Yellow Peril in Media

Example 1 (medium=poster):

“Yellow Peril” is a eurocentric metaphor that highlights Asians, and more specifically East Asians, as a threat to society. This trope used by the media, Asians as people to be feared, has an extensive history, and the term “Yellow Peril” dates back to before World War One. Pictured below is an American World War Two propaganda poster from 1943, which shows how this stereotype may be used in mass-produced media.

The Japanese soldier is depicted with sharp teeth and a monstrous expression, which sends the message to the (American) audience that Asians, such as the soldier pictured, are a danger to the world and those around us, and that we should “keep them from our home”. However, “Yellow Peril” has been utilized in the media for more than just war efforts.


Example 2 (medium=print advertisement):

An earlier example than the image featured above, this laundry detergent advertisement for “The Magic Washer”, produced in 1886, employs the yellow peril trope. Uncle Sam is portrayed holding the detergent and a proclamation while kicking out a group of Chinese men. The proclamation states, “Hereafter no family will be without magic washer under penalty of being dirty”. The Chinese men are seen to be running towards the horizon, towards a sunset that appears to resemble the flag of Imperial Japan, and a boat with a flag that reads “For China”. Underneath, words on the advertisement read “The Chinese must go”, and “We have no use for them since we got this wonderful washer.”

Made during the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the audience sees a juxtaposition in this ad: one between being Chinese and being clean. This advertisement allows the manufacturing company, GEO, to profit off of the use of xenophobia and send the message that their product is so good, it can even clean America of Chinese people. The imagery of Uncle Sam holding the proclamation Chinese people are dirty, a threat to America, and “must go”. Contrary to the World War Two poster, the Magic Washer advertisement does not use “yellow peril” in the sense that the audience should be afraid of Asians. Rather, the caricature-like drawing of the Chinese men, and the way they seem to be fleeing from Uncle Sam, tells the audience that the Chinese are a group of people America has to be rid of. 


Example 3 (medium=book cover):

“Emerging Infectious Diseases”, released by the Center for Disease Control in May of 2020, features a Chinese work of art on the cover. The work of art depicts a qilin, a Chinese mythical creature, surrounded in a forest by bats. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, a respiratory virus that started the COVID-19 pandemic, emerged from China from what is thought to be a bat in the wet markets of Wuhan.

The art piece used, and the time period the book was released, both hint to the audience that emerging infectious diseases, such as the Coronavirus, are inherently Chinese. Associating something fear-inducing, like infectious diseases, with an art piece of Asian descent encourages the audience to make the association between infectious diseases and Asian people. It is unclear whether or not the designers for the CDC intended to utilize the trope in this book cover. However, in a much more subtle fashion to examples, one and two, yellow peril is presented as something that the audience may be able to relate to in a way, because of what is happening in the world around them. All of the examples shown, at varying degrees, associate Asian people/things with things that are dirty, fear-inducing. This “othering” of Asians in mass-produced media, is meant to appeal to the audience, in hopes they may relate to the “yellow peril” feelings the designs are meant to evoke.



Breedlove, Byron, and Isaac Chun-Hai Fung. “Auspicious Symbols of Rank and Status – Volume 26, Number 5-May 2020 – Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal – CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Apr. 2020, 

Jaccoma, Richard. Yellow Peril: the Adventures of Sir John Weymouth-Smythe. Sphere, 1980. 

Shober & Carqueville. The magic washer, manufactured by Geo. Dee, Dixon, Illinois. The Chinese must go. Chicago: Shober & Carqueville Lith Co. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.


Unknown, “Keep this horror from your home,” The United States in World War II: Historical Debates about America at War, accessed February 17, 2021,

Discussion — One Response

  • Eric Pryor 03/03/2021 on 10:29 PM

    Good analysis, I love the creativity of your example. It doesn’t immediately read as racist, but when the context is considered the prejudice is apparent. I think it definitely fits the trope!

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