They are good, but we are better.

A brief clip in an 1889 issue of Our Dumb Animals describes a dinner conversation where a man tried to argue that the Japanese “are a more civilized people than the Americans,” based on the following scenario:

“[I]f, in a Japanese city, one picks up a stone to throw at a dog the dog does not run, because he has never had a stone thrown at him, and does not know what the action means. Manifestly, if such a state of universal gentleness and kindness prevails in Japan that not even a stone is thrown at a dog by a boy, there must be a very high and thorough civilization, permeating all classes of the population.”

It’s hard to imagine this American tourist in Japan ambling along the foreign streets, and thinking it a good idea to pick up a rock to “test” a stray dog’s reaction. It’s also hard to imagine that a dog (albeit one that has never been abused) wouldn’t recognize a stranger’s menacing attempt to hurl a projectile at him. The test, in short, seems flawed.

Still, the main point seems to be to goad American readers into feeling ashamed at the idea that the “little Jap” might surpass us in humaneness and civilization. Just in case this would offend some reader, the brief clip closes by gloriously appropriating for European-Americans the highest laurels:

“it is a significant fact that it was reserved for our own European-American civilization to introduce the completest refinement of cruelty to animals.”

To get a sense of how the Japanese were regarded around the turn of the century:




“Japanese Civilization.” Our Dumb Animals 22.6 (Nov. 1889).

Image from:

Mackay, Isabel E. “The Jingle of the Little Jap.” St. Nicholas 34 (May 1907).

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