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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 5:40am
PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 May, 2013, 2:55am

Fear of 'Yellow Peril' lives on

Alice Wu says the perpetuation of racial stereotypes of Chinese in politics and culture shows the jagged path of social progress


Alice Wu fell down the rabbit hole of politics aged 12, when she ran her first election campaign. She has been writing about local politics and current affairs for the Post since 2008. Alice's daily needs include her journals, books, a multi-coloured pen and several lattes.

Today, 131 years ago, the US Senate passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first federal law directly aimed at rejecting entry of an ethnic group, and one of many aimed at the same prejudicial treatment of other Asian ethnic groups. By today's standards, there is no doubt it is racist.

Here, history serves to shed light on how far - or not - we have come, evidenced by our ability to be as critical of our contemporaries, and of ourselves, as we are of those who came before us.

The 1882 law was a product of anti-Chinese sentiment and xenophobia, legalising the discrimination of an entire race in the "land of the free" on the premise that these people endangered the good order of communities. But as distant as American shores, or the 1880s, are to us, we have yet to cure ourselves of anti-Chinese agitation.

The reasons for today's agitations may be different. It was the "Yellow Peril" in the late 19th century; McCarthyism in the 20th century; and, in the 21st, the perceived threat of the "China century" has fuelled Sinophobic undercurrents in politics and popular culture. They may be seen as variations of the same "hate". The fear of a rising China - and hence of the Chinese - is merely a modern-day version of "Yellow Peril", depictions of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu in the LED lights of the 21st century.

And in the corrosive culture of online forums and message boards, anonymity makes the airing and spreading of hatred so much easier. The result is that what many would publicly deem discriminatory is passed as acceptable, even appropriate, on the internet. And in this context, it provides the social conditioning of prejudice.

Today's use of the term "locusts" to describe mainland Chinese is really a part of the narrative of the slanty-eyed race taking over the world.

And in this "land of Fu Manchu", people still apparently say things like "ching-ching, chop suey, swing some more", according to General Motors, after it decided to use the song Booty Swing in its commercial for a new SUV global launch. It has since pulled the unbelievably distasteful ad campaign, but it remains befuddling how the company actually approved of the use of the song in the first place.

"Ching-ching", "ching-chong" and "chink" are all familiar racial slurs thrown at Chinese and people of Asian descent in the English-speaking world. Such distastefulness has survived, thanks to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Rosie O'Donnell. In 2011, Limbaugh mocked the Chinese dialect, imitating Hu Jintao's dialect in a 17-second "ching chong ching chong cha" outburst on radio; O'Donnell tried speaking the same "ching dialect" on TV in 2006.

And, just last month, a Korean American customer filed a lawsuit against a large drug-store chain over a racially charged receipt, pejoratively naming her "Ching Chong Lee".

In this sense, we haven't come very far since 1882, because people continue to perpetuate ignorance and hate based on others' place of origin and ethnic background. The slanty-eyed moustachioed villain Fu Manchu is, unfortunately, still breeding the same fear, prejudice and hate today, here and abroad.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA


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This article is now closed to comments

There is almost no racism in the US? There's plenty of racism in the US. You just don't notice it because you're not a racial minority and are unwilling to empathize with someone who is. You're acting like a giant apologist for people like Limbaugh. Limbaugh's "Ching chong" mockery comes of as really ignorant at best, especially if you've bothered to study Putonghua. So much for "insightful".

Oh yeah and I used to listen to Limbaugh all the time back in the 90s on AM radio when I was a teenager. But I grew up and opened my mind. Moving to Hong Kong helped with that.
This is a terrible article. There are far more mis-characterizations of Americans in this article than there is actual racism in the United States. Almost 50% of Asian-Americans marry non-Asians. I have been observing America since the 1960s and there is very little racism in the U.S. any more. These are made up poorly substantiated charges that unfairly defame a basically good and decent people.
There is little more racism in the United States, than there is among the Hong Kong Chinese, which also tend to be a quite tolerant lot. Of course any time disparate peoples interact with one another there will be some friction, but this is totally normal.
Also lMs. Wu rather than attacking Rush Limbaugh without listening to him, do yourself a favor and actually listen to him before you attack him. Go to www.rushlimbaugh.com and get a subscription and listen to him, rather just echoing what people on MSNBC say he says. You'll find out why he is the highest rated radio commentator ever. He's funny, frequently insightful and delights in tweaking the media. You have pulled out a couple of alleged, politically incorrect comments he has made, but remember Limbaugh is on the radio 15 hours a week so he is bound to say some things that he later wishes he didn't. Everyone in the public-eye does.
The Korean lady was just insulted that she was being lumped into the same group as Chinese when it's quite clear her language is laden with kapsi-das, hamni-das and ship-shiyos.


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