Education About Asia: Online Archives

Jack London and the Yellow Peril

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The term “The Yellow Peril” has long since passed out of fashion, but it was a widely used expression in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The nightmare of wild oriental hordes swarming from the East and engulfing the “civilized” societies of the West was a popular theme in literature and journalism of the time. Yellow Peril supposedly derives from a remark made by German Kaiser Wilhelm II following Japan’s defeat of China in 1895 in the first Sino-Japanese War. The expression initially referred to Japan’s sudden rise as a military and industrial power in the late nineteenth century. Soon, however, it took on a more general meaning embracing the whole of Asia. Writing about the Yellow Peril encompassed a number of topics, including possible military invasions from Asia, perceived competition with the white labor force from Asian workers, the supposed moral degeneracy of Asian people, and fears of the potential genetic mixing of Anglo-Saxons with Asians.1