The Yellow Peril (also Yellow Terror and Yellow Spectre) is a racist color-metaphor that is integral to the xenophobic theory of colonialism: that the peoples of East Asia are a danger to the Western world. As a psycho-cultural perception of menace from the East, fear of the Yellow Peril was more racial than national, a fear derived, not from concern with a specific source of danger, from any one country or people, but from a vaguely ominous, existential fear of the vast, faceless, nameless horde of yellow people opposite the Western world. As a form of xenophobia, the Yellow Terror is the fear of the rising tide of colored people from the Orient.
The racist ideology of the Yellow Peril is a "core imagery of apes, lesser men, primitives, children, madmen, and beings who possessed special powers", which are cultural representations of colored people that originated in the Græco–Persian Wars (499–449 BC), between Ancient Greece and the Persian Empire; centuries later, Western imperialist expansion included East Asians to the Yellow Peril.
In the late 19th century, the Russian sociologist Jacques Novikow coined the phrase in his essay "Le Péril Jaune" ("The Yellow Peril", 1897); later, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany used Yellow Peril racism to encourage the European empires to invade, conquer, and colonize China. To that end, the Kaiser misrepresented the Asian victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) as a racialist threat to the white citizens of Western Europe, and misrepresented China and Japan in alliance to conquer and subjugate the Western world.
The sinologist Wing-Fai Leung explained the fantastic origins of the phrase and racialist ideology: "The phrase yellow peril (sometimes yellow terror or yellow spectre) ... blends Western anxieties about sex, racist fears of the alien other, and the Spenglerian belief that the West will become outnumbered and enslaved by the East."
The academic Gina Marchetti identified the psycho-cultural fear of Asians as "rooted in medieval fears of Genghis Khan and the Mongolian invasions of Europe, the Yellow Peril combines racist terror of alien cultures, sexual anxieties, and the belief that the West will be overpowered and enveloped, by the irresistible, dark, occult forces of the East";:2 hence, in light of Japanese imperial militarism, the West included Japanese people to Yellow Peril racism.
The racist and cultural stereotypes of the Yellow Peril originated in the late 19th century, when Chinese workers (people of different skin-color, physiognomy, language and culture) legally immigrated to Australia, Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand, where they inadvertently provoked a racist backlash against themselves, for agreeing to work for lower wages, than the local white populations. In 1870, the French Orientalist and historian Ernest Renan had warned Europeans of Eastern danger to the West, yet Renan had meant the Russian Empire (1721–1917), a nation whom the West perceived as more Asiatic than European.
- Imperial Germany
Since 1870, in the practise of colonial imperialism, the stereotypes of Yellow Peril ideology gave concrete form to the anti-Asian racism that was cultural-currency in the Western worldview of Europe and North America. In central Europe, the Orientalist and diplomat Max von Brandt advised Kaiser Wilhelm II that Imperial Germany had colonial interests to pursue in China.:83 Hence, the Kaiser used the phrase die Gelbe Gefahr (The Yellow Peril) to specifically encourage Imperial German interests and justify European colonialism in China.
In 1895, Germany, France, and Russia staged the Triple Intervention to the Treaty of Shimonoseki (17 April 1895), which concluded the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), in order to compel Imperial Japan to surrender their Chinese colonies to the Europeans; that geopolitical gambit became an underlying casus belli of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05).:83 The Kaiser justified the Triple Intervention to the Japanese empire with racialist calls-to-arms against non-existent geopolitical dangers of the "yellow race" against the "white race" of Western Europe.:83
To justify European cultural hegemony, the Kaiser used the allegorical lithograph Peoples of Europe, Guard Your Most Sacred Possessions (1895), by Hermann Knackfuss, to communicate his geopolitics to other European monarchs. The lithograph depicts Germany as the leader of Europe, – collectively personified as "prehistoric warrior-goddesses being led by the Archangel Michael against the 'yellow peril' from the East" represented by "dark cloud of smoke [upon] which rests an eerily calm Buddha, wreathed in flame" (described by British historian James Palmer).:31:203 Politically, the Knackfuss lithograph allowed Kaiser Wilhelm II to believe he prophesied the imminent race war that would decide global hegemony in the 20th century.:31
- Imperial Russia
In the late 19th century, with the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1881), the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) China recovered the eastern portion of the Ili River basin (Zhetysu), which Russia had occupied for a decade, since the Dungan Revolt (1862–77). In that time, the mass communications media of the West misrepresented China as an ascendant military power, and applied Yellow Peril ideology to evoke racist fears that China would conquer Western colonies, such as Australia.
- United States
In 1870s California, despite the Burlingame Treaty (1868) that allowed legal migration of unskilled labourers from China, the native working-class white people demanded that the U.S government cease the immigration of "filthy yellow hordes" of Chinese people who took jobs from native-born white-Americans, especially during an economic depression. In that vein, Horace Greeley, editor of the New-York Tribune newspaper, wrote a xenophobic and racist editorial opinion supporting the popularly demanded exclusion:
The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception, without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order".
In Los Angeles, Yellow Peril racism provoked the Chinese Massacre of 1871, wherein 500 white men lynched 20 Chinese men in the Chinatown ghetto. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, the leader of the Workingmen's Party of California, the Irish-born Denis Kearney was an extraordinary demagogue who successfully applied Yellow Peril ideology to his politics against the press, capitalists, politicians, and Chinese workers, and concluded his speeches with the epilogue: "and whatever happens, the Chinese must go!":349 Hence, by 1882, the political pressure of white xenophobia (nativist and populist) compelled the U.S. government to legislate the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), which remained the effective immigration-law until 1943.
The Boxer Rebellion
In 1900, the anti-colonial Boxer Rebellion (August 1899 – September 1901) reinforced the racist stereotypes of Asian people as a Yellow Peril to white people. The Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists (the Boxers) was a xenophobic martial-arts organization who blamed the problems of China on the presence of Western colonies in China proper. The Boxers sought to save China by killing every Western colonist and Chinese Christian – Westernized Chinese people.:350 In early summer of 1900, Prince Zaiyi allowed the Boxers into Beijing, to kill Western colonists and Chinese Christians, in siege to the foreign legations.:78–79 Afterwards, Ronglu, Qing Commander-in-Chief, and Yikuang, Prince Qing, resisted and expelled the Boxers from Beijing after days of fighting.
Most of the victims of the Boxer Rebellion were Chinese Christians, but the massacres of Chinese people were of no interest to the West, who demanded Asian blood to avenge the Western colonists killed by rebellious Chinese natives. In response, Great Britain, the U.S., Imperial Japan, France, Imperial Russia, Imperial Germany, Austria–Hungary, and Italy formed the Eight-Nation Alliance, and despatched an international military expeditionary force to end the Siege of the International Legations in Beijing.
In the Russian press, Yellow Peril ideology misrepresented anti-colonial revolt (the Boxer Rebellion) in racialist and religious terms: A cultural war between White Holy Russia and Yellow Pagan China. The press further supported the Yellow Peril apocalypse with quotations from the Sinophobic poems of the philosopher Vladimir Solovyov.:664 Likewise in the press, the aristocracy demanded action against the Asian threat; Prince Sergei Nikolaevich Trubetskoy urged Imperial Russia and other European monarchies to jointly partition China, and end the Yellow Peril to Christendom.:664–665 Hence, on 3 July 1900, in response to the Boxer Rebellion, Russia expelled the Chinese community (5,000 people) from Blagoveshchensk; then, during the 4–8 July period, the Tsarist police, Cossack cavalry, and local vigilantes killed the expelled Chinese at the Amur River.
In the West, news of Boxer atrocities against Western colonists stirred anti-Asian racism in Europe and North America, where that anti-colonial revolt was mis-perceived as a race war, between the yellow race and the white race. Historically, Yellow Peril ideology recycles Boxer-Rebellion atrocities as false-proof that "Boxerism" (innate, murderous hatred of Westerners) is a Chinese cultural trait. In that vein, the article "A Righteous Fist" (The Economist, 1905) warned the Western reader that:
The history of the Boxer movement contains abundant warnings, as to the necessity of an attitude of constant vigilance, on the part of the European Powers, when there are any symptoms that a wave of nationalism is about to sweep over the Celestial Empire.
Hence, 61 years later, in 1967, during the Cultural Revolution, when the Red Guard attacked the British Embassy and beat diplomats, to the home country, the embassy staff explained the political violence as an outbreak of Boxerism, which is an innate, cultural characteristic of the Chinese people.
Exhortation to barbarism
On 27 July 1900, Kaiser Wilhelm II gave the racist Hunnenrede (Hun speech) exhorting his soldiers to barbarism; that Imperial German soldiers depart Europe for China and suppress the Boxer Rebellion, by acting like "Huns" and committing atrocities against the Chinese (Boxer and civilian)::203
When you come before the enemy, you must defeat him, pardon will not be given, prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands will fall to your sword! Just as a thousand years ago the Huns, under their King Attila, made a name for themselves with their ferocity, which tradition still recalls; so may the name of Germany become known in China in such a way that no Chinaman will ever dare look a German in the eye, even with a squint!:14
Fearful of harm to the public image of Imperial Germany, the Auswärtiges Amt (Foreign Office) published a redacted version of the Hun Speech, expurgated of the exhortation to racist barbarism. Annoyed by Foreign-Office censorship, the Kaiser published the unexpurgated Hun Speech, which "evoked images of a Crusade and considered the current crisis [the Boxer Rebellion] to amount to a war between Occident and Orient." Yet that "elaborate accompanying music, and the new ideology of the Yellow Peril stood in no relation to the actual possibilities and results" of geopolitical policy based upon racist misperception.:96
- Barbaric policy
The Kaiser ordered the expedition-commander, Field Marshal Alfred von Waldersee, to behave barbarously, because the Chinese were, "by nature, cowardly, like a dog, but also deceitful.":99 In that time, the Kaiser's best friend, Prince Philip von Euenburg wrote to another friend that the Kaiser wanted to raze Beijing, and kill the populace to avenge the murder of Baron Clemens von Ketteler, Imperial Germany's minister to China.:13 Only the Eight-Nation Alliance's refusal of barbarism to resolve the siege of the legations, saved the Chinese populace of Beijing from the massacre recommended by Imperial Germany.:13 In August 1900, an international military-force of Russian, Japanese, British, French, and American soldiers captured Beijing, before the German force arrived to the city.:107
The Eight-Nation Alliance sacked Beijing in vengeance for the Boxer Rebellion; the magnitude of the rape, pillaging, and burning indicated "a sense that the Chinese were less than human" to the Western militaries.:286 About the sacking of the city, an Australian colonist said: "The future of the Chinese is a fearful problem. Look at the frightful sights one sees in the streets of Peking. . . . See the filthy, tattered rags they wrap around them. Smell them as they pass. Hear of their nameless immorality. Witness their shameless indecency, and picture them among your own people – Ugh! It makes you shudder!":350
British admiral Roger Keyes recalled that: "Every Chinaman . . . was treated as a Boxer, by the Russian and French troops, and the slaughter of men, women, and children in retaliation was revolting".:284 The American colonist Luella Miner reported that "the conduct of the Russian soldiers is atrocious, the French are not much better, and the Japanese are looting and burning without mercy. Women and girls, by the hundreds, have committed suicide to escape a worse fate at the hands of Russian and Japanese brutes.":284
British soldiers threatened to kill a Chinese old man, unless he gave them his treasure. On learning he had no treasure, a rifleman prepared to bayonet the old man dead.:284 That rifleman was stopped by another soldier, who told him: "No, not that way! I'm going to shoot him. I've always had a longing to see what sort of wound a dum-dum [bullet] will make, and by Christ, I am going to try one on this blasted Chink!":284 After shooting the Chinese old man in the face, the British soldier exclaimed: "Christ, the dum-dum has blown the back out of his bloody nut!":284 Moreover, the British journalist George Lynch said, "there are things that I must not write, and that may not be printed in England, which would seem to show that this Western civilization of ours is merely a veneer over savagery".:285
- Barbaric praxis
The German expedition of Field Marshal Waldersee arrived in China on 27 September 1900, after the military defeat of the Boxer Rebellion by the Eight Nation Alliance; yet he launched 75 punitive raids into northern China to search for and destroy the remaining Boxers. The punitive German soldiers killed more peasants than Boxer guerrillas, because, by autumn 1900, the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists posed no threat, military or political.:109 On 19 November 1900, the Kaiser's military gambit in China was criticized as shameful to Germany; in the Reichstag, the German Social Democrat politician August Bebel criticized the imperial war against the Boxers:
No, this is no crusade, no holy war; it is a very ordinary war of conquest. . . . A campaign of revenge as barbaric as has never been seen in the last centuries, and not often at all in History . . . not even with the Huns, not even with the Vandals. . . . That is not a match for what the German and other troops of foreign powers, together with the Japanese troops, have done in China.:97
The political praxis of Yellow Peril racism features a call for apolitical racial-unity among white people. To resolve a contemporary problem (economic, social, political) the racialist politician calls for white unity against the non-white Other who threatens from Asia. Despite their military defeat of the anti-colonial Boxer Rebellion, in the Western world, white racial-fear of Chinese nationalism became established as a cultural fear: That the Chinese race mean to invade, vanquish, and subjugate the Christian civilisation of the Western world.:350–351
In July 1900, the Völkisch movement intellectual Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the "Evangelist of Race", gave his racialist perspective of the cultural meaning of the Boer War (1899–1902) in relation to the Boxer Rebellion: "One thing I can clearly see, that is, that it is criminal for Englishmen and Dutchmen to go on murdering each other, for all sorts of sophisticated reasons, while the Great Yellow Danger overshadows us white men, and threatens destruction.":357
The Yellow Peril racialism of the Austrian philosopher Christian von Ehrenfels (a founder of Gestalt psychology) proposed that the West and the East were in a Darwinian racial struggle for world domination, which the yellow race was winning.:258 That monogamy was a legalistic hindrance to global white-supremacy, for limiting a genetically superior white man to father children with only one woman; that in polygamy, the yellow race had greater reproductive advantage, for permitting a genetically superior Asian man to father children with many women.:258–261
Ehrenfels dismissed the Chinese as a racially inferior people whose Oriental culture lacked "all potentialities . . . determination, initiative, productivity, invention, and organizational talent" innate to the white culture of the Western world.:263 Contradictorily, despite having essentialized the Chinese into a listless mass of mindless Asians, Ehrenfels praised Japan as a first-rate military power, whose inevitable conquest of China would improve the racial breeds native to China. That through selective breeding with "genetically superior" Chinese women, the Japanese would create a race of "healthy, sly, cunning coolies", because the Chinese are virtuosos of sexual reproduction.:263 The essence of Ehrenfels's nihilistic racism was that Asian conquest of the West equalled racial annihilation. Europe invaded, conquered, and subjugated by a Sino–Japanese army of genetically superior soldiers in a race war that the Western powers (imperial and democratic) would be unable to thwart or win.:263
- Polygamous patriarchy
To resolve the demographic imbalance between the East and the West, Ehrenfels proposed politically radical changes to the structures of European society, such as State control of human sexuality, by way of polygamy, which would ensure the procreation of a numerically and genetically superior nation of white people. Only white men of high economic and genetic status would legally be allowed to father children.:261–262 Despite such radical changes to male sexual mores, women remained monogamous by law, culturally limited to the wife-and-mother social identity established in monogamous Christian patriarchy.:261–262
In Ehrenfels's polygamous patriarchy, women reside in communal barracks, where they collectively rear children. The State assigns each woman a husband for conjugal visits, solely for reproductive sexual-intercourse.:261–262 The number of wives that a white man might have is determined by his socio-economic status, hence ensuring that only the "social winners" can transmit and perpetuate their genes.:262 In such a white-supremacist society the man-and-woman relationship is reduced to the function of reproduction; romantic love is divorced from sexual intercourse in service to male white-supremacy.:262
- Race war
To end the Yellow Peril, Ehrenfels proposed that the white nations of the world unite to conquer the nations of Asia, before it became infeasible, in order to create a new racial order for the world, which would feature an hereditary caste system headed by white people.:264 Worldwide, an Aryan oligarchy (white people) would form and populate the ruling castes of the military and of the intelligentsia status-class, whilst the yellow-skin and the black-skin races would occupy the slave castes of their respective societies.:264
Ehrenfels believed that the racially pure society he proposed would be realised in the far-future, because "the Aryan will only respond to the imperative of sexual reform when the waves of the Mongolian tide are lapping around his neck".:263 In light of the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Ehrenfels said that such an Asian victory indicated "the absolute necessity of a radical sexual reform for the continued existence of the Western races of man . . . [the matter] has been raised from the level of discussion to the level of a scientifically proven fact".:263
- Sublimated anti-Semitism
In Sex, Masculinity, and the 'Yellow Peril': Christian von Ehrenfels' Program for a Revision of the European Sexual Order, 1902–1910 (2002), the historian Edward Ross Dickinson said that Ehrenfels always used metaphors of deadly water to express his racism and fear of the Yellow Peril: A flood of Chinese upon the West; a Chinese torrent of mud drowning Europe; the Japanese as a polluting liquid; and that white Europeans would not respond to such a racial menace until the waves of Asians reached the neck.:271
Likewise, the historian Klaus Theweleit said that, in the interwar period (1918–39), the political and racialist writings of the Freikorps, right-wing mercenaries, featured imagery of deadly water, in a time when "the Jews" and the Communists were the only political and cultural threats to the worldview of right-wing Europeans.:271 That the right-wing Freikorps were psychologically insecure men obsessed with masculinity, and with proving themselves hard men; the negative imagery of water they used, reflected fears of the physical softness of women; of the erotic; of love and emotional intimacy; and of human dependence – things that psychologically threatened to render them less manly.:271
Moreover, Dickinson said that a man like Baron Christian von Ehrenfels likely suffered the same sexual anxieties about masculinity, as did the right-wing writers, whose works Theweleit examined, but that only Ehrenfels projected his sexual insecurity into Yellow Peril racism, rather than the usual anti-Semitic myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, which is a racist prejudice more common to German culture.:271
Germany and Russia
From 1895, the Kaiser's government used Yellow Peril ideology to portray Imperial Germany as defender of the West against conquest from the East.:210 In pursuit of Weltpolitik, the world policy to establish Germany as the dominant world power, the Kaiser manipulated public opinion, the government and other monarchs. In a letter to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Kaiser Wilhem II wrote: "It is clearly the great task of the future for Russia to cultivate the Asian continent, and defend Europe from the inroads of the Great Yellow Race".:31 In The Bloody White Baron (2009), the historian James Palmer explains the sociocultural background of 19th-century Europe in which Yellow Peril ideology originated and flourished:
The 1890s had spawned in the West the spectre of the "Yellow Peril", the rise to world dominance of the Asian peoples. The evidence cited was Asian population growth, immigration to the West (America and Australia in particular), and increased Chinese settlement along the Russian border. These demographic and political fears were accompanied by a vague and ominous dread of the mysterious powers supposedly possessed by the initiates of Eastern religions. There is a striking German picture of the 1890s, depicting the dream that inspired Kaiser Wilhelm II to coin the term "Yellow Peril", that shows the union of these ideas. It depicts the nations of Europe, personified as heroic, but vulnerable female figures guarded by the Archangel Michael, gazing apprehensively towards a dark cloud of smoke in the East, in which rests an eerily calm Buddha, wreathed in flame....
Combined with this was a sense of the slow sinking of the Abendland, the "Evening Land" of the West. This would be put most powerfully, by thinkers such as Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West (1918) and the Prussian philosopher Moeller van den Bruck, a Russian-speaker obsessed with the coming rise of the East. Both called for Germany to join the "young nations" of Asia through the adoption of such supposedly Asiatic practices as collectivism, "inner barbarism", and despotic leadership. The identification of Russia with Asia would eventually overwhelm such sympathies, instead leading to a more-or-less straightforward association of Germany with the values of "The West", against the "Asiatic barbarism" of Russia. That was most obvious during the Nazi era [1933–45], when virtually every piece of anti–Russian propaganda talked of the "Asiatic millions" or "Mongolian hordes", which threatened to over-run Europe, but the identification of the Russians as Asian, especially as Mongolian, continued well into the Cold War era [1945–1991].:30–31
As his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm knew that Tsar Nicholas shared his anti-Asian racism and believed he could persuade the Tsar to abrogate the Franco-Russian Alliance (1894) and then to form a German–Russian alliance against Britain.:120–123 In manipulative pursuit of Imperial German Weltpolitik "Wilhelm II's deliberate use of the 'yellow peril' slogan was more than a personal idiosyncrasy, and fitted into the general pattern of German foreign policy under his reign, i.e. to encourage Russia's Far Eastern adventures, and later to sow discord, between the United States and Japan. Not the substance, but only the form, of Wilhelm II's 'yellow peril' propaganda disturbed the official policy of the Wilhelmstrasse."
European memory of Mongols
In the 19th century, the racial and cultural stereotypes of Yellow Peril ideology colored German perceptions of Russia as a nation more Asiatic that European.:31 The European folk memory of the 13th-century Mongol invasion of Europe made the word Mongol a cultural synonym for the "Asian culture of cruelty and insatiable appetite for conquest", which was especially personified by Genghis Khan, leader of the Orda, the Mongol Horde.:57–58
Despite that justifying historical background, Yellow Peril racism was not universally accepted in the societies of Europe. French intellectual Anatole France said that Yellow Peril ideology was to be expected from a racist man such as the Kaiser. Inverting the racist premise of Asian invasion, France showed that European imperialism in Asia and Africa indicated that the European White Peril was the true threat to the world. In his essay "The Bogey of the Yellow Peril" (1904), the British journalist Demetrius Charles Boulger said the Yellow Peril was racist hysteria for popular consumption. Asian geopolitical dominance of the world is "the prospect, placed before the uninstructed reading public, is a revival of the Hun and Mongol terrors, and the names of Attila and Genghis are set out in the largest type to create feelings of apprehension. The reader is assured, in the most positive manner, that this is the doing of the enterprising nation of Japan".:225 Throughout the successful imperial intrigues facilitated by Germany's Yellow Peril ideology, the Kaiser's true geopolitical target was Britain.:225
In 18th-century Britain, the Chinese were considered a civilised people, but British imperial expansion in the 19th century facilitated racialist hostility towards Asians. The Chinese people were stereotyped as an inherently-depraved and corrupt people. Still, there were exceptions to popular racism of the Yellow Peril. In May 1890, William Ewart Gladstone criticized anti–Chinese immigration laws in Australia for penalizing their hard worker virtues (diligence, thrift and integrity), instead of penalizing their vices (gambling and opium-smoking).:25
In 1904, in a meeting about the Russian–Japanese War, King Edward VII heard the Kaiser complain that the Yellow Peril is "the greatest peril menacing... Christendom and European civilisation. If the Russians went on giving ground, the yellow race would, in twenty years time, be in Moscow and Posen". Undiplomatically, the Kaiser criticised the British for siding with Japan against Russia, suggesting "race treason" as a motive. In reply to the Kaiser, King Edward said he "could not see it. The Japanese were an intelligent, brave and chivalrous nation, quite as civilised as the Europeans, from whom they only differed by the pigmentation of their skin".
The first British usage of the Yellow Peril phrase was in the Daily News (21 July 1900) report describing the Boxer Rebellion as "the yellow peril in its most serious form". Then, the racism of British Sinophobia, the fear of Chinese people, did not include all Asians since Britain had sided with Japan during the Russian–Japanese War, but France and Germany supported Russia.:91 The reports of one British military observer, Captain William Pakenham "tended to depict Russia as his enemy, not just Japan".:91
About pervasive Sinophobia in Western culture, in The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu & the Rise of Chinaphobia (2014), historian Julia Lovell noted:
In the early decades of the 20th century, Britain buzzed with Sinophobia. Respectable middle-class magazines, tabloids and comics, alike, spread stories of ruthless Chinese ambitions to destroy the West. The Chinese master-criminal (with his "crafty yellow face twisted by a thin-lipped grin", dreaming of world domination) had become a staple of children's publications.
In 1911, "The Chinese in England: A Growing National Problem" an article distributed around the Home Office, warned of "a vast and convulsive Armageddon to determine who is to be the master of the world, the white or yellow man." After the First World War, cinemas, theatres, novels, and newspapers broadcast visions of the "Yellow Peril" machinating to corrupt white society. In March 1929, the chargé d'affaires, at London's Chinese legation, complained that no fewer than five plays, showing in the West End, depicted Chinese people in "a vicious and objectionable form".
Asian moral laxity
In the British popular imagination, the Limehouse district of London was a centre of depravity and vice, sexual prostitution, opium smoking and gambling. The press warned of the dangers of miscegenation of Chinese men marrying British women as a racial threat to Britain, and it warned that Triad gangsters kidnapped British women into white slavery, "a fate worse than death" in Western popular culture. In 1914, at the start of the First World War, the Defence of the Realm Act was amended to include the smoking of opium as grounds for deportation. In fact, that was a legalistic pretext for expelling the Chinese inhabitants of London from Britain proper. That anti–Chinese moral panic derived from the social reality that British women had acquired economic independence with war effort jobs and would engage in premarital sexual affairs, a cultural threat that offended Britain's conservative society. Such racist fears of the Yellow Peril were European cultural prejudices projected onto the Chinese community of Britain for allegedly corrupting British women into premarital libertinism.
In the US, Yellow Peril xenophobia was legalized with the Page Act of 1875, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the Geary Act of 1892. The Chinese Exclusion Act replaced the Burlingame Treaty (1868), which had encouraged Chinese migration to the US and provided that "citizens of the United States in China, of every religious persuasion, and Chinese subjects, in the United States, shall enjoy entire liberty of conscience, and shall be exempt from all disability or persecution, on account of their religious faith or worship, in either country", withholding only the right of naturalized citizenship.
In the Western US, the regular cultural lynching Chinese people yielded the coinage of a phrase, "Having a Chinaman's chance in Hell", meaning no chance at all. In 1880 Denver, the Yellow Peril pogrom featured a lynched Chinese man and destruction of the local Chinatown. In 1885, the Rock Springs massacre of 28 miners destroyed a Wyoming Chinese community. In Washington Territory, Yellow Peril fears realised the Attack on Squak Valley Chinese laborers, 1885; the arson of the Seattle Chinatown; and the Tacoma riot of 1885 by which local white folk expelled the Chinese community from their towns. In Seattle, the Knights of Labor expelled 200 Chinese people by the Seattle riot of 1886. In Oregon, 34 Chinese gold miners were ambushed, robbed and killed in the Hells Canyon Massacre (1887). Moreover, about being Chinese in the 19th-century US, in the essay "A Chinese View of the Statue of Liberty" (1885), Sauum Song Bo said,:
Seeing that the heading is an appeal to American citizens, to their love of country and liberty, I feel my countrymen, and myself, are honored in being thus appealed to, as citizens in the cause of liberty. But the word liberty makes me think of the fact that this country is a land of liberty for men of all nations, except the Chinese. I consider it an insult to us Chinese to call on us to contribute towards building, in this land, a pedestal for a statue of liberty. That statue represents Liberty holding a torch, which lights the passage of those of all nations who come into this country. But are Chinese allowed to come? As for the Chinese who are here, are they allowed to enjoy liberty as men of all other nationalities enjoy it? Are they allowed to go about everywhere free from insults, abuse, assaults, wrongs and injuries from which men of other nationalities are free?
Under nativist political pressure, the Immigration Act of 1917 established an Asian Barred Zone of countries from which immigration to the US was forbidden. The Cable Act of 1922, or the Married Women's Independent Nationality Act, guaranteed citizenship to independent woman unless they married to an alien ineligible to naturalization. During the 1920s, when the Cable Act of 1922 was law, Asian men and women were excluded from American citizenship. In practice, the Cable Act of 1922 reversed some racial exclusion laws and granted independent-woman citizenship exclusively to women married to white men. Analogously, the Act allowed revocation of the US citizenship of a white woman married an Asian man. Nonetheless, legalized Yellow Peril racism was challenged; in the Supreme Court case of Takao Ozawa v. United States (1922), a Japanese–American man tried to demonstrate that the Japanese are a white race eligible for naturalized US citizenship, but the Court ruled that the Japanese are not white people. Two years later, the National Origins Quota of 1924 specifically excluded the Japanese from the country and citizenship.
Ethnic national character
To "preserve the ideal of American homogeneity", the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 (numeric limits) and the Immigration Act of 1924 (fewer Southern and Eastern Europeans) restricted admission according to immigrants' national origins. In practice, the Emergency Quota Act used an old census to determine the number of colored immigrants to admit to the US. Still, to protect the ethnic supremacy (social, economic and political) of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) community, the Immigration Act of 1924 used the census of 1890 (two decades old) because its 19th-century demographic-group percentages favoured more admissions of WASP immigrants and fewer admissions of colored immigrants from Asia, Eastern Europe and Southern Europe.
The National Origins Formula (1921–1965) was meant to maintain the status quo percentages of colored ethnic populations in proportion to their existing populations. The National Origins Formula was to ensure that the immigration of colored peoples did not change the WASP national character of the US. To that end, the National Origins Formula allowed only 150,000 colored people to immigrate the US per year. Specifically inclining Latin Americans and excluding Asians, the law used Yellow Peril racism, which was institutionally inherent to US immigration law. It was much later that the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that repealed the racial quota systems.
Eugenics-supporters used the Yellow Peril to present the US as a WASP nation with an ethnically-pure country under threat of miscegenation by Asian immigration. They expressed with biological language (infection, disease, decay) and imagery of bodily penetration (wounds and sores) by the nonwhite Asian Other.:237–238
In The Yellow Peril; or, Orient vs. Occident (1911), the end time evangelist G. G. Rupert, said that Russia would unite the colored races to facilitate the Oriental invasion, conquest and subjugation of the West. That was derived from the Christian eschatology of the Book of Revelation in verse 16:12: "Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great Euphrates River, and it dried up so that the kings from the east could march their armies toward the west without hindrance". Moreover, as an Old-Testament Christian, Rupert believed in the racialist doctrine of British Israelism and said that the Yellow Peril from China, India, Japan and Korea, were attacking Britain and the US but that Jesus would halt their conquest of the Western world.
In The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920), the eugenicist Lothrop Stoddard, said that either China or Japan would unite the colored peoples of Asia and lead them to destroy the white world of the West and that the colored conquest of the world began with the Asian victory in the Russian–Japanese War (1905). As a white supremacist, Stoddard presented his racialist theories with biblical vocabulary and catastrophic imagery depicting a rising tide of "non-white" people who mean to invade, conquer and subjugate the white race.
In that cultural vein, the phrase was commonly used editorially in the newspapers of publisher William Randolph Hearst. In the 1930s, Hearst newspapers realised a campaign of vilification (political and personal) against the American communist activist Elaine Black, whom he denounced as libertine "Tiger Woman" for openly cohabiting with Karl Yoneda, an Asian man and a communist. In 1931 California, interracial marriage was outlawed and so they could not marry, but in 1935, Black and Yoneda married in Seattle, Washington, a city and a state that did not proscribe interracial marriage. The vilification of Elaine Black was about miscegenation, not communist politics. Publisher Hearst's business acumen saw that reporting the socially-scandalous private life of a politically-active American white woman in an interracial relationship with an Asian man would sell more newspapers.
In the 1930s, Yellow Peril stereotypes were common to US culture, exemplified by the cinematic versions of the Asian detectives Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) and Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre), originally literary detectives in novels and comic strips. White actors portrayed the Asian men and made the fictional characters socially acceptable in mainstream American cinema, especially when the villains were secret agents of Imperial Japan.:159
Notable American proponents of the Japanese Yellow Peril were the military-industrial interests of the China Lobby (right-wing intellectuals, businessmen, Christian missionaries) who were political advocates for the warlord Generalíssimo Chiang Kai-shek, whom they represented as the (Methodist-convert) Christian-Chinese saviour of China, then in the middle of civil war. After the Japanese invaded China in 1937, the China Lobby successfully pressured the politically neutral US government to aid the China of Chiang Kai-shek. The media coverage (print, radio and cinema) of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) favoured China, which politically facilitated the American financing and equipping of the anticommunist Kuomintang, the Chiang Kai-shek faction in the Chinese Civil War (1927–1937, 1946–1950), which also featured the Communist Mao Zedong.:159
In 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt administration formally declared China an ally of the US. In political compliance with the government, the American media then modified the use of Yellow Peril ideology and criticised contemporary anti-Chinese laws as counterproductive to the war effort against Imperial Japan.:165–166 The wartime zeitgeist and the geopolitics of the US government presumed that defeat of the Japanese Empire would be followed by post-war China developing into a major capitalist economy, under the strongman leadership of the Christian Generalíssimo Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party).
However, in the course of his political and personal relations with the US government, and his China Lobby sponsors, Chiang requested the repeal of American anti-Chinese laws and to achieve the repeals, threatened to exclude the American business community from the "China Market", the economic fantasy that the China Lobby promised to the military and industrial interests of the US.:171–172 In 1943, the US government repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, but because the National Origins Act of 1924 was contemporary law, the repeal was a symbolic gesture of American solidarity with the people of China.
Science fiction writer William F. Wu, said that American adventure, crime, and detective pulp magazines in the 1930s had many Yellow Peril characters, loosely based on Fu Manchu, and that although "most [Yellow Peril characters] were of Chinese descent", the Asian geopolitics of the time led people to see Japan as a threat to the United States. In his book The Yellow Peril: Chinese Americans in American fiction, 1850–1940 (1982), Wu said that fear of Asians dates from the European Middle Ages during the 13th-century Mongol invasion of Europe. Most Europeans had never seen an Asian man or woman, and the great differences in language, custom and physique accounted for European paranoia about the nonwhite peoples from the Eastern world.
In the late 19th century, Australians desiring a proper country and a white society, feared the Yellow Peril for possession of the continent. The racialist fear of the non-white Asian Other was a thematic preoccupation common to invasion literature novels like The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895), The Coloured Conquest (1904), The Awakening to China (1909), Fools' Harvest (1939). They usually featured an Asian invasion of the "empty north" of Australia, which was really populated by the Aboriginal Australians, the native non-white Other. In the novel White or Yellow?: A Story of the Race War of A.D. 1908 (1887), William Lane, a journalist and labour leader, believed that a horde of Chinese people legally arrived to Australia overran white society and monopolized the industries important to exploiting the natural resources of the "empty north" of Australia.
As Australian invasion literature, White or Yellow? reflects Lane's nationalist racialism and left-wing politics in a future history of Australia under attack by the Yellow Peril. In the near future, British capitalists manipulate the legal system and successfully arrange the mass immigration of Chinese workers to Australia, regardless of the socioeconomic consequences to Australian common folk and their society. The economic, cultural, and sexual conflicts that resulted from the capitalists' manipulation of the economy provoke a white-yellow race war throughout Australia. The racialist representations of Yellow Peril ideology in the narrative of White or Yellow? justify white Australians' killing the Chinese workers as an existential response for physical and economic control of Australia.:26–27 Moreover, the leaders of the labour and trade unions greatly opposed the importation of Chinese workers, whom they portrayed as an economic (low-wage) threat to Australia, and as a moral threat (libertinism) to Christian civilization, which addresses the psychosexual theme of miscegenation (mixing of the races), which is an apolitical call to racial unity among white Australians.:24
Culturally, Asian-invasion novels expressed the white man's sexual fear of voracious Asian sexuality with scenes of a white woman in sexual peril, usually rape or seduction, aided by the sensual and moral release of opium. A white woman who was raped or seduced by a Chinese man had suffered "a fate worse than death". Thus defiled, the woman is a sexual untouchable to other white men. In that moralistic vein, in the 1890s, labour activist and feminist Rose Summerfield voiced the white female sexual fear of the Yellow Peril by warning society of the unnatural lust in the eyes of Chinese men when they looked upon the pulchritude of the white women of Australia.:24
Racial equality thwarted
In 1901, the Australian federal government adopted the White Australia policies, initiated with the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, which generally excluded Asian peoples, especially the Chinese and the Melanesians. Historian C.E.W. Bean said that Australian racialist exclusion was "a vehement effort to maintain a high, Western standard of economy, society, and culture (necessitating, at that stage, however it might be camouflaged, the rigid exclusion of Oriental peoples)." In 1913, the film, Australia Calls (1913) depicted an invasion of Australia by "Mongolians" defeated by ordinary Australians with resistance and guerrilla warfare.
In 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference (28 June 1919), supported by Britain and the US, the Australian Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, vehemently opposed Imperial Japan's recommendation for the inclusion of the Racial Equality Proposal in Article 21 of the Covenant of the League of Nations on 13 February 1919:
The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord, as soon as possible, to all alien nationals of states, members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect, making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.
Aware that Britain opposed the formal inclusion of the clause to Article 21 of the Covenant, the conference chairman, US President Woodrow Wilson, prevented de jure racial equality among the nations of the world by unilaterally requiring a unanimous vote by the participant countries. On 11 April 1919, most countries in the conference voted to include a universal clause for racial equality Article 21 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, opposed only by Britain and the US. Moreover, to maintain the White Australian policy, the Australian government sided with Britain in the vote against Japan's clause for racial equality, a defeat in international relations that greatly influenced Imperial Japan to turn from co-operation to confrontation with the West.
In 1890s France, the Péril jaune (Yellow Peril) was invoked in negative comparisons of the low French birth rate of the French and the high Asian birth rate. Accordingly, there was the cultural fear that one day Asians would "flood" France, which could be successfully countered only by increased fecundity of French women. Then, France would possess enough soldiers to thwart the eventual flood of immigrants from Asia. From that racialist perspective, the French press sided with Imperial Russia during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) and represented the Russians as heroically defending the white race against the Japanese Yellow Peril.
In 1904, the French journalist René Pinon reported the cultural, geopolitical and existential threat to white civilisation in the West:
The "Yellow Peril" has entered already into the imagination of the people, just as represented in the famous drawing [Peoples of Europe, Guard Your Most Sacred Possessions,1895] of the Emperor Wilhelm II: In a setting of conflagration and carnage, Japanese and Chinese hordes spread out over all Europe, crushing under their feet the ruins of our capital cities and destroying our civilizations, grown anemic due to the enjoyment of luxuries, and corrupted by the vanity of spirit.
Hence, little by little, there emerges the idea that even if a day must come (and that day does not seem near) the European peoples will cease to be their own enemies and even economic rivals, there will be a struggle ahead to face and there will rise a new peril, the yellow man.
The civilized world has always organized itself before and against a common adversary: for the Roman world, it was the barbarian; for the Christian world, it was Islam; for the world of tomorrow, it may well be the yellow man. And so we have the reappearance of this necessary concept, without which peoples do not know themselves, just as the "Me" only takes conscience of itself in opposition to the "non–Me": The Enemy.:124
Despite the Christian idealism of the civilizing mission, from the start of colonialisation in 1858, the French exploited the land of Vietnam as inexhaustible and the Vietnamese people as beasts of burden.:67–68 During the First Indochina War, (1946–1954) the French justified their colonial return of Vietnam as defense of the white West against the péril jaune – specifically the Communist Party of Vietnam, as puppets of Red China in the communist conspiracy to conquer the world. Hence, French orientalism defined the Asian Other as less than human, combined with anticommunism, which dehumanisation allowed atrocities against Viet Minh prisoners of war, during la sale guerre, the dirty war against international communism.:74 The Yellow Peril metaphors in French anti-communist media portrayed the Viet Minh as part of the innombrables masses jaunes (innumerable yellow hordes) and one of many vagues hurlantes (roaring waves) of masses fanatisées (fanatical hordes).
In Behind the Bamboo Hedge: The Impact of Homeland Politics in the Parisian Vietnamese Community (1991), Gisèle Luce Bousquet, said that the péril jaune, which traditionally colours French perceptions of Asians, especially of the Vietnamese, remains a cultural prejudice of contemporary France. Hence, the Vietnamese people in France are perceived and resented as academic overachievers who take jobs from "native French" people.
In 2015, the front cover of the January issue of Fluide Glacial magazine featured a cartoon, Yellow Peril: Is it Already Too Late?, which depicts a Chinese-occupied Paris where a sad Frenchman pulling a rickshaw, with a Chinese passenger (dressed as a 19th c. French colonial official) accompanied by a barely-dressed, blonde French woman. The editor of Fluide Glacial, Yan Lindingre defended the cover and the subject as satire and mockery of French fears of China's economic threat to France. In an editorial directed to the complaining Chinese, Lindingre said, "I have just ordered an extra billion copies printed, and will send them to you via a chartered flight. This will help us balance our trade deficit and give you a good laugh".
In the 20th century, from their perspective, as non-white nations in a world order dominated by the white nations, the geopolitics of Ethiopia–Japan relations allowed Imperial Japan and Ethiopia to avoid European imperial colonisation of their countries and nations. Before the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1934–1936), Imperial Japan had given diplomatic and military support to Ethiopia against invasion by the Fascist Italy, which implied military assistance. In response to that Asian anti-imperialism, Benito Mussolini ordered a Yellow Peril propaganda campaign by the Italian press, which represented Imperial Japan as the military, cultural, and existential threat to the Western world, by way of the dangerous "yellow race–black race" alliance meant to unite Asians and Africans against the white people of the world.
In 1935, Mussolini warned of the Japanese Yellow Peril, specifically the racial threat of Asia and Africa uniting against Europe. In the summer of 1935, the National Fascist Party (1922–43) often staged anti–Japanese political protests throughout Italy. Nonetheless, as right-wing imperial powers, Japan and Italy pragmatically agreed to disagree; in exchange for Italian diplomatic recognition of Manchukuo (1932–45), the Japanese puppet state in China, Imperial Japan would not aid Ethiopia against Italian invasion and so Italy would end the anti–Japanese Yellow Peril propaganda in the national press of Italy.
During the Mexican Revolution (1910–20), Chinese-Mexicans were subjected to racist abuse, like before the revolt, for not being Christians, specifically Roman Catholic, for not being racially Mexican, and for not soldiering and fighting in the Revolution against the thirty-five-year dictatorship (1876–1911) of General Porfirio Díaz.:44
The notable atrocity against the Yellow Peril was the three-day Torreón massacre (13–15 May 1911) in northern Mexico, wherein the military forces of Francisco I. Madero killed 308 Asian people (303 Chinese, 5 Japanese), because they were deemed a cultural threat to the Mexican way of life. The massacre of Chinese- and Japanese-Mexicans at the city of Torreón, Coahulia State, was not the only such atrocity perpetrated in the Revolution. Elsewhere, in 1913, after the Constitutional Army captured the city of Tamasopo, San Luis Potosí state, the soldiers and the town-folk expelled the Yellow Peril from town by sacking and burning the Chinatown.:44
During and after the Mexican Revolution, the Roman Catholic prejudices of Yellow Peril ideology facilitated racial discrimination and violence against Chinese Mexicans, usually for "stealing jobs" from native Mexicans, etc. Anti–Chinese, nativist propaganda misrepresented the Chinese people as unhygienic, prone to immorality (miscegenation, gambling, opium-smoking) and spreading diseases that would biologically corrupt and degenerate La Raza (the Mexican race) and generally undermining the Mexican patriarchy.
Moreover, from the racialist perspective, besides stealing work from Mexican men, Chinese men were stealing Mexican women from the native Mexican men who were away fighting the Revolution, overthrowing and expelling the dictator Porfirio Díaz and his foreign sponsors from Mexico. In the 1930s, approximately 70% of the Chinese and the Chinese–Mexican population was expelled from the Mexican United States by the bureaucratic ethnic culling of the Mexican population.
In 1908, after the Young Turk Revolution, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) achieved political dominance, reinforced, five years later, after the Raid on the Sublime Porte in 1913. The CuP greatly admired the Japanese for modernising their country while retaining its "Eastern spiritual essence", and it proclaimed its intention to transform the Ottoman Empire into the "Japan of the Near East".
In an inversion of the Yellow Peril racism of the Western world, the Young Turks thought of entering an alliance with Imperial Japan that would unite all the peoples of "the East" to wage a war of extermination against the much-hated Western nations whose empires dominated the world.:54–55 Culturally, for the Young Turks, the term "yellow" symbolised the "Eastern gold" colour that represents the innate moral superiority of the Eastern world over the corrupt, materialistic West.:53–54
From 1904 to 1910, the Unionist Government of the Britain authorised the immigration to South Africa of approximately 63,000 Chinese labourers to work the gold mines in the Witwatersrand basin after the conclusion of the Second Boer War. After 1910, most Chinese miners were repatriated to China because of the great opposition to them, as "coloured people", in the white society of South Africa, much like the anti–Chinese laws in the US during the early 20th century.
The mass immigration of indentured Chinese labourers to mine South African gold for wages lower than acceptable to the native white men, contributed to the electoral loss of the financially-conservative British Unionist government that then governed South Africa.:103
On 26 March 1904, approximately 80,000 people attended the social-protest demonstration against the use of Chinese labourers in the Transvaal was held in Hyde Park, London, to publicise the exploitation of Chinese South Africans.:107 The Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress then passed a resolution declaring:
That this meeting, consisting of all classes of citizens of London, emphatically protests against the action of the Government in granting permission to import into South Africa indentured Chinese labour under conditions of slavery, and calls upon them to protect this new colony from the greed of capitalists and the Empire from degradation.
In the event, despite the racial violence between white South African miners and Chinese miners, the Unionist government achieved the economic recovery of South Africa after the Anglo–Boer War by making the gold mines of the Witwatersrand Basin the most productive in the world.:103
In recent years, there have been very strong anti-Chinese feelings in Turkey owing to allegations of human rights abuses against the Muslim Turkic Uighur people in China's Xinjiang province. At one anti-Chinese demonstration in Istanbul, a South Korean tourist was threatened with violence even she protested that "I am not Chinese, I am Korean". In response, Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the extreme right-wing Nationalist Movement Party stated: "How does one distinguish between Chinese and Koreans? Both have slanted eyes".
In the late 19th and the early 20th centuries, populist Prime Minister Richard Seddon compared the Chinese people to monkeys, and so used the Yellow Peril to promote racialist politics in New Zealand. In 1879, in his first political speech, Seddon said that New Zealand did not wish her shores "deluged with Asiatic Tartars. I would sooner address white men than these Chinese. You can't talk to them, you can't reason with them. All you can get from them is 'No savvy'".
Moreover, in 1905, in the city of Wellington, the fanatical white supremacist Lionel Terry murdered Joe Kum Yung, an old Chinese man, in protest against Asian immigration to New Zealand. Laws promulgated to limit Chinese immigration included a heavy poll tax, introduced in 1881 and lowered in 1937, after Imperial Japan's invasion and occupation of China. In 1944, the poll tax was abolished, and the New Zealand government formally apologised to the Chinese populace of New Zealand.
The core of Yellow Peril ideology is the white man's fear of Oriental sexual voracity; of the Seducer and the Seductress (Dragon Lady and Lotus Blossom) who possess an unnatural and perverse sex appeal that is a moral and a mortal threat to the white civilisation of the Christian West.:3 Racist revulsion towards miscegenation – interracial sexual intercourse – communicated with sexual stereotypes of the Yellow Peril, derives from the fear of mixed-race children, whose existence threatens Whiteness proper.:159
The seductive Asian man (wealthy and cultured) was the more common form of white-male fear of the Asian sexual Other. In the Asian seducer, the sexual threat of the Yellow Peril was realised with successful sexual competition – seduction or rape – which irredeemably corrupted the white woman, beyond redemption. (see: 55 Days at Peking, 1963):3 The American critic Gary Hoppenstand identified interracial sexual-intercourse as a threat to the culture of whiteness:
The threat of rape, the rape of white society dominated the yellow formula. The British or American hero, during the course of his battle against the yellow peril, overcomes numerous traps and obstacles in order to save his civilization, and the primary symbol of that civilization: white women. Stories featuring the Yellow Peril were arguments for white purity. Certainly, the potential union of the Oriental and white implied at best, a form of beastly sodomy, and at worse, a Satanic marriage. The Yellow Peril stereotype easily became incorporated into Christian mythology, and the Oriental assumed the role of the devil or demon. The Oriental rape of white woman signified a spiritual damnation for the women, and at the larger level, white society.:3
In The Cheat (1915), the wealthy Hishuru Tori (Sessue Hayakawa) is a Japanese sexual predator and sadist whose attentions menace Edith Hardy (Fannie Ward), an American housewife.:19–23 Although superficially Westernized, Tori is a rapist, which reflects his true cultural identity as an Asian man.:16–17 In being "brutal and cultivated, wealthy and base, cultured and barbaric, Tori embodies the contradictory qualities Americans associate with Japan".:19 Initially, the story presents Tori as an "asexual" man associating with the high society of Long Island; yet, once Edith is in his private study, decorated with Japanese art, he is a man of "brooding, implicitly sadistic sexuality".:21 At times, before Tori attempts to rape Edith, the narrative of the story implies that she is attracted to him and corresponds his sexual interest in her. To assure commercial success, the cast of The Cheat (1915) featured the Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa – who was a male sex symbol in the cinema of that time – which was a cultural fact that resonated on-screen and off-screen as a sexual threat to the existing racial hierarchy and sexual mores of white men in 1915.:21–22 & 25.
In Shanghai Express (1932), General Henry Chang (Warner Oland) is a warlord of Eurasian origin (Chinese and American), whom the narrative presents as an asexual man, which excludes him from the realm of Western sexual mores and the racialist order; thus, he is dangerous to the Westerners he holds hostage.:64 Though Chang is Eurasian, he is prouder of his Chinese heritage, and rejects his American heritage, which rejection confirms his Oriental identity.:64
In 1931, the Chinese civil war has rendered the country into a version of Hell, which a diverse group of Westerners must traverse by train, from Beijing to Shanghai, a voyage that turns for the worse when General Chang's soldiers hijack the train.:61 The story implies that Gen. Chang is a bisexual man who desires to rape the heroine, Shanghai Lily (Marlene Dietrich), and the hero, Captain Donald "Doc" Harvey (Clive Brook).:64
Moreover, when the German opium smuggler Erich Baum (Gustav von Seyffertitz) insults Chang, the warlord symbolically rapes him by branding; the sadistic Chang derives sexual pleasure in branding Baum with a red-hot poker.:64–65 After being branded, the once proud Baum becomes notably cowed and submissive to Chang, then owns him in realisation of the ultimate fear of the Yellow Peril: Westerners enslaved to the unnatural and perverse sexuality of the East; later, Chang rapes Hui Fei (Anna May Wong).:65
Gen. Chang's desire to blind Capt. Harvey also is a castration metaphor, a taboo subject even for the intellectually permissive Production code in effect in 1932.:65 In marked contrast to Chang's bisexuality and his "almost effeminate polish", the British Army Captain Harvey is a resolutely heterosexual man, a tough, rugged soldier tested and proved in the trenches of the First World War (1914–18); the Briton is a model of Western masculinity and strength.:64–65 Throughout, the narrative implies that Shanghai Lily and Hui Fei are in a lesbian relationship, thus, at story's end, Lily's choice of Capt. Harvey as her lover, reaffirms the heterosexual appeal of the Western man and redeems her from prostitution.:60–65
The narrative of Shanghai Express embraces the stereotypes of the Yellow Peril through the Eurasian character of Gen. Chang, and also undermines their inhumanity through the suffering of Hui Fei, who cries inconsolably after Chang raped her, such humanity allows the audience to sympathize with a non-white Other.:65 As a courtesan, Hui Fei is condescended to by every Western character, except her best friend Lily, because of her race and profession, but is shown as dignified woman who stands up for herself.:232–234 At the climax, Hui Fei kills Gen. Chang to save Harvey from being blinded by him; she explains that killing Chang regained the self-respect he had taken from her. Throughout, the narrative has suggested that Shanghai Lily and Hui Fei are more attracted to each other than to Capt. Harvey. That detail of character, which suggests that Hui Fei is sexually abnormal, was socially daring drama in 1932, because Western mores considered bi-sexuality to be unnatural.:232,236 The same criticism of sexual orientation might apply to Lily, but the story concludes with resumed heterosexuality, when she kisses Capt. Harvey, while Hui Fei walks away alone, sad for having been raped and for losing her best friend to Capt. Harvey.:232,236–237
The Dragon Lady is a cultural representation of white fear of Asian female sexuality. The Asian seductress is a charming, beautiful, and sexually insatiable woman who readily and easily dominates men. As a sexual Other, the dragon-lady woman is a tempting, but morally degrading object of desire for the white man.:3
In Western cinema genre, the cowboy town features an Asian woman who usually portrayed as a scheming prostitute, always seeking to use her sexuality (charisma and physical sex-appeal) to beguile and dominate the white man. In the American television program Ally McBeal (1997–2002), the Yellow Peril featured the Dragon Lady stereotype, personified as the Ling Woo character, a domineering woman whose Chinese ethnicity includes sexual abilities that no white woman could hope to match.
In the late 20th century, such a sexual representation of the Yellow Peril, introduced in the comic strip Terry and the Pirates (27 September 1936), indicates that the Western imagination continues to associate Asia, as a region of exotic beauty and material opulence, of moral laxity and sensual excess, and of cultural decadence. To the Westerner, the seductiveness of the Orient implies spiritual threat and hidden existential danger, derived from the desire to be enticed and hypnotized, to be entrapped and suffocated in a masochistic surrender of white identity, "to be engulfed by what Freudians might describe as a metaphoric womb–tomb".:67–68
The Lotus Blossom
A variant Yellow-Peril seductress is presented in the white-saviour romance between a "White Knight" from the West and a "Lotus Blossom" from the East; each redeems the other by way of mutual romantic love. Despite being a threat to the passive sexuality of white women, the romantic narrative favourably portrays the Lotus Blossom character as a woman who needs the love of a white man to rescue her from objectification by a flawed Asian culture.:108–111 As a heroine, the Lotus-Blossom-woman is an ultra-feminine model of Asian pulchritude, social grace, and culture, whose own people trapped her in an inferior, gender-determined social-class. Only a white man can rescue her from such a cultural impasse, thereby, the narrative reaffirms the moral superiority of the Western world.:108–111
- Hong Kong
In The World of Suzie Wong (1960), the eponymous anti-heroine is a lost-soul prostitute saved by the love of Robert Lomax (William Holden), an American painter living in Hong Kong.:123 The East–West sexual differences available to Lomax are two: an unpleasant, career-minded British girlfriend, Kay O'Neill (Sylvia Syms), who is mannishly independent; and Suzie Wong, who is a conventionally feminine and submissive woman. She works as a sexual prostitute because of her poverty in Hong Kong, which, the story suggests, is the natural condition of the peoples of Asia.:113–116
Moreover, in 1959, the economic ascendancy of Hong Kong, as part of the "Asian Tiger Economy", had just begun to improve life for the Chinese. Nonetheless, despite the film's historical inaccuracy of background, the cultural contrast of the representations of Suzie Wong and Kay O'Neill imply that if a Western woman wants to win a cultured, Western man (like the painter Robert Lomax) she should emulate the sexually passive prostitute (Suzie Wong) rather than the independent and "controlling" career-woman (Kay O'Neill).:116 As an Oriental stereotype, the submissive Asian girl (Lotus -Blossom Wong) shows her innate masochism when she "proudly displays signs of a beating, to her fellow hookers, and uses it as evidence that her man loves her", which condition further increases Lomax's need to rescue her.
Psychologically, the painter Lomax needs the prostitute Wong, as the muse whose eroticism inspires the self-discipline necessary for becoming an accomplished painter.:120 Suzie Wong is an illiterate orphan who was sexually abused as a girl; thus her toleration of abuse by most of her Chinese clients.:113 That Lomax is portrayed as more enlightened and caring, than Chinese and British men, implies the moral superiority of the American culture over the decadent society of Hong Kong and over the decayed British Empire; the Americans shall be better geopolitical and cultural custodians of Asia than were the British.:115 When a British sailor attempts to rape Wong, the chivalrous Lomax rescues her and beats the would-be rapist; all the while, Chinese men sat by, indifferent to the rape of a prostitute.:115
As a Lotus Blossom stereotype of the Yellow Peril, the prostitute Suzie Wong is a single mother, of a child, by a Chinese man who abandoned them; the socially dramatic backstory of the woman emphasises the casual cruelty of Hong Kong's Asian society.:117 In contrast to the casual brutality (emotional and physical) with which Chinese and British characters treat Wong, the sensitive artist Lomax loves her as a "child–woman", and saves her with a new social identity as his Lotus Blossom, an ideal woman who is docile under his paternalism.:120–123 Yet Lomax's love is conditional; throughout the story, she wears a Chinese Cheongsam dress, but when she dresses in Western clothes, Lomax rips off her dress, and orders her to only wear a cheongsam – Suzie Wong is acceptable only as an Asian girl created in conformity to the Western cultural mores of proper womanhood and femininity.:121
In the opera Miss Saigon (1989), the country of Vietnam is represented as a beautifully exotic and mysterious place of sensuous beauty, incomprehensible savagery, and much filth.:34 The opening chorus of the first song, "The Heat's on Saigon", begins thus: "The heat's on Saigon / The girls are hotter 'n hell / Tonight one of these slits will be Miss Saigon / God, the tension is high / Not to mention the smell".:34
The first act, set in Saigon City, presents the adolescent prostitute-heroine named Kim, who is portrayed as a demure "Lotus Blossom" who is a sexually available and submissive Asian woman whose life is defined by her love for a white man, the American Marine Chris Scott.:28–32 That every Vietnamese woman is a prostitute, and that all, but one, are Dragon Ladies who easily display their bodies in bikini swim suits, confirms the Western stereotype of the hyper-sexual Asian woman.:31–32 The second act, set in Thailand, portrays Thai women as prostitutes, and reinforces the Western stereotype of the hyper-sexual Asian woman who is perpetually available to copulate. At the Dreamland brothel, Kim is the only woman who does not always dress in a bikini swimsuit.:32 Her passivity, moral purity, and fidelity to the Marine Chris, who abandoned her and their son in South Vietnam, returned to the U.S. and married the American woman Ellen, suggests that subservience is the proper relation between an Asian woman and a white man.:29
Despite working as a prostitute, the seventeen-year-old Kim is a virginal innocent who needs the Marine Chris to protect her from the cruel world of Saigon City.:32 One of the songs that Chris sings about her suggests that Kim is Vietnam.:31 In contrast to the aggressive Vietnamese male characters, the passive Kim is portrayed as being the true Vietnam.:31–33 Moreover, the man Thuy, a Viet Cong guerrilla who wants to marry Kim, is portrayed as a jealous and possessive, violent and cruel man who seeks to exploit her, the opposite of Chris, who only seeks to love her.:34 The character of the pimp, Tran Van Dinh, aka "The Engineer", is a Eurasian man whose sexuality is "simply incomprehensible, illegible, indeterminate, even as it is spectacularly displayed".:41
East Asia studies Professor Karen Shimakawa described the Engineer as "simultaneously lascivious, sexually exploitative, pan-sexual and desexualized.":41 Although the character was born of a French father and a Vietnamese mother, the libretto always emphasises his Oriental-ness.:39 "The Engineer embodies an un-categorizable, yet spectacular perversity – a condition that, the logic of the play suggests, is hereditary: It is the direct result of his racially and nationally mixed beginnings in prostitution and sexual debauchery".:41 The best friend of Chris, is a black man named John, an enthusiastic patron of the Dreamland brothel, fulfils the racial stereotype of the sexually voracious black man.:30 Unlike the romantic Chris, John is given to crude, macho boasting about his sexual prowess, and only sees the women of the Dreamland brothel as sexual objects.:30–32 In contrast to the flawed masculinity of the coloured men, the white Chris is a kind, gentle man who genuinely loves Kim, and sings: "I wanted to save her, protect her / Christ, I'm an American / How could I fail to do good?".:29
Oriental sexual voracity
The essence of the Western fear of the Yellow Peril is that Asian men and women are sexually voracious people, whose Oriental cultures emphasise the sensual and sensuous aspects of life. As such, Oriental sexuality threatens the moral destruction of the Christian West, by way of enslavement to the senses. Prof. Tim Thompson said that a "perfect example" of such sexual fear of the Asian Other is the Canadian short story "The Fall: With a Whimper" (2007), by Tantric Legion, in the genre of graphic-pornography horror-story.:2014
Intelligent, hermaphrodite worms arrive to China from outer space; they are "sexual parasites" approximately one-foot in length and three-inches in diameter. In the scenes of infectious rape, the phallic worms penetrate the human body through vaginas and anuses, and then assume control of the victim's mind. The protagonist, Mei, a pretty, young schoolteacher in Jiuquan. In the first half of the story, the frightened Mei continually attempts to avoid infection, to no avail. After being infected, she sets out to infect the rest of humanity. As the self-named "Mei host", she considers herself a "good slave" who longs only to do the bidding of her "masters", her affectionate name for the worms that control her mind and body. Their "one, fervent wish" is to create a "glorious, new civilization" that will bless humanity with a "shared consciousness". Moreover, the worms also transform the bodies of the victims, and Mei host, now endowed with "swollen breasts and a constant state of sexual arousal", has no trouble seducing people, whom she infects with the phallic worms.
The authorial voice of the narrative presents Mei's transformation, from demure-"Stoneman">Stoneman, Rod (8 November 2014). "Far East Fu fighting: The Yellow Peril – Dr Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinophobia". The Irish Times. Retrieved 4 January 2015.</ref> The images of flooding and bodily penetration evoke Yellow-Peril racism, and the classic, white xenophobia of the Chinese as a faceless horde overwhelming the rest of humanity, specifically, the white peoples of Western Europe and North America. Because the phallic worms are hermaphrodite, the infected Chinese are a literal foreign body infecting the men and women who are the world polity. Thematically, "The Fall: With a Whimper" evokes the white Christian fear of ambiguous sexual orientation; Western sexual anxieties psychologically projected onto the Asian Other. (This article incorporates facts obtained from: Lawrence Kestenbaum, The Political Graveyard)
Fu Manchu and criminal kin
The Yellow Peril was a common subject for colonial adventure fiction, of which the representative villain is Dr. Fu Manchu, created by Sax Rohmer, and featured in thirteen novels (1913–59). Fu Manchu is an evil Chinese gangster and mad scientist who means to conquer the world, despite continually being foiled by the British policeman and gentleman spy Sir Denis Nayland Smith, and his assistant Dr. Petrie.
Fu Manchu was patterned on the antagonist of the Yellow Peril series and novel The Yellow Danger; Or, what Might Happen in the Division of the Chinese Empire Should Estrange all European Countries (1898), by M. P. Shiel, published initially as the serial story The Empress of the Earth: The Tale of the Yellow War; and published in the U.S. first as China in Arms (1898), and then revised as The Yellow Danger: The Story of the World's Greatest War (1899)
In the context of the Fu Manchu series, and Shiel's influence, reviewer Jack Adrian described Sax Rohmer as a
shameless inflater of a peril that was no peril at all … into an absurd global conspiracy.
He had not even the excuse … of his predecessor in this shabby lie, M.P. Shiel, who was a vigorous racist, sometimes exhibiting a hatred and horror of Jews and Far Eastern races. Rohmer's own racism was careless and casual, a mere symptom of the times.
Dr. Fu Manchu is the head of the Si-Fan, an international criminal organisation and a pan-Asian murder gang recruited from the "darkest places of the East" with countless Chinese, Burmese, Malay, and Indian thugs willing to perform any command. The novels feature the recurring scene wherein Fu Manchu despatches assassins (usually Chinese or Indian) to kill Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie. In the course of adventure, they are surrounded by coloured foreigners wishing to harm them; the metaphor is that the East has trespassed into the West.
Cinema of the Yellow Peril
In the 1930s, Hollywood offered two contradictory images of Asian men: (i) The malevolent master-criminal, Dr. Fu Manchu; and (ii) The benevolent master-detective, Charlie Chan. As a Yellow Peril villain, Fu Manchu is "Rohmer's concoction of cunning Asian villainy [that] connects with the irrational fears of proliferation and incursion: Racist myths often carried by the water imagery of flood, deluge, the tidal waves of immigrants, rivers of blood." In 1936, when the Nazis banned his novels in Germany, because they believed him Jewish, Sax Rohmer denied being racist and published a letter declaring himself "a good Irishman", wherein he was disingenuous about the why of the Nazi book-ban, because "my stories are not inimical to Nazi ideals."
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) reflects the white man's sexual-anxiety as the basis of Yellow Peril fear; thus Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) urges his Asian army to "Kill the white man and take his women!" Incest, between father and daughter, is a recurrent theme in the narrative of The Mask of Fu Manchu, especially the ambiguous nature of the relationship between Fu Manchu and his daughter, Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy), an example of the unnatural sexuality of the yellow race.
Emperor Ming the Merciless, nemesis of Flash Gordon, was another iteration of the Fu Manchu trope. Peter Feng calls him a "futuristic Yellow Peril", quoting a reviewer who referred to Ming as a "slanty eyed, shiny domed, pointy nailed, arching eyebrowed, exotically dressed Oriental". Likewise, Buck Rogers fought against the Mongol Reds (aka the Hans), who had conquered the U.S. in the 25th century. In the late 1950s, Atlas Comics (Marvel Comics) published the Yellow Claw, a pastiche of the Fu Manchu stories. In the 1970s, Marvel Comics used Fu Manchu as the principal foe of his son, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu.
Literary Yellow Peril
The villain Li Shoon, created by H. Irving Hancock, appeared in "Under the Ban of Li Shoon" and "Li Shoon's Deadliest Mission" in Detective Story Magazine in 1916. Yellow Peril racial stereotypes were common currency in the genre literature of pulp magazine fiction of the early 20th century. Physically, Li Shoon is a "tall and stout" man with "a round, moon-like yellow face" with "bulging eyebrows" above "sunken eyes". Personally, Li Shoon is "an amazing compound of evil" and intellect, which makes him "a wonder at everything wicked" and "a marvel of satanic cunning." In 1937, the publisher DC Comics featured "Ching Lung" on the cover and in the first issue of Detective Comics (March 1937).
Yellow Peril: The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth–Smythe, by Richard Jaccoma (1978) is a pastiche of the Fu Manchu novels by Sax Rohmer. Set in the 1930s, the novel is a distillation of the psychosexual and racist stereotypes of the Dragon Lady seductress and of the ruthless Mongol who threaten Western civilisation. The story is told in the genre's traditional first-person narrative of Sir John Weymouth–Smythe, an anti-hero who is simultaneously a lecher and a prude, continually torn between sensual desire and Victorian sensibility. The plot concerns Weymouth–Smythe's quest for the Spear of Destiny, a relic with supernatural power, which gives the possessor control of the world. Throughout the story, Weymouth–Smythe spends much time battling the nominal villain, Chou en Shu, for possession of the Spear of Destiny. In the course of the action, thematic developments reveal that the Yellow Peril is not the villain, but the (Nazi) Germans who were ostensible allies of the British anti-hero, Weymouth–Smythe, in the quest for the Spear of Destiny. The Nazis are led by Clara Schicksal, a stereotypical Teutonic blonde woman who sacrifices Burmese boys to ancient German gods, whilst fellating them; later, Weymouth–Symthe punishes Schicksal by sodomizing her.
Novels of the Yellow Peril
- The Yellow Danger; Or, what Might Happen in the Division of the Chinese Empire Should Estrange all European Countries (1898), by M. P. Shiel, deals with the consequences of the murder of two German missionaries, in Jiaozhou Bay (Kiau-Tschou); the villain is Dr. Yen How. The novel originally was published as the serial story, The Empress of the Earth: The Tale of the Yellow War (5 Feb – 18 June 1897) in Short Stories magazine. It centers on the murder of two German missionaries in Kiau-Tschou in 1897 and features the Chinese villain, Dr Yen How.
- "The Unparalleled Invasion" (1910), by Jack London, is presented as a narrative historical essay of the events occurred between 1976 and 1987, wherein China invades, conquers, and colonises neighbour countries; Chinese conquest of the Earth is their ultimate goal. In self-defence, the countries of the Western World attack China with biological warfare, using smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, and Black Death. The Chinese people who escape contaminated China are killed by the Western armies and navies at the land and sea borders; the few survivors of the plagues are killed with punitive expeditions to the interior of China proper. Philosophically, the Western genocide of the Chinese people is positively described in detail in a narrative featuring the racist color terms "yellow life" and "yellow populace" to justify "the sanitation of China" and its settler colonisation by white-skinned Westerners under "the democratic American programme."
- The Peril of the Pacific (1916), by J. Allan Dunn, describes a Japanese invasion of the western U.S. in 1920, positing a treasonous alliance between immigrant Japanese-Americans and the Japanese Navy. The narrative language reflects contemporaneous racist anxiety over the social status of Japanese-Americans, most of whom lived in California, and who were exempt from anti-immigration legislation in accordance with the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907. The thematic implication of The Peril of the Pacific is that the primary loyalty of Japanese-Americans is to Imperial Japan.
- In the short story "He" (1926), by H.P. Lovecraft, the protagonist white-man is allowed to see the future of planet Earth, a world conquered by the "yellow men" who triumphantly dance to their drums among the ruins of the white man's world. In the short story "The Horror at Red Hook" (1927), features a land controlled by non-white people, where "slant-eyed immigrants practice nameless rites in honor of heathen gods by the light of the moon." The author, H. P. Lovecraft, was in continual fear that Asian peoples would conquer the world and replace the white man's supremacy.
- Yellow Peril (1989), by Bao Mi (Wang Lixiong), is about a civil war in the People's Republic of China that escalates to nuclear warfare that soon becomes World War III. The narrative is notable for the dissident politics presented by Wang Lixiong. The novel was published after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and was banned by the Communist Party of China.
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