ONE of the most illuminating pages of Wikipedia relates to “Yellow Peril”. This page covers the history of the political, psychological and cultural metaphors and ideology conceived by the West to depict the Oriental and non-white Other - in particular the Chinese, but also including Japanese and other East Asians - and of the danger to the Western world.
Drawing on the work of scholars and western mass media sources of the time, the page and contents provide the reader with knowledge of a long standing but still highly influential and emblematic myth founded on racial stereotyping, which has emerged in the last century and continues in various albeit more subtle permutations today.
Among the main subjects of discussion in the page are:
-> Origins in Germany, Russia, Canada and the United States;
-> Boxer Rebellion - western perception and colonial vengeance;
-> Cultural fears and racial annihilation concerns;
-> Xenophobia in Europe, the US, Australia, South African, New Zealand;
-> Pragmatic racism, socially acceptable Asians and race wars; and
-> Sexual fears and literary, cinematic and comic book Yellow Peril.
Although quite comprehensive, the page only provides an aperitif or starting point to this phenomenon of racial and related national character stereotyping, which underpins much of western foreign policy making and public opinion today.
The page also refers to the following other pages in Wikipedia for related discussion:
-> Anti-Chinese sentiment in the US;
-> Anti-Japanese sentiment in the US;
-> Anti-Korean sentiment in the US;
-> Dusky Peril;
-> Red Chinese Battle Plan;
-> Stereotypes of East Asians in the Western world;
-> The White Man’s Burden;
-> White Australia policy; and
-> Xenophobia and racism related to the Covid-19 pandemic
What is missing from the Wiki coverage and much of western media analysis is how political leaders, media and think tanks from the West – intentionally and otherwise – are resurrecting or entrenching this myth to converge with their political and economic assessment that China is the main existential threat to the West.
Examination of the page and its references on how the Yellow Peril ideology originated and was concretised during the last 150 years shows how key players of the myth are political forces, economic and business interests and western media.
These drivers of western interests and hegemony continue today to capitalise on emotion driven xenophobia and the fear that western civilization and supremacy in the political-economic realm especially, are being undermined or challenged by people and countries of a different skin colour and culture.
The bared hands behind the myth
Among the most prominent initiators of the racist stereotyping of the Yellow Peril have been the ruling elites whose pitch to the world in the late 19th century bears striking resemblance to the ones used by some Western leaders today in the attempt to rally their constituencies against what they allege to be an “expansionist”, “rule breaking”, “anti-democratic” and “genocidal” China.
From the Wiki page (the references are omitted here): To justify European cultural hegemony, the Kaiser used the allegorical lithograph Peoples of Europe, Guard Your Most Sacred Possessions (1895), by Herman Knackfuss, to communicate his geopolitics to other European monarchs. The lithograph depicts Germany as the leader of Europe, personified as a “prehistoric warrior-goddesses being led by the Archangel Michael against the ‘Yellow Peril’ from the East”, which is represented by “dark cloud of smoke (upon) which rests an eerily calm Buddha, wreathed in flame”. 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.
Today the same good versus evil juxtaposition and Yellow Peril concerns calling for the defence and preservation of western exceptionalism and western style democracy to lead the world is apparent in the social media chatter that accompanies western mainstream media coverage of China news and events, the overwhelming thrust of which is to provoke condemnation of authoritarian and “humanity threatening” Beijing through amplification of the fear mongering engaged in by political leaders of the West and allies.
As noted by Caitlin Johnston, Australian independent opinion writer: “The US empire uses ‘freedom and democracy’ as a pretext to conquer and kill in exactly the same way European colonialists used the pretext of spreading Christianity and civilization to save the godless savages. And it does so for the exact same reasons.”
Exploiting Covid-19 and more
Canadian academician, Dr Anita Jack-Davis in an article on Coronavirus: The Yellow Peril Revisited when commenting on what is taking place in Canada’s race relations and the hate incidents precipitated by the pandemic provides insights into another dimension of the Yellow Peril that related to constructions of the Chinese and Asians as “diseased” and other techniques of racialisation and dehumanisation.
From this, we can discern the strategy behind former US President Donald Trump’s repeated reference to the virus as the “China virus” in an attempt to deflect his administration’s missteps in dealing with the pandemic and in targeting blame towards China’s leadership for the virus’s impact on the US.
Trump’s rhetoric on “kungflu”, “Wuhan virus” and “Chinese disease” in his rally speeches was not only aimed at fanning anti-China sentiments.
It was also to invoke an additional narrative to the Chinese “Yellow Peril” menace by associating it with China President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party as the greatest danger to the western “free” world led by the US.
Although Trump has been succeeded by Democrat President Joe Biden, the change in political guard in the US has not resulted in change to the racially driven mindsets of many Western leaders.
Besides recently identifying China as the US “biggest geopolitical test” of this century” (there is another 78 years before the century runs out) Biden’s preferred trope now is of China and the Chinese “eating the lunch” of the US unless Americans get their act together.
What will further reincarnation of the Yellow Peril myth look like if the US cannot get its act together and as China continues its long march of independence, development and progress?
Lim Teck Ghee’s Another Take is aimed at demystifying social orthodoxy. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org