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Yellow Peril!: An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear…
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Yellow Peril!: An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear

by John Kuo Wei Tchen

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Fear of the East

Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear by John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats (Verso, $29.95).

Our tribal prejudices against “others” didn’t originate with the East-versus-West demarcation, but that’s one source of bias that goes back a long, long way. In Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear, NYU history professor John Kuo Wei Tchen and graduate student Dylan Yeats have put together a lengthy documentary look at Western bias against Asians.

What’s perhaps most disappointing is that the imagery hasn’t changed all that much—included are Asian-as-octopus cartoons from 1936 and 2010. With the rise in immigration from Asian nations and the economic expansion, it’s time—and more than time—to examine what we’re carrying forward.

Like all documentary collections, this is selective. Nonetheless, it’s fascinating. ( )
  KelMunger | May 8, 2014 |
While nominally about the abusive stereotyping of Asians in Europe and America, Yellow Peril spends nearly half its heft dealing with xenophobia, prejudice and abuse through the ages. Yellow Peril itself was the conceit of Kaiser Wilhelm, who saw it in a dream in the 1880s, and had it made into a political cartoonish painting that was reproduced throughout the West. Sadly, it stuck, and flourished.

Unlike most academic tracts that quote often and in short bursts, this book takes excerpts in their entirety, giving you a taste of style as well as content. It makes the read much more varied, especially when the content is as revolting as man’s complete intolerance of anyone who is in any way different.

It is also peppered with gloriously malevolent illustrations from ancient maps prejudicially naming countries and continents, to mass market book covers and political cartoons – including a racist, inflammatory cartoon against the Japanese by Dr. Seuss of all people. It just adds to the evidence that prejudice is ubiquitous and ingrained. I freely admit I had no idea attacks on Asians were so widespread or so intense. This has been a revelation.
Respected academics, historians, philosophers and of course politicians all participate in propagating ignorant hatred. And their words are taken as truth. The yellow peril is only a more recent example. We have gone through eugenics and phrenology and all kinds of crackpot theories, particularly in the 1800s, all of which were received as solid science. They all prove “we” are better, more advanced, more evolved, superior. “They” are wretched, dishonest, dirty, and incapable of either assimilating (restrict immigration) or self-governing (invade and colonize). All nations feel this way about everyone else. It’s how they keep together. Some examples from Yellow Peril:

- 13th century opinion was that the invading Mongol hordes were Jewish, because there is no mention of Mongols in the bible.
-In 1452, Pope Nicholas the V issued a papal bull authorizing perpetual slavery for all Saracens (Muslims), pagans and all other nonbelievers. With this, he justified and promulgated the development of the international slave trade. Which we still have not shaken.
-We love to assign bizarre attributes to others, to mark them as infidels: Jews drinking baby’s blood, Muslims as jihadists, American Indians as Redskins, Asians as Yellow. No truth in any of it, but these characterizations stick for ages. It helps when you invade. In Vietnam, Americans considered the people they were “saving” as gooks, and abused them at will.

At bottom, it is the politics of fear. It’s so much easier to find a scapegoat than to deal with issues. In America, whole political parties base their existence instilling fear in the populace. We pick easy targets to blame: “Arab ‘control’ of oil prices, Japanese ‘unfair’ competition and Chinese ‘manipulation’ of currency help politicians and pundits protect Americans from understanding the glaring domestic policy failure underpinning their economic woes.”

The sad conclusion is that humans hate anyone who is different. It doesn’t even have to be racial: Irish Catholics and Protestants, Muslim Sunnis and Shiites … We demonize them, belittle them, minimize them – at best. At worst, we abuse, plunder, rape and murder. And now, we can bomb like no one could ever before. And so we do.

I will give the last word to a quote from another review of mine, for Rivers of Water, the story of American blacks abusing African blacks in Liberia. A freed slave, who rose to high office in the mid 1800s, reflected: "How true it is, the greater the injury done to the injured, the greater the hatred of those who have done the injury!"

Yellow Peril has a long list of antecedents. ( )
  DavidWineberg | Nov 7, 2013 |
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The "yellow peril" is one of the most long-standing and pervasive racist ideas in Western culture--indeed, this book traces its history to the Enlightenment era. Yet while Fu Manchu evokes a fading historical memory, yellow peril ideology persists, animating, for example, campaign commercials from the 2012 presidential election. Yellow Peril! is the first comprehensive repository of anti-Asian images and writing, pop culture artifacts and political polemic. Written by two leading scholars and replete with paintings, photographs and images drawn from dime novels, posters, comics, theatrical productions, movies, polemical and pseudo-scholarly literature, and other pop culture ephemera, this book is both a unique and fascinating archive and a modern analysis of this crucial historical formation… (more)

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