Three Chinese Spacecraft

The collected evidence suggests that the origin of the song lies in the Northeast of the former German-speaking world. The protagonists of the standard version today are three Chinese; this element first appears in a version recorded in 1922 in Tartu, a city in Estonia which until the end of WWII was home to a sizeable minority of Baltic Germans. However, most versions recorded before 1945 feature “Japanesemen” (Japanesen) instead; this variant was first recorded in Pomerania in 1909. The expected word used in German to refer to a native of Japan would be Japaner, but for rhythmic reasons the somewhat outdated Japanesen was usually preferred. In 1913 the first printed version was published in Berlin with the title Drei Japanesen mit ‘nem Bass. Not only the nationality of chatting Asians varies in the early records, but also their number. Thus, a version from Upper Silesia has ten, as well as another from Westphalia, has twenty “Japanesemen”.