That Chinese (???) -sounding riff

Firstly, I only think it’s Chinese; I apologize if I’m wrong.

It’s that little ditty like what you hear in “Kung Fu Fighting”—DA da-da DA DA da da DAAAAAH. It sounds pentatonic to this amateur ear.

I suppose that this is similar to what was identified here a while back as “Streets of Cairo”; you’ll hear it in cartoons and what-not. What is it?

I know what you are talking about. There was a variation of it used in Blade Runner. I don’t know, but I guess that it stems from the old Charlie Chan movies.

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:

(GOOONNNNGG) deetle deetle deet deet dah dah deet!

Is it the riff from “I’m Turning Japanese”?

Go here and play E, E, E, E, D, D, B, B, D

Don’t forget to play each note with it’s fourth for the true “oriental” melody!
I don’t mean to be offensive and apologize if my use of “oriental” in this context is bad.

Could it be the overture from The Mikado?

Sound sample here

If you have iTunes, you can hear a clip of “Kung-Fu Fighting” here (the last track on the album). If it’s the riff I think it is, you can hear it in the backing tracks.

I always assumed that, like fortune cookies, this was a “Chinese” thing that was created in America. I don’t recall hearing that exact riff in my Asian music class back at St. Olaf… :slight_smile:

I read one review that described that riff as “teriyaki-flavored.”

Fortune cookies were invented in the staes? That’s interesting. Do you have a site for that? I’d like to know more.

Puffy (AmiYumi, not P-Diddly) also used it in the opening of their first hit Asia no Junshin, to start the song on a non-Japanese note.

Japan’s part of Asia? Try telling people here that.

This site will tell you all you need to know about the fortune cookie.

Not only is it not authentically Chinese, it also isn’t authentically Chinese-American. It was invented by a Japanese-American restauranteur for his Japanese Tea Garden.

I posted this same question about a year ago and no one could answer it then either. Maybe the Master himself should be invoked.

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.

If you do have a piano. or even that online one, just play the black keys and it’s easy to bang out some “Asian” sounding or “Nativie American” sounding “music”.


I was reading this thread, and the (older one on the same subject. Then half an hour later I stumbled upon this weird Betty Boop cartoon on YouTube.

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)):

rhythm: dee-dee-dee-dee-duh-duh-dee-dee-dee-dee-duh-duh
melody (C major/A minor): d-d-d-d-c-c-a-a-a-a-c-c

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.

Would this be the same riff used by Rush in “A Passage to Bangkok?”

Previous thread on (and somewhere around) this subject.

I think the instrument playing this riff is always a flute, but I’m not sure…

That is the one.
AND, it goes without saying that the only thing about the riff that anybody needs to know is that Rush played it. Know this, and know it well.


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.

For a resumé of my findings see my post in another old thread in GQ on the same subject. (I hope that it is not considerered a major annoyance to post in both forums like this: both threads already existed.)