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Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking

by Michael Keevak Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 240 pages
AU$95.00 NZ$98.26
Product Status: Out of stock. Not available to order.
In their earliest encounters with Asia, Europeans almost uniformly characterized the people of China and Japan as white. This was a means of describing their wealth and sophistication, their willingness to trade with the West, and their presumed capacity to become Christianized. But by the end of the seventeenth century the category of whiteness was reserved for Europeans only. When and how did Asians become 'yellow' in the Western imagination? Looking at the history of racial thinking, Becoming Yellow explores the notion of yellowness and shows that this label originated not in early travel texts or objective descriptions, but in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientific discourses on race. From the walls of an ancient Egyptian tomb, which depicted people of varying skin tones including yellow, to the phrase 'yellow peril' at the beginning of the twentieth century in Europe and America, Michael Keevak follows the development of perceptions about race and human difference. He indicates that the conceptual relationship between East Asians and yellow skin did not begin in Chinese culture or Western readings of East Asian cultural symbols, but in anthropological and medical records that described variations in skin color. Eighteenth-century taxonomers such as Carl Linnaeus, as well as Victorian scientists and early anthropologists, assigned colors to all racial groups, and once East Asians were lumped with members of the Mongolian race, they began to be considered yellow. Demonstrating how a racial distinction took root in Europe and traveled internationally, Becoming Yellow weaves together multiple narratives to tell the complex history of a problematic term.

List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: No Longer White: The Nineteenth-Century Invention of Yellowness 1

Chapter 1: Before They Were Yellow: East Asians in Early Travel and Missionary Reports 23

Chapter 2: Taxonomies of Yellow: Linnaeus, Blumenbach, and the Making of a "Mongolian" Race in the Eighteenth Century 43

Chapter 3: Nineteenth-Century Anthropology and the Measurement of "Mongolian" Skin Color 70

Chapter 4: East Asian Bodies in Nineteenth-Century Medicine: The Mongolian Eye, the Mongolian Spot, and"Mongolism"101

Chapter 5: Yellow Peril: The Threat of a "Mongolian" Far East, 1895-1920 124

Notes 145

Works Cited 175

Index 211

Illuminating . . . -- Choice
Michael Keevak is a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at National Taiwan University. His books include 'Sexual Shakespeare', 'The Pretended Asian', and 'The Story of a Stele'.