disappeared.

    1. Nasa Blake, thanks for sharing your memory of that rhyme along with demographics.