Hop Sing

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Victor Sen Yung as Hop Sing

Hop Sing is the fictional Cartwright family's cook on the US television series Bonanza which ran on the NBC network from 1959 to 1973. US-born actor Victor Sen Yung played the character, who was a Chinese immigrant.

A servile character named Hop Sing first appeared as a laundryman in 1876, in Bret Harte's play Two Men of Sandy Bar. Folklorist Wolfgang Mieder cites his comically accented Pidgin English diction as the likely source for the proverbial ethnic slur, "No Tickee, no Washee". Although in his considerably toned down reincarnation as a TV character, the character of Hop Sing still incorporated some Chinese-American stereotypes, such as being a servant, he is not commonly cited as an offensive use of an Asian (known as Oriental at the time) character. The Chinese were historically marginalized in the labor market of the American west into niches where they would not compete with Caucasians. Marlo Thomas was once cast as a militant Chinese woman. Some prominent Asian-Americans, such as Benson Fong, would also appear on Bonanza.

The character had to deal with bigotry on occasion. In "Shanklin" episode #409, he is repeatedly referred to by a Confederate doctor as "yellow", to which a Cartwright states, "He's not a yellow, he's Chinese".

During the western's fourteen-year run, just two episodes centered on the character. The first episode, #316 was "Mark of Guilt" which dealt with Hop Sing clearing Little Joe of a murder charge via the ancient science of fingerprinting- or, as Hop Sing termed it, "chops". The second episode, #404 was "The Lonely Man", which chronicled legal biases against Asians, when Hop Sing unlawfully gets engaged to a white woman.

Throughout the series Hop Sing was a faithful, considerate character. The Cartwrights considered him almost family, with Hoss virtually in tears whenever the cook threatened to resign. When riled, he is often heard spouting Chinese expletives, but otherwise, Hop Sing's presence was a source of common sense. He once used martial arts to assail a threatening family foe ("Stage Door Johnnies", 7/28/68).

In 2001-02, the character was revived in David Dortort's PAX-TV prequel, Ponderosa. The depiction of Hop Sing here, played by Gareth Yuen, was quite different from the original series, where he was sometimes used as a comic figure wielding a butcher knife. The glaring pidgin English was replaced with a softer, wiser delivery. Hop Sing was depicted as a trusted family counselor and herbal healer.


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