Yellow Peril (sometimes Yellow Terror) was a color metaphor for race that originated in the late nineteenth century with immigration of Chinese laborers to various Western countries, notably the United States, and later associated with the Japanese during the mid 20th century, due to Japanese military expansion. The term refers to the skin color of East Asians, and the belief that the mass immigration of Asians threatened white wages and standards of living.
In 1898, British writer M. P. Shiel published a short story serial titled The Yellow Danger. Shiel took advantage of the murder of two German missionaries in Kiau-Tschou in 1897 to spread his anti-Chinese feelings. In later editions the serial was named The Yellow Peril.
The phrase "yellow peril" was common in the U.S. newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst. It was also the title of a popular book by an influential U.S. religious figure, G.G. Rupert, who published The Yellow Peril; or, Orient vs. Occident in 1911. Based on the phrase "the kings from the East" in the Christian scriptural verse Revelation 16:12, Rupert, who believed in the doctrine of British Israelism, claimed that China, India, Japan and Korea were attacking England and the U.S., but that Jesus Christ would stop them.
While immigration of Asians was not a major issue in Europe, the rise of Japan as a major world power was a cause of anxiety for some Europeans.
In 1920, the author Lothrop Stoddard wrote The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy arguing against Asian immigration, claiming immigrants threatened American society, with their presence a "peril."
Lynching of Asian immigrants by vigilante groups were common in the early 1900s, paralleling the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and related groups in the South against African Americans. California academics such as David Starr Jordan and politicians such as James D. Phelan (who ran for mayor of San Francisco and United States Senate on the platform of "Keeping California White") were firm believers in the "yellow peril", and the politics of Washington highlighted "yellow peril". The fear of the yellow peril reached its peak during World War II after the Japanese navy's attack on Pearl Harbor. The Yellow Peril as the primary form of West Coast racism and as a factor in politics seemed to die out in the mid-20th century, perhaps due to guilt over the Japanese American internment during World War II, stigmatization of racism in general as the Nazi ideology, or Cold War geopolitical alignments which cut across racial lines. Also, on returning from internment, Japanese Americans largely abandoned the West Coast agricultural areas where rural whites had resented them as competitors, for the urban areas which became larger and more cosmopolitan during the war and its aftermath.
In the 1930s and 40s, the term "Yellow Peril" referred to Japanese military expansion.
The N3N, a biplane used to train carrier pilots at the start of World War II was nicknamed the "Yellow Peril" in part because of a brightly colored paint job intended to alert everyone around that a novice pilot was flying it; and in part because the plane itself had poorly designed landing gear which gave it a tendency to "ground loop," that is, destabilize and cartwheel on landing. At the conclusion of World War II, the remaining stock of N3N's were transferred from active service to the Naval Academy, where they remained in service until 1960.
In the 1980s the Yellow Peril concept was revived as the U.S. was in intense competition with Japan over industrial supremacy. The beating death of Chinese-American Vincent Chin in 1982 outside Detroit by U.S. auto workers was a hate crime motivated by fear of Asian economic competition.
The Yellow Peril is a major topic of study in Asian American studies.
In the late 1950s, Atlas Comics debuted the Yellow Claw, a Fu Manchu pastiche. However, a growing realization of the racist nature of the character archetype led to the villain having a handsome young Asian FBI agent, James Woo, being his principal opponent. Other characters inspired by Rohmer's Fu Manchu include Pao Tcheou.
A 1977 Doctor Who serial, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, builds a science fiction plot upon another loose Fu Manchu pastiche. In this case, the key "yellow devil" character serves to enable an ill-intentioned time traveller from the fifty-first century.
Yellow Peril: The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth-Smythe, by Richard Jaccoma (1978) is both a pastiche and a benign parody of the Sax Rohmer novels. As the title suggests, it's a distillation of the trope, focusing on the psychosexual stereotype of the seductive Asian woman as well that of the ruthless Mongol conqueror that underlies much of supposed threat to Western civilization. Written for a sophisticated modern audience, it uses the traditional use of first-person narrative to portray the nominal hero Sir John Weymouth-Smythe as simultaneously a lecher and a prude, torn between his desires and Victorian sensibilities but unable to acknowledge, much less resolve, his conflicted impulses. The cover blurbs for the paperback edition declaim "Erotic adventure in the style of the original 'pulps'" and "'A Porno-Fairytale-Occult-Thriller!' —Village Voice." It is clearly in the same line as the contemporaneous works of Philip José Farmer, "updating" Rohmer the way Farmer updated Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lester Dent and Walter B. Gibson.
Jack London's 1914 story The Unparalleled Invasion, taking place in a fictional 1975, described a China with an ever-increasing population taking over and colonising its neighbors, with the intention of eventually taking over the entire Earth. Thereupon the nations of the West open biological warfare and bombard China with dozens of the most infectious diseases - among them smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, and Black Death — with all Chinese attempting to flee being shot down by armies and navies massed around their country's land and sea borders, and the few survivors of the plague invariably put to death by "mopping up" expeditions entering China.
This genocide, described in considerable detail, is throughout the book described as justified and "the only possible solution to the Chinese problem", and nowhere is there mentioned any objection to it. The terms "Yellow Race", "Yellow crowds in streets", "yellow faces" and the like are frequently repeated throughout the story. It ends with the edifying spectacle of "The Sanitation of China" and its re-settlement by Western settlers, "the democratic American programme" as London puts it.
Philip Francis Nowlan's novella Armageddon 2419 A.D., which first appeared in the August 1928 and was the start of the long-lasting popular Buck Rogers series, depicted a future America which had been occupied and colonised by cruel invaders from China, which the hero and his friends proceed to fight and kill wholesale.
H. P. Lovecraft was in constant fear of Asiatic culture engulfing the world, and a few of his stories reflect this, such as The Horror At Red Hook, where "slant-eyed immigrants practice nameless rites in honor of heathen gods by the light of the moon", and He, where the protagonist is given a glimpse of the future - the "yellow men" have conquered the world, and now dance to their drums over the ruins of the white man.
Yellow Peril is a book by Wang Lixiong, written under the pseudonym Bao Mi, about a civil war in the People's Republic of China that becomes a nuclear exchange and soon engulfs the world, causing World War III. It's notable for Wang Lixiong's politics, as a Chinese dissident and outspoken activist; its publication following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989; and its popularity due to bootleg distribution across China even when the book was banned by the Communist Party of China.
Yellow Peril, Collection of Historical Sources, in 5 vols., edited by Yorimitsu Hashimoto, Tokyo: Edition Synapse. ISBN 978-4-86166-033-7