Dear AAPAAN: As China becomes a greater economic and political power, how will that impact the image of the Asian American? The return of “yellow peril”? … Jeffrey
Jeffrey: The return of “yellow peril” is certainly possible and maybe likely. I hope I am wrong.
There was a time during the 1980’s when some predicted that Japan will surpass the US as the world economic power. Yet only a few decades prior, Japan’s defeat in WWII reestablished Western domination in Asia. The rebuilding of industrial Japan began with a dependence on exporting cheap products. So the Western view of post-war Japan was they are only capable of making inferior products.
There was an exchange in the movie, Back To The Future III, where Marty and Doc Brown were looking to repair the DeLorean time machine so Marty could travel back to 1885 to rescue Doc Brown (OK, time travel always defy logic).
Doc Brown (from 1955) examined a failed computer chip from the time machine . “No wonder this circuit failed. It said it’s Made In Japan.”
Marty (from 1985) “What do you mean Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan.”
What a difference 30 years made. Post-war condescension was replaced by admiration and fear that Japan would dominate the US. And fear was behind the Vincent Chin incident in 1982 in Michigan where a couple of white unemployed auto workers murdered Vincent because they thought he was Japanese and was therefore responsible for their being out of work. That Vincent looked Asian made him a target.
The fear mongering regarding Japan had since subsided when Japan fell into an economic funk, and was no longer the looming threat. Now the new fear is China. At this point, China is still regarded with some condescension as the manufacturer of cheap export goods. Many view that Chinese success is only due to its very cheap labor making copies of Western products. However some economics analysts are touting that China’s development will make this century a Chinese 21st Century.
In the current political scene many white Americans are voicing nostalgia for the good old days of the 1950’s and 1960’s. In this environment, the return of “The Yellow peril” scare is possible (and maybe even probable). Actually, it’s not just the “Yellow peril” but the “Brown peril” as well. The rise of India is causing some back lash. Tech outsourcing to India is a common fear and complaint. While some push back is inevitable, let’s hope it will never again reach the extreme like what was done to Vincent .
On a positive note, successes in China, India, S Korea, Taiwan and other Asian countries are changing the image for Asian-Americans. While there’s still a lot of condescension, the rise of powerful Asian companies and brands will eventually and grudgingly overturn the paradigm of Asian inferiority. The respect for these Asian countries will enhance the image of Asian-Americans. But this respect will have to be earned. Asia-Americans need to assimilate, be vocal and proactive. If we are passive, that will just reinforce the prevailing Asian stereotype.
What’s your view?