Plain Language From Truthful James "We Are Ruined By Chinese Cheap Labor"

Bret Harte

"We Are Ruined By Chinese Cheap Labor"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This humorous dialect poem, also known as "The Heathen Chinee," produced Bret Harte's great surge of popularity and resulted in his leaving the West, where he had won his original fame, for the East, where he accepted an offer to write for the Atlantic Monthly. The poem, subtitled "Table Mountain, 1870," describes how Truthful James and Bill Nye invite Ah Sin, a Chinese laborer, of whom there were many in the West, to join them in a game of euchre. Ah Sin, who smiles pensively and like a child, says he does not understand the game. Bill Nye and Truthful James intend to cheat the poor Chinese, for the cards are stacked, and Bill Nye's sleeve conceals a supply of extra aces and bowers. Despite their efforts to cheat him, Ah Sin gains many more points.

At last Ah Sin goes too far, putting down the same jack that Bill Nye had already dealt, dishonestly, to Truthful James. In the melee that follows, twenty-four jacks fall from Ah Sin's copious sleeve, and his fingernails are discovered to be coated with wax, for help in manipulating the cards. When the two white men discover they have been over-reached, Bill Nye makes his ironic comment:
Then I looked up at Nye,
And he gazed upon me;
And he rose with a sigh,
And said, "Can this be?
We are ruined by Chinese cheap labor,"–
And he went for that heathen Chinee.
In the scene that ensued
I did not take a hand,
But the floor it was strewed
Like the leaves on the strand
With the cards Ah Sin had been hiding,
In the game "he did not understand."