Chinese Launderer
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Basic Information

Prior to the invention and mass production of modern laundry machines, doing laundry was a lengthy, hot, dirty and tiring chore. Naturally, many people turned to professional launderers to get the job done. In The Wild West, many of these launderers were Chinese in origin. Racist laws and customs prevented Chinese immigrants from many other occupations. At one point, Chinese immigrants operated 89% of the laundries in San Francisco, and had a strong presence in other cities and towns.

In most fiction, the Chinese launderer is depicted as a Funny Foreigner, or other stereotype.

Chinese Launderers sometimes have bit parts in Detective Stories set in the appropriate time period (generally up through the early 1950s), due to the use of laundry marks to identify where a piece of clothing has been.



Game and Story Use

  • Aside from the literal application of this Western Character trope, you could use it in a slightly more abstract manner. Laundry, or some other "dirty work" could be used to show the social castes separating various cultural or racial groups in a campaign. Paralleling the discriminatory laws of the 19th Century in another setting would allow you to address the issue of racism in your campaign in a slightly less direct way. I mean, if humans treat each other so poorly, what would the various races of your standard fantasy world do?
    • Consider giving the role of stereotypical launderers to specific races or other ethnic groups. How about, say, halflings? Giving one of your cultures such an economic/social niche can be a nice bit of color.
  • Even the manliest (and no doubt smelliest) cowboy has to get his britches cleaned from time to time. The laundry shop may be a colorful location for filler scenes or random encounters that have a different feel from other places or scenes in The Western.
    • Or a place for clue dropping. The PCs first indication that something bad is going might be when the Meek Townsman in line ahead of them drops off a load of bloodstained clothing.
  • A laundry is also a really good front for all sorts of covert activities - after all, bundles and packages come in and out with bewildering frequency - add in a (fairly alien) language with a completely alien written form and the security of the cover is increased. A triad could easily distribute recreational drugs (for example) using a laundry as cover but large enough bundles can even move people quite easily.
    • For example, a ship from the far east docks in SanFran and, unsurprisingly, lands large bundles of dirty laundry into the wagons of a waiting Chinese launderer. These contain illicit imports that are then subdivided and sold to downstream customers in the bundles of laundry that they collect from the launderer's store front. Any actual laundry that gets done may be coincidental.
    • As a cash business, this operation may launder money as well as clothes.
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