The Stereotyping of Asians in American Media

Asians in American popular culture and media have been subjected under-representation, and when rarely an appearance is made, it is often unfairly stereotyped and marginalized. These prejudices can trace their roots back to the Yellow Terror starting in the late 19th century. It must be acknowledged that a perception of the “Other” is experienced in virtually all national identities versus other national identities. For example, popular Chinese author Lin Yutang wrote that facial and body hair present in Westerners was proof of a less evolved people, comparing them to the Chinese, who had historically led indoor lives for much longer than Westerners, and thus lacked such hair. However, negative portrayals of East Asians that have been persistent in Western media, combined with the shift towards model minority tropes, point to a global racialization process that has negatively effected all by Western virtues.

While scholars note that yellow peril tropes can be traced back as far as medieval Europe, when Genghis Khan was invading and taking over land in the east, the msot concrete start of the timeline finds itself in the late 19th century, with German emperor Wilhelm II coining the term. The above image coincides with the Opium Wars of 1839; more specifically, it was inspired by The Boxer Rebellion. Created by Herman Knackfuss in 1895, it was accompanied with the phrase: “People of Europe, Guard Your Most Sacred Possessions”. Depicted in the lithograph is warrior goddesses, meant to represent European nations, preparing to face a Buddha mounted on a dragon. This image, mass circulated, allowed European nations to create an imaginary enemy that enabled them to enforce policies that negatively affected Asians. Even today, ancient European cultures, like Greek and Roman Gods, are prevalent in popular culture and are commonly seen, taught, and celebrated by the public. In contrast, the cultures represented by the dragon and the Buddha are much less unknown, allowing them to take on an aspect of exoticism and ‘otherness’.

US foreign policy is filled with discourse that emphasizes the fear of an overtaking by Asians, leading to a systematic exclusion of East Asian immigration. By the Second World War, Japan’s affiliation with the Axis Powers, along with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, led a shift in focus from the Chinese to the Japanese. It was during this period of political cartoons, with advancements having been made in mass production of prints, that mockery of Asian traits became widespread. Along with the rise in film, early imageries such as sallow skin, buck teeth, and taped eyelids were used to vilainize those of East Asian descent.

With a rise in communism in the decades following WWII, US anti-communism finds its origins in Woodrow Wilson’s ‘liberal internationalsim’. With a renewed sense of nationalism experienced by all Americans after the WWII victory, along with a racialized worldview in which communist Russia and China contrasted dramatically with the democratic United States, the Chinese became, yet again, the bad guys. Spurred by the fall of China to Mao Tse-dong in 1949 and their participation in the Korean War in 1950, the Chinese and the Chinese Americans became evil communists. Fu Manchu, who had been given a respectable death in the Second World War, when Western nations admitted fascination with their stubborn resistance against Japanese forces, was reincarnated, again as the token villain. Once again, Fu Manchu’s appearance made a mockery of sallow skin and the long, narrow moustache now coined as the “Fu Manchu mustache”. While his appearance is now ignored as comical and satire, the history hidden behind it drives subconscious connotations about Asian Americans.




Works Referenced

Del Visco, Stephen. “Yellow Peril, Red Scare: Race and Communism in National Review.” Https://,Percent%20of%20the%20nation’s%20population., Ethnic and Racial Studies, 18 Dec. 2017.

“Office of Minority Health.” Asian American – The Office of Minority Health,,percent%20of%20the%20nation’s%20population.

Rajgopal, Shoba Sharad. “The Daughter of Fu Manchu”The Pedagogy of Deconstructing the Representation of Asian Women in Film and Fiction. Smith College, 2010.

Shim, Doobo. “From Yellow Peril through Model Minority to Renewed Yellow Peril – Doobo Shim, 1998.” SAGE Journals,