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"The Yellow Terror In All His Glory", 1899 editorial cartoon

File:Voelker Europas.jpg

"Völker Europas, wahrt eure heiligsten Güter" (Peoples of Europe, guard your dearest goods), also known as 'Knackfuss painting', was a popular illustration of German awkwardness toward an expanding Japan.

Yellow Peril (sometimes Yellow Terror) was a colour metaphor for race that originated in the late nineteenth century with immigration of Chinese laborers to various Western countries, notably the United States, and later associated with the Japanese during the mid 20th century, due to Japanese military expansion.

The term refers to the skin color of East Asians, and the belief that the mass immigration of Asians threatened white wages and standards of living.


Many sources credit Kaiser Wilhelm II with coining the phrase "Yellow Peril" (Template:Lang-de) in September 1895. The Kaiser had a portrait of this title—depicting the Archangel Michael and an allegorial Germany leading a charge against an Asiatic threat represented by a golden Buddha—hung in all ships of the Hamburg America Line. It was ostensibly painted by the Kaiser himself.[1]

In 1898, the British writer M. P. Shiel published a short story serial entitled The Empress of the Earth. The later novel edition was named The Yellow Danger. Shiel's novel centers on the murder of two German missionaries in Kiau-Tschou in 1897 and features the Chinese villain, Dr. Yen How.

American use

The phrase "yellow peril" was common in the U.S. newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst.[2] It was also the title of a popular book by an influential U.S. religious figure, G.G. Rupert, who published The Yellow Peril; or, Orient vs. Occident in 1911. Based on the phrase "the kings from the East" in the Christian scriptural verse Revelation 16:12,[3] Rupert, who believed in the doctrine of British Israelism, claimed that China, India, Japan and Korea were attacking England and the U.S., but that Jesus Christ would stop them.[4]

"Pulp magazines in the 30s had a lot of yellow peril characters loosely based on Fu Manchu," says William F. Wu, a pioneer in Asian science fiction writing in the U.S. "Most were of Chinese descent, but because of the geopolitics at the time, a growing number of people were seeing Japan as a threat, too."

In his 1982 book The Yellow Peril: Chinese Americans in American fiction, 1850-1940, Wu theorizes that the fear of Asians dates back to Mongol invasion in the Middle Ages during the Mongol Empire. "The Europeans believed that Mongols were invading en masse, but actually, they were just on horseback and riding really fast," he writes. Most Europeans had never seen an Asian before, and the harsh contrast in language and physical appearance probably caused more skepticism than transcontinental immigrants did. "I think the way they looked had a lot to do with the paranoia," Wu says.[5]

New Zealand

The "yellow peril" was a significant part of the policy platform promoted by Richard Seddon, a populist New Zealand prime minister, in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Measures designed to curb Chinese immigration included a substantial poll tax following Imperial Japan's invasion and occupation of China, which was abolished in 1944 and for which the New Zealand government has since issued a formal apology.

South Africa

File:Punch 1903 - Chinese Paul.jpg

Punch cartoon, 1903, The Rand mine-owners' employment of Chinese labour was controversial and contributed to the Liberal victory in the 1906 elections.

Around 63,000 Chinese labourers were brought into South Africa between 1904-1910 to work the country's gold mines. Many were repatriated after 1910,[6][7] because of strong White opposition to their presence, similar to anti-Asian sentiments in the western United States during the same period.[8] The mass importation of Chinese labourers to work on the gold mines contributed to the fall from power of the conservative government in the United Kingdom. However it did contribute to the economic recovery of South Africa after the Anglo-Boer War by once again making the mines of the Witwatersrand the most productive gold mines in the world.[9]Template:Rp

The 'Yellow Peril' and the American National Origins Formula

In the USA xenophobic fears against the alleged "Yellow Peril" led to the implementation of the Page Act of 1875, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, expanded ten years later by the Geary Act. The Chinese Exclusion Act replaced the Burlingame Treaty ratified in 1868, which encouraged Chinese immigration, 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" and granted certain privileges to citizens of either country residing in the other, withholding, however, the right of naturalization. The Immigration Act of 1917 then created an "Asian Barred Zone" under nativist influence. The Cable Act of 1922 guaranteed independent female citizenship only to women who were married to "alien[s] eligible to naturalization". [1] At the time of the law's passage, Asian aliens were not considered to be racially eligible for U.S. citizenship. [2] [3] As such, the Cable Act only partially reversed previous policies, granting independent female citizenship only to women who married non-Asians. The Cable Act effectively revoked the U.S. citizenship of any woman who married an Asian alien. The National Origins Quota of 1924 also included a reference aimed against Japanese citizens, who were ineligible for naturalization and could not either be accepted on US territory. In 1922, a Japanese citizen attempted to demonstrate that the Japanese were members of the "white race," and, as such, eligible for naturalization. This was denied by the Supreme Court in Takao Ozawa v. United States, who judged that Japanese were not members of the "Caucasian race."

The 1921 Emergency Quota Act, and then the Immigration Act of 1924, restricted immigration according to national origins. While the Emergency Quota Act used the census of 1910, xenophobic fears in the WASP community lead to the adoption of the 1890 census, more favorable to White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) population, for the uses of the Immigration Act of 1924, which responded to rising immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Asia.

One of the goal of this National Origins Formula, established in 1929, was explicitly to keep the status quo distribution of ethnicity, by allocating quotas in proportion to the actual population. The idea was that immigration would not be allowed to change the "national character". Total annual immigration was capped at 150,000. Asians were excluded but residents of nations in the Americas were not restricted, thus making official the racial discrimination in immigration laws. This system was repealed with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

Yellow Peril in fiction

Fu Manchu characters

File:The Face of Fu Manchu.jpg

Promotional poster for 1965 film The Face of Fu Manchu

The Yellow Peril was a common theme in the fiction of the time. Perhaps most representative of this is Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels. The Fu Manchu character is believed to have been patterned on the antagonist of the 1898 Yellow Peril series by British writer M. P. Shiel. (See above; see also M.P. Shiel).

Another is Li Shoon, a fictional villain of Chinese ethnicity created by H. Irving Hancock, first published in 1916. As common in the pulp fiction of the times, the depiction of Li Shoon had considerable racial stereotypes. He was described as being "tall and stout" and having "a round, moonlike yellow face" topped by "bulging eyebrows" and "sunken eyes". He has "an amazing compound of evil" which makes him "a wonder at everything wicked" and "a marvel of satanic cunning."

DC Comics featured Ching Lung in Detective Comics, and he appeared on the cover of the first issue (March 1937).

In the late 1950s, Atlas Comics (now Marvel Comics) debuted the Yellow Claw, a Fu Manchu pastiche. However, a growing realization of the racist nature of the character archetype led to[citation needed] the villain having a handsome young Asian FBI agent, Jimmy Woo, being his principal opponent. Marvel would later use the actual Fu Manchu as the principal foe of his son, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu in the 1970s. Other characters inspired by Rohmer's Fu Manchu include Pao Tcheou.

A 1977 Doctor Who serial, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, builds a science fiction plot upon another loose Fu Manchu pastiche. In this case, the key "yellow devil" character serves to enable an ill-intentioned time traveller from the fifty-first century.

Yellow Peril: The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth-Smythe, by Richard Jaccoma (1978) is both a pastiche and a benign parody of the Sax Rohmer novels.[10] As the title suggests, it's a distillation of the trope, focusing on the psychosexual stereotype of the seductive Asian woman as well that of the ruthless Mongol conqueror that underlies much of supposed threat to Western civilization. Written for a sophisticated modern audience, it uses the traditional use of first-person narrative to portray the nominal hero Sir John Weymouth-Smythe as simultaneously a lecher and a prude, torn between his desires and Victorian sensibilities but unable to acknowledge, much less resolve, his conflicted impulses. The cover blurbs for the paperback edition declaim "Erotic adventure in the style of the original 'pulps'" and "'A Porno-Fairytale-Occult-Thriller!' —Village Voice." It is clearly in the same line as the contemporaneous works of Philip José Farmer, "updating" Rohmer the way Farmer updated Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lester Dent and Walter B. Gibson.


The "Yellow Peril" was a frequent theme of pulp fiction in the early twentieth century. The Swedish author Sven Lindqvist has pointed out that several science fiction novels from the time depicting cataclysmic clashes of civilizations take particular relish in describing the ultimate defeat of the Chinese, as compared to Africans or communists.

Jack London's 1914 story The Unparalleled Invasion, taking place in a fictional 1975, described a China with an ever-increasing population taking over and colonising its neighbors, with the intention of eventually taking over the entire Earth. Thereupon the nations of the West open biological warfare and bombard China with dozens of the most infectious diseases - among them smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, and Black Death — with all Chinese attempting to flee being shot down by armies and navies massed around their country's land and sea borders, and the few survivors of the plague invariably put to death by "mopping up" expeditions entering China. This genocide, described in considerable detail, is throughout the book described as justified and "the only possible solution to the Chinese problem", and nowhere is there mentioned any objection to it. The terms "Yellow Race", "Yellow crowds in streets", "yellow faces" and the like are frequently repeated throughout the story. It ends with "The Sanitation of China" and its re-settlement by Western settlers, "the democratic American programme" as London puts it.[11]

Philip Francis Nowlan's novella Armageddon 2419 A.D., which first appeared in the August 1928 and was the start of the long-lasting popular Buck Rogers series, depicted a future America which had been occupied and colonised by cruel invaders from China, which the hero and his friends proceed to fight and kill wholesale.

Pulp author Arthur J. Burks contributed a series of eleven short stories to All Detective Magazine (1933–34) featuring detective, Dorus Noel, in conflict with a variety of sinister operators in Manhattan's Chinatown.

Robert A. Heinlein's novel Sixth Column depicts American resistance to an invasion by a blatantly racist and genocidally cruel "PanAsian" empire.

H. P. Lovecraft was in constant fear of Asiatic culture engulfing the world [12] and a few of his stories reflect this, such as The Horror At Red Hook, where "slant-eyed immigrants practice nameless rites in honor of heathen gods by the light of the moon", and He, where the protagonist is given a glimpse of the future - the "yellow men" have conquered the world, and now dance to their drums over the ruins of the white man.

Yellow Peril is a book by Wang Lixiong, written under the pseudonym Bao Mi, about a civil war in the People's Republic of China that becomes a nuclear exchange and soon engulfs the world, causing World War III. It's notable for Wang Lixiong's politics, as a Chinese dissident and outspoken activist; its publication following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989; and its popularity due to bootleg distribution across China even when the book was banned by the Communist Party of China.[13]

The Yellow Peril is the nickname of Vault (sculpture), a controversial public art sculpture by Ron Robertson-Swann, in Melbourne, Australia.

In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Phineas and Gene decide that Brinker is Madame Chiang Kai-shek, and is therefore Chinese. They nickname him Yellow Peril.

"Yellow Peril" is also the name of a song written and performed by Steely Dan founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker before the first Steely Dan album, later released on various anthologies such as "Becker and Fagen: The Early Years." The song includes various Asian motifs and references predating later Steely Dan and related works such as "Bodhisattva", "Aja" and "Green Flower Street."

"Yellow Peril" is also the nickname of a book named "Extrapolation, Interpolation and Smoothing of Stationary Time Series with Engineering Applications" MIT Press.The author is Norbert Wiener, an American theoretical and applied mathematician. The book is originally classified, finally published in 1949. the 1942 version of this monograph was nicknamed "the yellow peril" because of the color of the cover and the difficulty of the subject.

Science fiction film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and made when "the trade war with Japan" was heating up in 1982, showed a Western city swamped by Asian immigrants as its backdrop.

Rising Sun a 1992 fiction, by Michael Crichton attempts to illustrate how the Japanese compete with other countries unfairly, how they have taken away the American manufacturing base, how they are rapidly buying up the remaining resources, how they are planning to run the American economy and make Americans play inferior roles in it, how they have hired a vast army of lobbyists to blind people to what is happening and how when people try to point all this out they are accused of being racist when in fact the accusation can be made that Japan itself is a profoundly racist culture. In the New York Times review of the book ends with the writer wondering if contending with Japan isn't going to be the United States' next great mission after the cold war ended, but hopes that Mr. Crichton's assiduously researched fantasy does not turn out to be too timely and that it doesn't send people running hysterically into the streets, crying for another bombing of Japan.[14]

See also


  1. Daniel C. Kane, introduction to A.B. de Guerville, Au Japon, Memoirs of a Foreign Correspondent in Japan, Korea, and China, 1892-1894 (West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2009), p. xxix.
  2. "Foreign News: Again, Yellow Peril". Time. 1933-09-11.,9171,746032,00.html.
  3. "Revelation 16:12 (New King James Version)". Retrieved 2007-11-05.
  4. "NYU’s "Archivist of the Yellow Peril" Exhibit". Boas Blog. 2006-08-19. Archived from the original on 2006-11-19. Retrieved 2007-11-05.
  6. "In South Africa, Chinese is the New Black". The Wall Street Journal. June 19, 2008.
  7. Park, Yoon Jung (2009). "Recent Chinese Migrations to South Africa - New Intersections of Race, Class and Ethnicity". Representation, Expression and Identity. Interdisciplinary Perspectives. ISBN 978-1-904710-81-3. Retrieved September 20, 2010.
  9. Yap, Melanie; Leong Man, Dainne (1996). Colour, Confusion and Concessions: The History of the Chinese in South Africa. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. pp. 510. ISBN 962 209 423 6.
  10. Richard Jaccoma (1978). "Yellow Peril": The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth-Smythe : a Novel. Richard Marek Publishers. ISBN 0399900071.
  11. "THE UNPARALLELED INVASION". The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved 2007-11-05.
  12. See The Call of Cthulhu and other Weird Stories, edited by S.T. Joshi,Penguin Classics,1999 ( pg. 390),where Joshi documents Lovecraft's fears that Japan and China will attack the West.
  13. "1999 World Press Freedom Review". IPI International Press Institute. Retrieved 2007-11-05.
  14. Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (1992-01-30). "Books of The Times; Investigating a Murder Japan Wants Unsolved". The New York Times.


Yellow Peril, Collection of British Novels 1895-1913, in 7 vols., edited by Yorimitsu Hashimoto, Tokyo: Edition Synapse. ISBN 978-4-86166-031-3

Yellow Peril, Collection of Historical Sources, in 5 vols., edited by Yorimitsu Hashimoto, Tokyo: Edition Synapse. ISBN 978-4-86166-033-7

External links

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