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Oriental Yellow Peril

Yellow Peril by G.G. Rupert
Wikimedia Commons

Yellow Peril (aka Yellow Menace) was a color metaphor for race that originated in the late 19th century with Chinese immigrants as laborers to various Western countries, especially North America. It was later associated with the Japanese during the early 20th century, due to Japanese military expansion (e.g., Japan defeated Russia in their 1905 War; the 1919 Treaty of Versailles assigned all confiscated German Pacific territories north of the equator to Japan), and eventually extended to all Asians of East and Southeast Asian descent.

Yellow Peril refers to perceptions regarding the skin color of East Asians, the fear that the mass immigration of Orientals threatened white wages and standards of living, and the fear that Asians would eventually take over and somehow destroy western civilization, replacing it with Oriental ways of life and values (Buddhism?).

Yellow Peril also refers to the fear and/or belief that East Asian societies would attack and instigate wars with western societies and eventually wipe them out and lead to their total extermination whether it be their societies, people, ways of life, history, and/or cultural values.

Many sources credit Kaiser Wilhelm II with coining the phrase Yellow Peril in September 1895. The Kaiser had an illustration of this title – depicting the Archangel Michael as an allegorical Germany leading the European powers against an Asiatic threat represented by a golden Buddha – hung in all ships of the Hamburg America Line. In 1898, British writer Matthew Phipps Shiel published a short story serial sub-titled The Yellow Danger. Shiel’s novel centers on the murder of two German missionaries in China in 1897 and features the Sino-Japanese villain, Dr. Yen How.

Shiel’s Asian villain, Dr. Yen How, has been cited as a possible basis for Sax Rohmer’s better-known Dr. Fu Manchu. Dr. Yen How was probably based on the Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925), who had first gained fame in England in 1896 when he was kidnapped and imprisoned at the Chinese embassy in London until public outrage pressured the British government to demand his release. Yellow Danger was very popular, going through numerous editions, particularly when the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901 seemed to confirm his fictional portrayal of Chinese hostility toward the West.

Shiel probably influenced H.G. Wells The War in the Air (1908), Jack London The Unparalleled Invasion (1910), Émile Driant The Yellow Invasion (1905) and others. “The Korean is the perfect type of inefficiency – of utter worthlessness,” wrote Jack London in his essay The Yellow Peril. H.P. Lovecraft was in constant fear of Asiatic culture engulfing the world 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.

The phrase “yellow peril” was common in the U.S. newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst (aka Charles Foster Kane in the film à clef Citizen Kane). Greenberry George Rupert was influential in the development of the idea of the Yellow Peril, the theory that East Asians (the “yellow races”) were a present and future threat to the West. These views were published in The Yellow Peril, or the Orient vs. the Occident as viewed by modern statesmen and ancient prophets (1911).

G.G. Rupert included Russia among the “Oriental” races, which, he believed, would eventually invade America. According to Rupert the reference to “the kings from the East” in Revelation 16:12 was a prediction of this biblical event. Rupert believed that Russia would take control of China and Africa; this combined force would then try to overwhelm the West. Rupert claimed that China, India, Japan and Korea were already undermining England and the U.S., but that Jesus Christ would stop them. The final victory of the Occident over the Orient would confirm biblical prophesies — as interpreted by Rupert. Like Herbert W. Armstrong and Mary Baker Eddy, Rupert believed in the silly doctrine of British-Israelism. In later editions, Rupert adapted his theory to accommodate world events. In the third edition, published after the Russian Revolution, Rupert identified the rise of Bolshevism and the expansion of communism as the beginning of a process that would lead to the fulfilment of his stupid predictions.

In the USA xenophobic fears against the alleged “Yellow Peril” led to the implementation of the racist Horace Page Act of 1875, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act - expanded 10 years later by the Thomas Geary Act. The John Cable Act of 1922 only partially reversed previous racist 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 internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was unconstitutional. In the performing arts, Yellowface, like Blackface à la Al Jolson, was a subtler form of racism and discrimination.

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