Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Last night, as usual, we had Bonanza on the television. My husband was watching the show. I was sewing and listening. That’s because we’ve seen this particular episode at least three times in the last year, maybe more. I knew how it ended.

In this episode, Little Joe was arrested for murder, but at the end he was proved innocent in court—of course, because Little Joe always recovers from all illnesses/accidents/crimes/or other problems.  In this case he was saved when Hop Sing demonstrated how fingerprinting works and proved that Little Joe didn’t handle the murder weapon. Hop Sing claimed that people in his country had been using this technique for years.  

The first time I saw this particular Bonanza, I asked, “Are they for real?” Everyone knows fingerprints weren’t used until Dragnet. (Just kidding.) But seriously, I did wonder if the writers of the show made this up or if they had facts (and “Just the facts”) to back up their story.  

Out came my trusty laptop. I looked it up, and once again the writers of Bonanza didn’t disappoint me. China, in fact, had a lengthy history of using fingerprints (and hand prints).

The earliest example comes from a Chinese document entitled “The Volume of Crime Scene Investigation—Burglary”, from the Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 B.C.). The document contains a description of how hand prints were used as a type of evidence. Chinese officials pressed their fingerprints into clay seals to seal documents. And when the Chinese began to use silk and paper for documents, they used hand prints as a means to make contracts legal. In 851 BC, Abu Zayd Hasan, an Arab merchant in China, witnessed Chinese merchants using fingerprints to authenticate loans.

That means that though the story of Hop Sing, Little Joe, and the fingerprints was fiction, it could have happened. So. . .once again, Bonanza stands up to my research standards.  It’s just too bad that Little Joe never gets a girl. They all either die or move or run away with another man.


  1. Very interesting, Candace. I just did some research on the beginnings of fingerprinting in the US. Seems a woman had a great impact on creating an organized system--can't think of her name right now though.

  2. This is SO interesting!! Thanks for the info, Candice.

  3. I'm going to look that up, Sandra. This topic is fascinating to me.

  4. I actually remember seeing this episode when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I think Hop Sing you called the fingerprints "chops".

    1. Doncha just hate typos? That should be "I think Hop Sing called the fingerprints "chops".


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