Although gambling was prohibited in China throughout much of its history, it was nevertheless fairly widespread. Gambling was especially concentrated in the coastal regions under the Qing dynasty. The coastal areas were also the foreign concessions of Canton, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Macao. It goes without saying that the Chinese were not the only ones gambling in these areas. An observer traveling in the opening years of the 20th Century noted, of the westerners in China, that they were Profane, intemperate, immoral, not living among the Chinese, but segregating themselves in foreign communities in the treaty ports, not speaking the Chinese language, frequently beating and cursing those who are in their employ, regarding the Chinese with hatred and contempt,–it is no wonder that they are hated in return and that their conduct has done much to justify the Chinese distrust of the foreigner. The foreign settlements in the port cities of China are notorious for their profligacy. Intemperance and immorality, gambling and Sabbath desecration run riot.
And so it was in these cantonments, where for a long time no women were allowed to live, that foreign sailors and mercenaries and Chinese coolies shared together a common passion: gambling.
In Shanghai, gambling remained illegal and powerful gangs grew up to control the sport. 1930s Shanghai makes Al Capone’s Chicago look like a tame place. The opium dens, gambling hells, and brothels continued to do a terrific business until the Communists took over, at which point they were all shut down, making Shanghai a much safer place in the bargain. Macao, on the other hand, run by the Portugese and thus out of China’s control, decided to legalize gambling in the mid 1800’s and never looked back. As a result of being the only legal harbour for gambling, the concession is now famous for its casino and is known as the “Monte Carlo of the east.”
In Hong Kong the gambling question has always been a hot topic for debate. Hong Kong followed China in the early years of the colony, making gambling illegal, until J. Bowring became the plenipotentiary Governor. He looked to Macao, which recently legalized gambling, and he decided to emulate them. He felt little need in keeping laws that could not be enforced, since everyone was gambling regardless of the law. However, the British parliment soundly rejected any ease in gambling restrictions. Governor Richard MacDonnell tried again, ten years later, in 1867. He started up a licensing system for gaming establishments, mainly to try to stem the corruption and bribes that were flowing freely through the government as a result of the restrictions on the books. Eleven public gaming houses were opened.
These freely open gambling houses did not last long, however, being too much for the home government to bear. Of course, gambling was illegal in England, at least, for the lower classes. The upper classes could and did gamble large sums on games all the time in their private clubs. Parliment was dismayed by the enormous amount of money the license fees generated for the Hong Kong Treasury, ‘the profits of vice’. The tide turned and the gambling houses closed, bringing back the old system of gambling and police corruption.
Eventually, one form of gambling was made legal: betting on horseraces. The Hong Kong Jockey Club makes hundreds of millions of dollars per year through its gambling facilities. Apparently the British have shaken off the disdain they had for ‘the profits of vice,’ since a large slice of the money goes directly to the Hong Kong government. In 1992 it was estimated that 15 percent of total government income from all sources comes from betting. Of course illegal gambling dens continue to flourish. And there are special gambling boats, which pick up passengers in Hong Kong (and Singapore, where gambling is similarly illegal), and pilot out to international waters to gamble free from the constrictive rules of individual countries.
Just as Togel online gambling became prominent in the foreign enclaves of coastal China, a mirror image of this was occuring on the other side of the Pacific. Chinese workers were imported into the United States in great numbers in the years following the civil war, as an alternative to slave labor, to work plantations, and mainly to work on the Trans-Continental railroad. These workers were typically without their families, without much money, and in debt. Although there were many kinds of recreation in the towns that they lived in, linguistic and cultural barriers, as well as racial discrimination, kept the Chinese from enjoying these recreations even if they could afford it. As Chinatowns began to spring up, some distance away from the center of town, gambling games such as the lottery and Fan-Tan provided not only a hope for a sudden windfall of much needed cash, but also provided much needed social cohesion for the community.
One of the earliest popular representations of the Chinese comes from the poem, “Plain Language from Truthful James,” by Bret Harte, published in 1870. The poem is from the point of view of a miner, who with his friend sat down for a game of Eucre with a Chinese worker named Ah Sin. Ah Sin knew nothing about the game, and the miners were going to fleece him for all that he was worth. But it transpires that Ah Sin keeps winning the games, and they realize angrily that Ah Sin is cheating better than they are. Truthful James ends his account:
Which is why I remark,
.. And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark,
.. And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar,–
.. Which the same I am free to maintain.
Bret Harte teamed up with Mark Twain to write a play based on Ah Sin which ran for a year with mixed results. The playbills featured Ah Sin on the cover, balancing an ace on his nose, and holding four more in his hand.