|The “Yellow Peril”
By the last quarter of the 19th century, fears that the number of Chinese would
overwhelm America were rampant. “The Mandarins in Washington” and
the “Chinese Governor of California” are illustrations that appeared
in a popular novel by P.W. Dooner titled The Last Days of the Republic. This
novel, and others like it, contributed to the myth of a “Yellow Peril.” Dooner’s
novel describes how Chinese immigrants, purporting to be harmless, hardworking
laborers, are actually part of a plot by the Chinese government to gradually
take over the United States.
Students may have difficulty finding anything negative about the depiction
of the Chinese in these illustrations. In the 19th century, it was common to
describe the Chinese as presenting a calm and agreeable manner to the outside
world but who were in reality a calculating people who hid evil ulterior motives
aimed at destroying Christian white society. The following excerpt from Dooner’s
novel may help students better understand how 19th century whites might view
such illustrations. (This quotation is also included with the illustrations
so that the teacher could make a transparency or copies for students.)
To further the discussion, have the students consider the following questions.
”He was eminently stupid in great things, and so quick and keen in small;
so devoted to toil, and so averse to sentiment; so obedient, so cunning, so
so willing, so unassuming, and so servile, that the Southern land-owners once
more imagined themselves the masters of a race of slaves, - but this time of
willing slaves, - and a prospect of permanence to the institution. They had
not learned to interpret the restless, anxious, observing glances; the interminable
endeavor; the avarice, and the bland, significant courtesy, so common to the
whole Mongolian race.” (p. 131).
How has the illustrator used symbols and caricatures to convey stereotypical
images and messages?
What adjectives would you use to describe the Chinese portrayed in the
How do you think white Americans reacted to these illustrations?
The Extension exercise (Population of the Chinese in the United States
1860-1940) in the following lesson provides statistics for the Chinese
population and the
total population in the United States that can be used in a discussion
concerning the reality of fears expressed in the Yellow Peril novels.
Another example of “Yellow Peril” literature that could be used
with upper level high school students is a short story (about 12 pages)
by Jack London titled The Unparalleled Invasion. The premise of this story,
around 1908 as a science fiction piece, is that China has been quietly
gaining strength and power and the population of China has increased so much
Chinese are literally spilling out of their country taking over the
world. The Americans and English resort to biological warfare to wipe out the
population and save the world.