[KS] pigtails

Richard Miller rcmiller at students.wisc.edu
Mon Jun 17 10:55:21 EDT 2002

Koen De Ceuster queries:
> My question in fact is related to the specific use of ‘pigtails.’ Does
anybody on the list know where the term originated, whether it was used in
Japan (and by whom), or was it a Western term, that seeped into his
vocabulary through his contact with American diplomats and missionaries?

The term certainly exists in Japanese (tombi) and Chinese, for that matter,
although in Chinese as far as I know it occurs only with reference to
animals like the "pig-tailed macaque" (tunweihou). With reference to Chinese
people, the term seems to pop up in Japanese discourse by the Meiji period,
and probably within that period. (In the Tokugawa period, although Chinese
could be objects of fun through "tojin" impersonation, they were not
generally treated with contempt). A famous example is Fukuzawa Yukichi's
memoirs (1899), in which he exults over Japan's vitory in the Sino-Japanese
war--but as I remember Shiga Shigetaka (1863-1927) supposedly used the
phrase (in English) during a visit to Australia in 1886. That would have
been eight years before the Sino-Japanese war. I'm sure that the term is
older than that in English--Jack Chen's book on the Chinese in America has
examples from the 1870s anti-Chinese polemics in California, for example.
One Asian-American friend of mine says that Darwin mentions "pigtailed
Chinese" in his Origin of Species (1859), but I haven't attempted to verify

If I had to lay money on the question, I would guess that the term is of
English or American origin, picked up by the Japanese and anyone else who
came in contact with them, and spread from there. Yun Ch'iho may well have
picked up the term on his own from contact with the English in Shanghai.


Richard Miller
UW-Madison School of Music

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