And in (additional) honor of the Giants' World Series win...

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 4 19:42:16 UTC 2010

Attitudes toward China changed radically in the '30s when the Chinese were
correctly seen as victims of the Japanese. On the right, Chiang Kai-shek
became highly regarded for his resistance to the Communists.  During the
war, movies depicted the Chinese as determined allies against Japan.  This
was especially notable in  the fact-based (well, fact-inspired) _Thirty
Seconds over Tokyo_ (1944).  (Other enduring stereotypes I forgot to mention
was that most Chinese were superstitious and given to hysteria; since they
were "yellow," they were also cowardly.)

After the Communist victory in 1949 and the Chinese involvement in the
Korean War, Red China became a feared adversary. They didn't have the Bomb,
but they had a whole lot of supposedly angry people. Mao Zedong declared he
wasn't afraid of nuclear weapons because the imperialists could kill
300,000,000 Chinese and he'd still have plenty left.  Red Chinese
rhetoric sounded even crazier than Soviet rhetoric ("imperialist jackals"
and "running dogs [i.e., jackals] of Wall Street" were favorite phrases.)
And hadn't the Chinese "persuaded" captured American pilots to confess to
imaginary atrocities during the Korean War?  (Answer: Yes.)  There was loud
saber-rattling against Taiwan for years. And then there was the Great Leap
Nixon's visit to China was an astounding development, as was Carter's
establishment of diplomatic recognition.

At any rate, ISTM that fears of a Yellow Peril since the '40s have been
based far more on geopolitical concerns, justified or not, than on race.


On Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 2:27 PM, Paul Frank <paulfrank at>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Paul Frank <paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: And in (additional) honor of the Giants' World Series
> win...
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I should have reread what I wrote in a rush earlier (because my soap
> was about to start). I now see several grammatical and stylistic
> blunders. By way of an apology, and a lagniappe, I offer a  tentative
> antedating of Yellow Peril, the first OED quotation of which is from
> 1900:
> "It does not follow that this will always be so, and there are those
> who believe in the 'Yellow Peril,' or the possible danger to the world
> at large if China were to wake up and make full use of her boundless
> resources."
>   Robert Mayo, A view of ancient geography and ancient history:
> Accompanied with an atlas, 1813, p. 145. See Google Books,
> Yellow Peril is a very important term that ought to be antedated.
> China has just rolled out the world's fastest supercomputer (with
> Chinese software, incidentally). The Yellow Peril meme (now I'm using
> that cliché) is only just getting started.
> Paul
> On Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 6:31 PM, Paul Frank <paulfrank at>
> wrote:
> > I ought to learn to shut up. Having spent much of my adult life
> > reading and thinking about Western, and particularly American,
> > attitudes toward the Chinese people and Chinese culture, I would say
> > that American attitudes towards the Chinese haven't been as racist as
> > they are now in many decades. In the 1930s, a great many Americans had
> > a very positive (albeit in many respects ignorantly paternalistic)
> > attitude toward China and the Chinese. Pearl S. Buck, a rather
> > mediocre writer from a literary point of view, won the Pulitzer in
> > 1931 and the Nobel in 1938 mainly because she loved China and the
> > Chinese. Henry Luce, the publisher of Time Magazine, had a very soft
> > spot in his heart for China and the Chinese (although he knew little
> > about the place) and devoted a great many pages in his rag to positive
> > reporting on China and the Chinese, particularly when contrasted with
> > Japan and the Japanese.
> >
> > Today, on the other hand, Yellow Peril is alive and well in the
> > American psyche and in American political (or populist, if you will)
> > discourse. Check out these ads:
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > We are going to see a lot more of this nonsense in the coming years.
> >
> > (As an aside, some 30 years ago, when I first read the Qianlong
> > emperor's letter to George III, written in the summer of 1793, in
> > which he wrote "As your Ambassador can see for himself, we possess all
> > things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no
> > use for your country's manufactures. This then is my answer to your
> > request to appoint a representative at my Court, a request contrary to
> > our dynastic usage, which would only result in inconvenience to
> > yourself..." [],
> > I read the letter more than a little condescendingly. What I didn't
> > realize 30 years ago was that in 1793, China was by far the richest
> > country in the world, in fact the center of the world economy, Chinese
> > literacy rates were much higher than Europe's, and China had published
> > more books over the previous 1000 years, to say nothing of the
> > previous 2000, than the rest of the world put together.)
> >
> >
> > Neighbours, my daily soap, is starting, so I won't even reread these
> > ramblings before hitting the send button...
> >
> > Paul
> >
> > Paul Frank
> > Translator
> > Chinese, German, French, Italian > English
> > Espace de l'Europe 16
> > Neuchâtel, Switzerland
> > paulfrank at
> > paulfrank at
> >
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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