Friday, December 13, 2019

Contemporary Children's Rhymes With The Line "Tryin To Make A Dollar Out Of 15 Cents"

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Update: title change: February 11, 2020

Original title: Contemporary Examples of "Shimmy Shimmy China", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" & Other Non-Racist Children's Rhymes That Have Part Of Their Source In The "Ching Chang Chinaman" Rhyme

As this title indicates, I'm particularly interested in documenting the line "tryin to make a dollar out of 15 cents (or as this rhyme evolved, some larger amount that ends in a five such as "65 cents or 85 cents) in children's rhymes. That line is also found in Hip Hop compositions such as Tupac's "Keep Ya Head Up" and Master P's "Tryin’ to Make a Dollar Out of 15 Cents".

This is Part II of a two part pancocojams series focuses on the racist children's rhyme entitled "Ching Chang Chinaman" and how it evolved to certain non-racist children rhymes.

Part II presents some text examples and a few YouTube videos of contemporary non-racist rhymes such as "Shimmy Shimmy China", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", and "Down Down Baby I Know Karate". My position is that the words to these rhymes partly come from the racist "Ching Chang Chinaman" rhyme.

Click for Part I of this pancocojams series. Part I of this series presents the history of, early examples of, and comments about the racist rhyme entitled "Ching Chang Chinaman".

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of the videos that are embedded in this post.

Most of these notes were written in 2013 and included in the pancocojams post "Anti-Asian Rhymes - I Went To A Chinese Restaurant"

I consider the "Ching Chang Chinaman" rhymes to be anti-Asian because their words and/or accompanying actions mock or insult Chinese people and other people of East Asian descent.

In contrast, the rhymes that are showcased in this post have nothing whatsoever to do with Chinese people or other Asian people, except for the referent to "karate" (which is usually pronounced "kah-RAH-tay" to rhyme with "bo-day" "body").

Based on my conversations with and observations of African American girls in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who performed the rhyme "Shimmy Shimmy China" (I Know Karate), my conclusion is that the word "China" in that rhyme is a girl's name, at least for those group of girls. I should note that a female student in the same school as these girls was named "China".

Here's some general statements about some of these examples

"Ching Ching China", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", "Shimmy Shimmy China", "Choo Choo Charlie" and other similarly titled playground rhymes are partly adaptations of the anti-Asian rhyme "Ching Chong Chinaman". However, in spite of their source (which few children or adults are aware of), the contemporary rhymes with that title aren't offensive.

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 and first line of these rhymes or were told to change those words to another alliterative title and 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 children's rhyme "Down Down Baby, I Can Do Karate" and that rhyme is a variant form of the children's rhyme "Shimmy Shimmy Co Co Pa" (or similar sounding words).

Note the similarities between lines in these rhymes and the rhyme "Down Down Baby I Can Do Karate".

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 names that have been given to African American females since the 1970s. The name "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 a girl's name and not the name of that Asian nation. Note that other place names such as "Asia", "Kenya", "Sahara" are also very familiar African American female names (since at least the 1980s).

Compared with some other examples of this "family of children's rhymes", versions of "Down Down Baby I Can Do Karate" don't have any lyrics from "Ching Chang Chinaman" rhymes. The example given below with the beginning word "Monchichi" also doesn't have the "sitting on the fence/trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents" words. as Since Americans associate karate with Asians, the only connection between those contemporary rhymes and that much older anti-Chinese racist rhyme is the "I can do karate" line.

Compared with other examples of this "family of children's rhyems" that I've come across, the rhyme examples which begin with the words "Chinese checkers" also have only a small amount of material from the "Ching Chang Chinaman" rhymes. While those examples retain a referent to "China" with the words "Chinese checkers" [the name of a children's board game played with marbles), they don't have the "sittin on the fence/tryin to make a dollar out of 55 cents [or some amount of money less than one dollar.]

Excerpt for multiple versions, these examples are given in relative chronological order based on the year they were collected (either directly by me or retrieved online) or the year that they were published online.

Numbers are added for referencing purposes only.

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.
-African American boys & girls , around ages 6-10 years, (Duquesne, Pennsylvania), 1998, collected by Azizi Powell, 1998
I've seen this rhyme performed [In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and adjacent communities] as a partner handclap routine with some corresponding movements* or just sung with corresponding movements. The words "karate" and "sorry" are pronounced so that they rhyme (kah-RAH-tay" and "sor-ray"). That pronunciation points to African American origin of these rhymes.

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, African American girls who I interviewed who performed this rhyme considered the word "China" to be a girl's name and not the nation's name.

*I've never seen any children do "karate" movements when they said this word, but I'm sure that those kinds of movements are sometimes done with this rhyme.

this is one we did in school
chitty chitty bang bang
chitty chitty bang bang im sitting on a fence trying to make a
dollar but all i can do is holler she missed she missed she
missed like this she missed she missed she missed like
this chitty chitty bang bang i can do karate chitty
chitty bang bang i can hurt somebody chitty chitty
bang bang opps im sorry
-mariah; Cocojams, 2/26/2009 [Cocojams was the name of my no longer active cultural website.]
This example was written in run on sentences. That writing style is quite common with people under forty years old who text, and who write on the internet. I thnk that's because speed is much more highly values than following grammatical rules or spelling correctly.

mariah spelled the word "chitty" with an "s". I took the liberty to substitute that letter with a "c" because I wanted to ensure that that website was available in educational facilities which might block access because of "bad" words.

Down, down baby.
I know karate.
Down, down baby,
I can shake my body.
Down, down baby,
I can call my mommy.
Oops! I’m so sorry *
Down, down baby,
to the front,
to the back,
to the side, side, side **
Watch me do the butterfly ***
-Teneisha (African American female, 11 years) and Antoinette (African American female, 10 years); Pittsburgh, PA., 1999, collected by Azizi Powell
* both girls simultaneously “accidentally” tap each other player on the forehead
** to the beat, both girls jump to the front, then to the back, then to the right, then to the left, and back to the right
*** both girls do “the butterfly”, a hip wiggling Caribbean derived R&B dance that was popular around 1994.
"Down Down Baby I Can Do Karate" is a variant form of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "Down Down Baby". A "sanitized" version of this rhyme was popularized by its inclusion on a segment of Sesame Street "Elmo's World" (an American television series for toddlers and pre-schoolers). That version of ""Down Down Baby I Can Do Karate" is found below.

Down down baby I can do karate.
Down down baby I can cut salami.
Down down baby I can call my mommie.
Down down baby I can shake my body.
Down down baby OOPS I'M SORRY. [hit the other persons head.]

Posted by: Shalala,, December 08, 2008
This was posted as a comment to an article about memories of children's rhymes. WARNING: One example of another rhyme on that page contains profanity.

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)

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 blog is no longer active]
The name "Choo Choo Charlie" probably came from the 1960s or so "Good n' Plenty television commercial which included the jingle about a little boy pretending he was an train engineer. The jingle goes "Choo Choo Charlie was an engineer/ ????. The chorus was "Charlie says "Love my Good n' Plenty"/ Charlie says "Really rings my bell"/Charlie says "Love my Good n' Plenty"/ "Don't know any other candy that I love so well".

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", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", "Shimmy Shimmy China", "Choo Choo Charlie" and other similarly titled playground rhymes are adaptations of the anti-Asian rhyme Ching Chong Chinaman. However, in spite of their source (which few children or adults are aware of), the contemporary rhymes with that title aren't offensive.

Example #8 & 9
from Long lost "ditty"; my dad used to sing this old ditty about a smart China man...

a. Storbakken, 2014
"I learned "Little Tommy Tuckerbutt sitting on a fence. Trying make a dollar out of 15 cents. Hands in his pockets, pockets in his pants. Trying to teach a chicken, the Hula Hula dance."

b. kathy, 2015
"This was a "patty cake" singsong that went with a series of progressively complex hand claps or hops...Chicka chicka china sitting on a fence, trying to make a dollar out of 59 cents he ",,,", "..." just like this"
This commenter in that discussion thread referred to these rhymes being performed while playing jump rope:
Paul, 2016
"The song was common with young kids. and sung during a game of jump rope. You would sing it to the rythum of the rope spinning as two friends held the rope while you jumped."

This concludes Part II of this two part pancocojams series.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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