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The Learned Pig Project

Online Repository of Magic Books and Documents

The Chinese Wizard

Han Ping Chien

Pekin Mysteries

By David P. Abbott
In this wonderful article David P. Abbott gives us an
account of Han Ping Chien's stage act and close-up
performance and the impact they had on him. Han Ping
Chien is the magician from whom we got the Han Ping
Chien move for the coins through the table, still used to
this day and you will read about the huge effect this trick
produced when first shown in David P. Abbott's parlor.
This article shows how the Brotherhood of Magic unites
people of different countries and races under one common
interest.
This article appeared in THE SPHINX of August, 1916,
and February, 1949. Notes by John Braun.

When I saw Ching Ling Foo at the Omaha Exposition some years
ago, I thought his paper-tearing was beyond my comprehension.
[NOTE BY J.B. -- The Trans-Mississippi International Exposition was
held at Omaha, Nebraska, June 1 to October 31, 1898] In fact, as I once
stated in THE SPHINX, it seemed to me that he actually did what he
pretended to do. I, with others, watched an entire evening, and it
seemed to me that the torn paper actually fused together and was spun
out something like a spider spins its web. I could not conceive, after his
continual showing of his hands and fingers during the performance,
that it was mere art.
This also made a deep impression on other performers in the land for
soon after many dealers sold "Ching Ling Foo Paper-Tearing" tricks.
But I can now confidently state that none of them was correct. They
were tricks, but their methods were not Ching Ling Foo's. I had never
hoped to meet a magician from the Orient that would prove to be his
equal, but it has happened. (David P. Abbott's explanation of Ching
Ling Foo's Paper-Tearing Mystery appeared on pages 37-42 of THE
LINKING RING, September 1970 issue.)
Han Ping Chien was at the Orpheurn Theatre in Omaha recently, with
his "Pekin Mysteries Co." (The date was week starting Sunday October
31, 1915. -- J.B.) Needless to say that I, with other magicians of the
city repeatedly attended his performance. I think I can truly say that he
is, in every respect -- at the very least, fully as good and finished a

magician as was the famous Ching Ling Foo. In fact, I doubt if there be
in all China any superior to him. In addition to his magic, he is an allaround showman and has been a juggler, an acrobat, etc., and in these
lines was among the very best. The young men who are with him now,
as I understand it, are really taking instructions in their respective lines
under him. He speaks only a few words of English; but I will say that
he is a good-hearted, whole-souled person and a polished and cultured
gentleman in the bargain. In our present day language, "He is a prince."
He learned his magic from his uncle, who, in turn, learned from his
father. This gentleman had learned from the grandfather, and he from
the great-grandfather, and so on back as far as they can trace which is
some six or seven generations. While many magicians do the same
trick, each has his own method. As he told me, there is nothing new in
China, and all magic is very ancient; but I must say they make up for
lack of newness in the perfection of detail to which they have carried
their art. I have done many tricks and "got by" with them and have
thought that I did some in an artistic and finished manner; but I must
say that when Mr. Han does a trick, it ceases to be a trick and seems to
become a reality -- a miracle, as it were. This is especially true of his
"close work." I may mention here that in Chinese, the names are
reversed, the given names coming last. Hence, in English, we would
call him Ping Chien Han, or P. C. Han.
His "back drop" was a gorgeous piece of Chinese embroidery featuring
two tigers of the jungle. His embroidered robe, as well as those of his
assistants, was simply marvelous. From the moment he stepped on the
stage until his act was finished, one was entranced. He first stepped
forward and played a little solo on a Chinese gong. This, in its
simplicity of rhythm, was really laughable, and when he solemnly
prefaced every trick with the same simple gong solo executed in all
seriousness, the audience was convulsed. I may say that he knew the
humor of the thing himself, but gave no evidence of this to the public.
His tricks on the stage were not very numerous, and I shall describe the
effects. He did the paper-tearing, using a strip of varicolored paper. He
first showed his hands and fingers empty and, taking the paper, he
solemnly tore this apart, saying "Two." Then he placed these together,
tearing their middle again and said, "Four." Again he did it, saying
"Eight;" but the next time, when he tore them, he was at the limit of his
counting ability, so he hesitated and said, "Two Eight," The crowd
roared, and I thought he did it on purpose; but I found out afterwards
that it was not affected, as he simply had not learned to count further in
English.
The assistant now held a clear glass dish, and Mr. Han dropped the
pieces into it, and the assistant poured clear water over them from a
clear glass pitcher. He showed both his hands and fingers thoroughly;
then, taking two chopsticks, he carefully lifted out the wet pieces, took
them in the tips of his fingers, squeezed out the water, and then draw
out the strip restored and dry again, showing fingers and hands when
through.
He again played the gong solo; then, showing a cloth back and front, he

spread it on the stage carpet. Appearing from under it stood a pyramid


of glass aquarium globes two feet high. There were three globes, each
full of water and each nested in the top of the one below it. I may
mention that no floor trap was used in this production.
He next played his gong solo as if summoning the Invisible powers of
the air, and then he took a roll of green ribbon about one and a half
inches wide. Holding the ends, he tossed the roll from him, unrolling it
as he went. It proved to be two strips of ribbon rolled up. He took hold
near the middle, with the tips of the thumb and first finger of each
hand, holding the hands about one foot apart. An assistant now applied
a lighted candle to the middle between the hands, and it took fire,
burning the ribbons in two. He then took all four ribbons in one hand
(the left), and spread the burning ends around over his clenched hand.
He gave the ends of two ribbons to each assistant as they stood one to
each side of him. He next exhibited his right palm and, taking the ends
of the ribbons in it, he exhibited the left palm. He now took the ends in
his left palm and taking a fan from his collar with his right, he
proceeded to fan his left; then, making a rubbing motion with the left
fingers, he released the ribbons, which were again united and fully
restored.
Again he executed the gong solo, and he and his assistants spread the
large cloth on the floor after first exhibiting it, and produced from
under it a number of very large bowls of water and gold fish. I think his
bowls were two feet across and ten inches high. They covered these
again for an instant and vanished them.
He next did a truly fine act with the "Djago" or "Yargo" Sticks after
first regaling the ears with the inevitable gong solo. Of course, to us,
the mystery was not so great in this; but the way he presented it, and
the great amount of Chinese comedy which he and his assistants
worked into it "brought down the house." I may say that, while the
principle is simple, he has some great improvement of his own on the
mechanism.
Again the musical interlude, and he closed with the famous Chinese
Marble Trick. This is a truly wonderful trick. He passed an inch-andone-half size white marble into his anatomy almost anywhere, but it
always came out of his mouth. He showed his mouth open and empty,
then rubbed the marble into one hand. The assistant grew suspicious
and examined the other hand finding nothing, and then examined them
both; and the marble was utterly gone. Then he said while laughing,
"Mouth the marble have;" and in the midst of his laugh, blew it out of
his mouth and caught it. He repeated this over and over with many
variations and much comedy, always showing the mouth empty and
blowing the marble from it without any approach to it of the hands.
He would plainly place the marble on his person anywhere, giving it a
rub and it would be gone, but as he said, "Always the mouth come
out." This, with wonderful juggling and acrobatic work, completed his
stage show.
I sent word to him that I would be pleased to meet him. I hardly

expected a response as I know the reticence of Oriental magicians; but


up he came to my office with several of his troupe. He had an
interpreter with him, and I found them jolly fine fellows. They had not
heard of me, or in fact, of any American magicians in particular, the
reason, I suppose, being their limited English. I accordingly invited
them to my home, and that night showed them my latest creations,
including the Talking Kettle with loud climax; the Skull that works
without mechanical contact; Globe Levitation with all of my latest
effects for it; the Loud Speaking Daylight Trumpet; and my new
Telepathy act and also my Spirit Reading act, both the latter without
signals or sounds.
To say there was some effect on these men who had seen only ancient
magic, is putting it mildly. But I must admit that he got even with me,
when he came to doing close work for me and my friends. I have
witnessed many good tricks, but when I saw him pass a handful of
coins right through my table -- and it apparently was actually done, and
no trick -- my eyes must have stuck out. I had him repeat it three times,
then I telephoned for other magicians to come and help me, but it was
no use. But for his kindness, I would still be wondering. As a sample of
his natural wit, when three of us magicians stood around him to watch
him perform this trick, he pointed to each of us in turn saying, "One
magish, two magish, three magish. Me half magish."
Then he took the Cups and Balls. There is no use for me to try to
describe his truly marvelous effects. I cannot do it. I thought I knew all
of the moves, sleights, passes, etc., and could follow the thing; but after
a number of performances and his kindness in showing me, I gave up
and was satisfied just to watch and be deceived. I asked him how long
it took to accomplish this. He said, "If young, three years -- two hours a
day. If old, "never." So where the back hand palm takes six months,
this classical trick, as he produced it, takes three years. But in his hands
it seemed not to be a trick; and then he said, "No good. Too little." He
meant it could not be seen by a large crowd. I will say, however, that
were it possible to buy the ability to perform it as he does, I would
gladly pay one thousand dollars for the gift.
He showed me the marble work. He did not have the marble with him
so he took an English walnut. He placed it in his mouth between his
teeth, then removed his hands. I looked in his mouth but it was utterly
gone. There was no doubt. It simply was not there. Then he blew it out.
He performed the Linking Rings. He threw the rings from him, and
they returned as hoop-rolling performer's hoops do; and he linked them
as they returned. He threw them in the air and linked them as they fell.
I could see him turning or sliding the key ring around and around in his
work, so that it proved it was no key. He formed all kinds of figures
including an Aeroplane with its propellor, wings, rudder, etc., all
moving and flying along. He never used the three (rings) linked
together at all. Merely used the key, the two linked and three plain
rings, Next, he unlinked over his head, and over his knee, and in his
mouth while he made a strange sound; then suddenly, one ring was
passed through his mouth and out through the cheek, (the while)
howling in Chinese so comically, that, as they say "It would make a
dog laugh." Then he removed it from his mouth and showed it was no

key and right here I tell you this last was an art.
He does the Fire-Eating, and a veritable volcano of fire comes from his
mouth as it did in Ching Ling Foo's case; but at any stage of the trick
he can open his mouth and you may examine the interior by both
feeling and sight, finding it entirely empty; then, without approach of
hands, he will again blow great flames from his mouth. Between flames
you can always see that his mouth is really empty. These are the facts,
and he does not have to eat paper shavings or anything in order to
produce the fire. He merely opens his mouth, permits examination, and
then blows out the flames.
He was so well pleased that he got a "week off " and returned and spent
a week with me and was at my house. It is marvelous how much magic
we managed to go over, with his limited vocabulary of two or three
dozen English words, and with drawings and signs; but we drew
pictures and pointed to objects and got through very well. He took my
new things all to China with him, so that he is the only one in China
who has all my latest things. Ching Ling Foo has a kettle only, and I
think these are all that I shall send into that country.

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