Man, that is so weird. I was planning on posting this very thing. I always picture it as the opening outdoor shot when a movie is telling you the action is now taking place in China or Hong Kong or so on:
A Question on the origins of a specific tune, as well as mention of Fortune Cookies (being a San Francisco invention) prompted this warning:
Be very leery of internet sites claiming to know the true origin of specific items
Case in point: Google the term “bagels were invented” - and here’s what you get on page 1:
Bagels were invented in 1683 by an anonymous Jewish baker in Austria.
Bagels were invented in the 1500’s by sir john bagelheimer in the German city of Jagerschlager.
bagels were invented by Jewish sailors who wanted a doughy snack
Brooklyn, NY" Bagels. 1683 - Worlds First Bagel.
WARNING! You may find that cartoon offensive or just debased in a multitude of ways, and watching it may be a violation of copyright laws.
So I felt I had to get an account here to tell you about this.
The video is not dated on that page but elsewhere on the Internet it is said to be from 1935 or 1933.
The riff comes in at about 2/3 of the length of the video. At first it features in a slightly variated rhythm (here represented in a formalized version of the “dee-duh notation” (dee=1/8, duh=1/4, DUH=1/2)):
But later it comes in exactly the “modern”, “Kong-Fu Fighting” variant. i.e. when this (vaguely) chinese (i.e. “asiatic”) baby prodigy starts practising shooting on (european?) tin soldiers (thereby demonstrating the extent of the “yellow danger” of the growing asiatic hordes that are trained as soldiers already from the cradle (being scared only perhaps by a jack-in-the-box with a jewish nose). Or am I reading way too much into this cartoon?…), and at the same time that it’s combined with a trumpet fanfare for the militaristic connotation.
So, as user zut mentioned, the intro to the song Chinatown, My Chinatown from 1910 contains a similar theme. And it seems to me that it’s possible that it originated there.
But then there must have been another influential version (let’s call it the “theme Q”) somewhere inbetween 1910 and 1935 that established the “definitive modern form” of the theme, as it appears in the BB cartoon (It is obviously totally impossible that this cartoon was itself that influential).
It is of course also equally possible that even “Chinatown, My Chinatown” is only using an already established cliché.
I am happy to concede that. In fact I am convinced that nobody needs to know anything about this riff at all.
However, I personally become somewhat interested in the question and have during some month done some research on the origin of the riff. I’ve referenced the results on a web page dedicated to the riff that I created.