In the Chinese Village

Red Tie

While searching for the name of the artist who created this illustration, I determined that it is set in Chicago, in 1893, in the Chinese Village at the World’s Columbian Exposition (home of the first Ferris Wheel, which you can see in the background with other glimpses of “The White City”). It has been suggested that Dean Cornwell is the artist, but I don’t know for sure. Nor do I know what the young man with the red tie is up to, although he may be taking the young lady to have her fortune read, in which case the article below would be relevant:

“One of the interesting features of the Temple of China at the World’s Fair is Professor Tong Li Hin, the famous fortune-teller. Professor Hin, according to a bulletin posted over his learned head, is qualified to give accurate information upon the following topics: 1. When death will come. 2. Lucky or unlucky. 3. Successful in business or note. 4. Poor or rich. 5. Curable or incurable. 6. If successful in marriage and when. 7. Family or not.

“The Chinese method of fortune-telling possesses advantages over others in that it is simple and sure. Professor Hin is a solemn gentleman of impassive countenance, whose expression changes not as he interprets the book of fate. He wears iron-bound spectacles, the glasses of which are the size of an ordinary watch crystal. He is installed behind a plain wooden table, upon which are a vessel containing a score of flat sandal wood sticks, about the size of a lead pencil, and the awful book in which the future is written in double rows from the top to the bottom of the mystic pages. He wears a silk cap, shaped like one of his native pagodas, and his venerable pig-tail trails upon the floor behind his chair, offering inducements which many a small boy has with difficulty resisted.

“Beside the professor sits another Chinaman of more jovial appearance, acting as interpreter and business manager to the sage, who cannot speak English and despises money – the one in inverse ratio to the other. Before the assistant fortune-teller is a long strip of coupons, each valued at ten cents and good for one interview with destiny. These coupons, upon being torn off and used, are put into a locked box, upon which incense is burning, lending to the situation an atmosphere of asthmatic Orientalism and mystery.

“When the venturesome one who would penetrate the future comes before Professor Hin, having previously paid 10 cents to propitiate the gods – and the stockholders of the company – he is bidden to take six sticks separately from the vase and had them to the fortune-teller. To take the six sticks at once would indicate that the mortal was rash and desired to rush upon his fate, a human characteristic that prejudices destiny against him and tends to make Professor Hin hustle – a process to which that gentleman has hereditary objections. Each of these six sandal wood sticks, drawn at random from the vase, is numbered, and the fortune-teller carefully records these numbers upon a slip of brown paper.

“Then the subject is asked to look at the bulletin above the Professor and decide which of the seven topics indicated he will have light upon. Obtaining this information, Professor Hin fearlessly opens the dread book, and going through the motions of writing a laundry ticket with the same ostensible results, upon the slip of brown paper, he hands it over to his assistant, who interprets it to its subject. There is no possibility of making a mistake in Professor Hin’s method, because the numbers on the sticks correspond to pages in the book, and an error can only occur through gross carelessness, of which the Professor is incapable.

“There is an additional value to the destinies hidden in Professor Hin’s book: It contains no evil future for anybody. The professor averages about 150 fortunes a day, and, so far, they have all been good ones.”

— “Fortune-Telling à la Chinese” in The Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality, October 18, 1893

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2 thoughts on “In the Chinese Village

  1. The artist is actually Walt Louderback, though the publication of this painting is unknown (as far as I know). His brushwork is similar to Dean Cornwell, so the confusion is understandable, but he was born in 1887, and was ranked amongst the best magazine illustrators in his day around the 1920s. Sadly, he’s obviously not too well known today, possibly because he left illustration in the late 1920s to pursue his own personal work, which had a very different style compared to his illustrations (mostly watercolors, and more cubist). I’m curious, if you remember, where’d you come by this image?

    • Thank you so much for the clarification. I don’t recall where I found this, but it was not in a magazine, because I would have included the relevant text and credited Louderback. But This gets me closer!

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