Yellow Peril

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For other uses, see Yellow Peril (disambiguation).
"The Yellow Terror In All His Glory", 1899 editorial cartoon

Yellow Peril (sometimes Yellow Terror) was a color metaphor for race that originated in the late nineteenth century with Chinese immigrants as coolie slaves or laborers to various Western countries, notably the United States. It was later associated with the Japanese during the mid-20th century, due to Japanese military expansion, and eventually extended to all Asians of East and Southeast Asian descent.

The term refers to perceptions regarding the skin color of East Asians, the fear that the mass immigration of Asians threatened white wages and standards of living, and the fear that they would eventually take over and destroy western civilization, replacing it with their ways of life and values.

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


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

Many sources credit Kaiser Wilhelm II with coining the phrase "Yellow Peril" (German: gelbe Gefahr) in September 1895.[1] 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. It was ostensibly designed by the Kaiser himself.[2] Wilhelm changed his mind after his abdication in World War I, saying that he should not have bothered to warn Europe of the Yellow Peril, writing that "We shall be the leaders of the Orient against the Occident! I shall now have to alter my picture 'Peoples of Europe'. We belong on the other side! Once we have proved to the Germans that the French and English are not Whites at all but Blacks".[3] He declared Germany as "face of the East against the West" instead of being in the west, and wished for the destruction of the western countries like England, France, and America, declaring the French to be "negroids", and stating his disgust at the racial equality Britain was allowing for blacks.[4]

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.

South Africa[edit]

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 to South Africa between 1904 and 1910 to work the country's gold mines. Many were repatriated after 1910,[5][6] because of strong White opposition to their presence, similar to anti-Asian sentiments in the western United States during the same period. 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, which was at the time responsible for governing South Africa after the Anglo-Boer War. 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.[7]:103

On the 26 March 1904 a demonstration against Chinese immigration to South Africa was held in Hyde Park and was attended by 80,000 people.[7]:107 The Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress then passed a resolution declaring that:

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.


United States of America[edit]

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".[9] At the time of the law's passage, Asian aliens were not considered to be racially eligible for U.S. citizenship.[10][11] 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 U.S. 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.

Cover of the third edition of G. G. Rupert's The Yellow Peril, depicting Uncle Sam in a swordfight with a stereotypical pigtailed chinaman.

The phrase "yellow peril" was common in the U.S. newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst.[12] 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,[13] Rupert, who believed in the doctrine of British Israelism, claimed that China, India, Japan, and Korea were attacking England and the United States, but that Jesus Christ would stop them.[14] Rupert believed that all the "colored races" would eventually unite under the leadership of Russia, producing a final apocalyptic confrontation.

According to science fiction writer William F. Wu, "pulp magazines in the 1930s had a lot of yellow peril characters loosely based on Fu Manchu" and that although "most were of Chinese descent", the geopolitics at the time led a "growing number of people to see Japan as a threat" as well. 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.[15]

New Zealand[edit]

See also: Lionel Terry

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. He compared Chinese people to monkeys. In his first political speech in 1879 he had declared New Zealand did not wish her shores to be "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'."[16]

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.


In The Yellow Menace, a 1916 serial, Asian villains threaten the heroine.[17]
  • Emile Driant, a French officer and political activist, wrote under the pen name of Capitaine Danrit The Yellow Invasion in 1905. The story depicts the surprise attack against the Western world by a gigantic Sino-Japanese army, covertly equipped with American-made weapons and secretly trained in the remote Chinese hinterland. The plot is hatched by a Japanese veteran of the Russo-Japanese War: coming out of the war with a fanatical hatred of Westerners, he organizes a world-spanning secret society named the Devouring Dragon in order to destroy Western civilization.
  • Jack London's 1914 story "The Unparalleled Invasion", presented as a historical essay narrating events between 1976 and 1987, describes 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 expeditions entering China. This genocide is described in considerable detail, and nowhere is there mentioned any objection to it. The terms "yellow life" and "yellow populace" appear in the story. It ends with "the sanitation of China" and its re-settlement by Westerners, "the democratic American programme" as London puts it.[18]
  • The J. Allan Dunn novel, The Peril of the Pacific, a 1916 serial in the pulp magazine People's, describes an attempted invasion of the western United States by Japan. The novel, set in 1920, posits an alliance between Japanese immigrants in America and the Japanese navy. It reflects contemporaneous anxiety over the status of Japanese immigrants, 90% of whom lived in California, and who were exempt from anti-immigration legislation in accordance with the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907. The novel implies that the primary loyalty of America's Japanese immigrants was to their homeland.[19]
  • 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 colonized 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.
  • H. P. Lovecraft was in constant fear of Asiatic culture engulfing the world[20] 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 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".

Fu Manchu and kin[edit]

"Ming the Merciless", archenemy of Flash Gordon, has been described as a "futuristic Yellow Peril". He is portrayed here (accompanied by Princess Aura) by Charles Middleton in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe.

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. Film adaptations of the novels are typified by The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), with Boris Karloff playing the title role.

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).

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 doomed, pointy nailed, arching eyebrowed, exotically dressed Oriental".[22] Likewise, Buck Rogers fought against the "Mongol Reds" also known as "Hans", who had taken over America in the 25th century.

In the late 1950s, Atlas Comics (now Marvel Comics) debuted the Yellow Claw, a Fu Manchu pastiche. 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.[23] 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!' according to the 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ G. G. Rupert, The Yellow Peril or, the Orient versus the Occident, Union Publishing, 1911, p. 9
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ John C. G. Röhl (1996). The Kaiser and his Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany. Translated by Terence F. Cole (reprint, illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 13. ISBN 0521565049. Retrieved September 25, 2012. 
  4. ^ John C. G. Röhl (1996). The Kaiser and his Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany. Translated by Terence F. Cole (reprint, illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 210. ISBN 0521565049. Retrieved September 25, 2012. 
  5. ^ "In South Africa, Chinese is the New Black". Wall Street Journal. June 19, 2008. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ a b Yap, Melanie; Leong Man, Dainne (1996). Colour, Confusion and Concessions: The History of the Chinese in South Africa. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. p. 510. ISBN 962-209-423-6. 
  8. ^ Official programme of the great demonstration in Hyde Park, [S.l.:s.n.]; Richardson (1904). Chinese mine labour in the Transvaal. London: Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress. pp. 5–6. 
  9. ^ "Prologue: Selected Articles". Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  10. ^ "For Teacher - An Introduction to Asian American History". 19 February 1942. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ "Foreign News: Again, Yellow Peril". Time. 1933-09-11. 
  13. ^ "Revelation 16:12 (New King James Version)". Retrieved 2007-11-05. 
  14. ^ "NYU’s "Archivist of the Yellow Peril" Exhibit". Boas Blog. 2006-08-19. Retrieved 2007-11-05. 
  15. ^ Contact Lisa Katayama: Comment (29 August 2008). "The Yellow Peril, Fu Manchu, and the Ethnic Future". Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  16. ^ Randal Mathews Burdon, King Dick: A Biography of Richard John Seddon, Whitcombe & Tombs, 1955, p.43.
  17. ^ Marchetti, Gina (1993). Romance and the "yellow Peril": Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction. University of California Press. p. 3. 
  18. ^ "THE UNPARALLELED INVASION". The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved 2007-11-05. 
  19. ^ Dunn, J. Allan. The Peril of the Pacific, Off-Trail Publications, 2011. ISBN 978-1-935031-16-1
  20. ^ See The Call of Cthulhu and other Weird Stories, edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Classics, 1999 (p. 390), where Joshi documents Lovecraft's fears that Japan and China will attack the West.
  21. ^ "1999 World Press Freedom Review". IPI International Press Institute. Retrieved 2007-11-05. 
  22. ^ Peter X. Feng, Screening Asian Americans, Rutgers University Press, 2002, p.59.
  23. ^ Richard Jaccoma (1978). "Yellow Peril": The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth-Smythe : a Novel. Richard Marek Publishers. ISBN 0-399-90007-1. 


  • 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
  • Baron Suematsu in Europe during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05): His Battle with Yellow Peril, by Matsumura Masayoshi, translated by Ian Ruxton (, 2011)

External links[edit]