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A Historical Basis for Media Stereotyping from 1840 to Today

The intellectual and entertaining aspects of the media have always been at the forefront of spreading cultural ideas. People rely on such mediums for learning items they had not known about and for solidifying belief systems about them says Gerald Baldasty, author of The History of Communication. Since media is so pervasive and little information contradicts its monopolistic persuasion, stereotypes form from the audiences ignorance . The white majority, who may have never met any Asian Americans, judged, in this case, the Chinese culture based on what they had read in a newspaper or had seen on television and movies.

In the late 1840s and early 1850s when the Chinese began immigrating to the United States in search of economic promise and even through today when Chinese continue to pursue the American Dream, the media classified the Chinese as sinister, pensive, and nefarious; the public readily accepts such media caricatures as the archetype for the entire Asian culture . The portrayal of Chinese Americans in the media, coupled with the oppressive history of immigration to the United States, adversely affected the white majoritys perception of the Chinese American.

Prejudice arises from fear according to Benson Tong, author of The Chinese Americans . American knew little about the Chinese because of the concentration of the Chinese population living on the West Coast and in Chinatowns, isolated from the majority of the American population, the average. For example, in the 1860s and 1870s, Chinese in the United States were concentrated almost entirely on the West Coast, especially in California. According to the 1870 and 1890 U. S. Census, all of the 34,933 Chinese in the United States in 1860 lived in California, with 84 percent of them living in rural mining regions and only 7. ercent living in San Francisco. In 1870, 78 percent of Chinese in the United States (49,277 out of 63,199) lived in California, with now 24. 4 percent living in San Francisco , where a sizable Chinatown had developed . Elaine Kims book Asian American Literature:An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context expands on the idea that people also feared the Chinese because of exclusionary policies, that segregated the Chinese from mainstream life, set forth from the American government.

Many of the Chinese stereotypes existed well into the twentieth century and even persist in todays culture because most Americans were more likely to have gotten their knowledge of Chinese-Americans from archetypal entertainment characters such as Fu Manchu, Charlie Chan, or Suzy Wong. People unfamiliar with the Chinese culture learned about it from television rather than from actually encountering Chinese-Americans in real life. As recently as 1960, the Chinese population in the United States was only 237,292 out of the total U. S. population of 179,323,732, or only 0. 132 of one percent.

Thus, very few American could come in close contact with the Chinese because of their locality and instead learned about the Chinese through various mediums. Since people knew so little about the Chinese immigrants, when they first began arriving in the United States in the late 1840s drawn by the prospects of gold in California, they immediately became exotic, novelty objects of curiosity who differed greatly from Anglo Americans. P. T. Barnum capitalized on such alien demeanor and initiated the Chinese pigeonholing the as mysterious, which had not yet taken on its negative connotation. He purchased a “Chinese Museum” in 1850 to be displayed at his American Museum at Ann Street on Broadway in New York. Tens of millions of Americans were estimated to have visited Barnum’s museum, taking away with them Barnum’s circuslike and perhaps fraudulent images and portrayals of Chinese as curiosities, exotic and different from the Anglo American.

While none of these characterizations appeared to be overtly negative, the exotic categorization cultivated by Barnum would persist for many years to come, still existing to some extent in today’s society. Although many people saw the exhibit, people never actually had to attend his museum to perceive the subservient Chinese because the stereotypes were disseminated in the newspaper. The April 21, 1850 edition of the New York Sunday Dispatch, and April 22, 1850 edition of the New York Courier and Enquirer covered the exhibit.

National publications such as these served to inform readers in the 19th century, with peak circulations ranging from 80,000 to 400,000. Although these publications reached predominantly urban, literate white males, that number took into account 48 percent of the total population. The educated populace w extends its knowledge garnered from the paper to the rest of the community. According to The Dispatch, the exhibit purportedly consisted of a good number of “curiosities”, including a 17-year-old “Chinese belle.

In June, 1850, I added the celebrated Chinese Collection to the attractions of the American Museum. I also engaged the Chinese Family, consisting of two men, two “small-footed” women, and two children. My agent exhibited them in London during the World’s Fair. He mentioned the woman as small footed, alluding to the Chinese custom of binding Barnams imagery was so powerful that he perpetuated the mysterious stereotype without verbally suggesting it in his exhibit verbally suggested in the exhibit.

This same exhibit received further coverage in yet another newspaper, ensuring that almost everyone witnessed the new acquiescent Chinese exhibit. The April 22, 1850 edition of the New York Courier and Enquirer described the woman as a “Chinese beauty” with “tiny feet … polished manners … distingue air … pretty face … charming vivacity”. This Courier quote again emphasizes the obedient nature of the Chinese. Other Barnam exhibits included an “eight-foot giant named Chang-Yu Sing” and the “Siamese Twins” named Chong and Eng Bunker.

While none of these characterizations appeared to be overtly negative, Barnams exhibit predated Chinese involvement in the change of the American Economy. Initially, anti-Chinese sentiment appeared when American, white miners complained about competition from foreign miners, especially the Chinese, in the gold fields of California in 1852. American citizens viewed the Chinese as contract laborers who were not looking to become American citizens, who degraded American white workers and discouraged them from coming to California.

The foreign miner’s license tax was passed in May, 1882, which charged a monthly tax of three dollars to every foreign miner who did not desire to become a citizen, and Chinese were ineligible for citizenship because of the 1790 federal law that limited naturalization to whites. When the gold fields started to dry up, many Chinese went to work for the Central Pacific Railroad starting in February of 1865. Within two years the Central Pacific Railroad increased from 50 Chinese laborers to 12,000. That embodied 90 percent of the work force.

During this time, The United States government created the Burlingame-Seward Treaty in 1868, which abolished the Chinese government prohibition on emigration and resulted in the majority of those 12,000 railroad laborers. Chinese were paid less than white workers, who complained that Chinese were driving down the wages for everybody. With the completion of the railroad in 1869, thousands of subsequently unemployed Chinese migrated to cities such as San Francisco, where the growing California economy created thousands of new jobs in the manufacturing industry and agriculture.

However, the completion of the railroads made the West Coast accessible to many white workers from the East Coast and Midwest in search of jobs, which placed them in direct competition with Chinese workers. Anti-Chinese sentiment peaked as the ethnically based differential wage system saw Chinese being paid less than white workers for the same tasks. Chinese workers were accused by white workers of driving down wages in industries ranging from agriculture to manufacturing. The economic situation sparked the change from ignorant stereotyping to malevolent categorizations.

In the late 1860s and 1870s, anti-coolie clubs such as the Anti-Chinese Union were formed in San Francisco and there were anti-Chinese mass meetings. Labor unions held mass rallies in 1870 condemning the Burling-Seward Treaty. Anti-Chinese violence broke out in California in places such as Los Angeles Chinatown in 1871 and in Chico in 1877, and occurred outside of California in places such as Rock Springs, Wyoming in 1885 and Tacoma, Washington in 1885-86, a sign of the increasing spread of the anti-Chinese movement.

Anti-Chinese violence continued to occur sporadically throughout the United States during the 1880s. These were the times that Chinese had to deal with. In addition to poor economic conditions and an excess of gratuitous violence, the lack of familial stability caused by the Page Law led many Chinese to turn to prostitution, gambling, and other vices as ways to pass the time. From this, the Yellow Peril clich of Chinese as immoral, sensual, and being a threat to white women arose.

Congress passed this law in 1875 and it forbade the entry of Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian contract laborers, women for the purpose of prostitution. It resulted in a severe reduction of Asian women immigrating to America:. Between 1876 and 1882, the seven-year period after the passage of the Page Law, the number of Chinese women entering the United States declined by 69 percent from the previous seven-year period. As it was, most Chinese immigrants in the United States were males who lived the life of bachelors, being either single or having left their families behind in China.

These were the historical circumstances that created the environment for increasingly negative portrayals of Chinese in the printed media through political propaganda, which in turn led to more anti-Chinese sentiment in a dialectical, mutually-shaping relationship. In response to the issues such as labor, exclusion and race relations, political cartoonists painted negative stereotypical images of Chinese. For example, one cartoon. printed in The Wasp on November 14, 1885, entitled “The Chinese: Many Handed But Soulless,” Chinese are shown as many-handed monsters grabbing at white people, with a dark complexion.

The depiction is intended to arouse anti-Chinese sentiment by comparing the Chinese to what the people of that time period considered inferior races such as African Americans and Native Americans. The idea was to portray the Chinese as subservient to the white man. Although races other then white were considered heinous, the white man went further as to draw the evolution of an ape into a Chinese man, to a pig. The cartoonists art showed that the Chinese were even below human status.

Cartoonists also illustrated the vices Chinese formed as a result of the Page Law such as gambling, bearing diseases such as the plague, and ravishing white women. These other illustrations include the Chinese smoking opium, gambling, bearing diseases such as the plague, and ravishing white women. These images were a result of American racial ideology that often saw Chinese as standing in the way of a homogeneous white society. The Chinese were seen as a threat to moral and racial purity. With the increasing popularity of movies, Chinese stereotypes then moved from print to the screen.

Because of the broad spectrum of people which cinema as a form of mass communication reaches, the images it leaves imprinted on the mind results in a significant impact on cultural and social perceptions. At the same time, Hollywood, following its self-fulfilling philosophy of profit, is more likely to install a white in lead roles, thus treating Asians as racial inferiors. These caricatures of Asians are “inaccurate images and clichs mainly conjured up by White society” created “to demean and dehumanize ‘other’ people to maintain an advantage for the dominant culture.

Whites play Asians in grotesque make-up, costume, false accents, and mannerisms while Asians are cast in subservient Asian roles of grocery store clerk, cooks, and the like. The original Asian characters portrayed on the big screen were stereotypes of Asians as dictated by and exclusionary history. However, the stereotypes contradicted each other based on the ideas created before and after the exclusionary history.

Harold Isaacs notes from his study Scratches on our minds: American images of China and India, American images of the Chinese tend largely to come in jostling pairs. The Chinese are seen as a superior people and an inferior people; devilishly exasperating heathens and wonderfully attractive humanists; wise sages and sadistic executioners; thrifty and honorable men and sly and devious villains; comic opera soldiers and dangerous fighters. These and many other pairs occur and recur, with stresses and source varying in time and place. These contrasting characteristics can be seen in Asian male and female stock characters both within the gender and across gender lines.

For example the Asian female, as a result of the Page Law, is portrayed as submissive and seductive while the Asian male is portrayed as sexed and sexless, active and passive, and heroes or villains. The Lotus Blossom, who personifies the entirety of the female gender in Asia, characterizes the Submissive female. It is her yielding, prudent, and exotic nature, which the West looks upon to conquer and own. Characterized by Butterfly in Puccini’s opera, this packaged perception extends beyond just women.

It is an ideal personality parcel, and whether the part be played by a man (as in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly) or by an actual women, it is the shell, the epidermal representation to which the Western masculinity is attracted. The alternate female stereotype is that of the seductive female whom The Dragon Lady plays. She is seen as more of an orchid than a lotus and is capable of psychologically traumatizing the male and at times denoting witchery. Physically she is like the Lotus Blossom, in that she is petite, slender, attractive and exotic, but overhauling what might be a subordinate exterior is a bewildering, deadly and poisonous interior.

Her character parallels the mythical Sirens and Circe because she is musical temptresses and the magical sorceress, respectively. The male typecasts, on the other hand, are viewed as a mixture of brains, brawn and beauty. Fu Manchu represents both Yellow Face and the Asian Male Villain. He emerged in the early 1900s in response to the Boxer Rebellion in China and the influx of sojourners who were seen as a threat to economic stability and racial purity.

He is the exemplification of the negative stereotype as a “he had menace in every twitch of his finger, threat in every twitch of his eyebrow, terror in each split-second of his slanted eyes. ” The Chinese government interceded and was opposed to the portrayal of Fu Manchu. In response, Charlie Chan was created as both Yellow Face and the Asian Passive Hero.. Thus, Charlie Chan was created as a refined, intellectual detective of “Confucian wisdom. ” Unlike Fu Manchu, Charlie Chan was on the side of the law and virtue.

From Charlie Chan came the Confucian vernacular of aphorism prefaced by “Confucius say … ” The final male typecasts are the action heroes that partake in none other than karate. Bruce Lee represents the Asian Active Sexed Hero. He was the first Chinese-American to receive top billing to create a genre of martial arts films. His career took off during the same time Nixon renewed US-China relations. The characters he played were “a strange amalgam of both stereotypes – the physically adept warrior who is spiritually and emotionally-centered.

Jackie Chan represents the Sexless Asian Hero. Like Bruce Lee, he got his start acting in Hong Kong. The characters he plays are always the hero, but unlike Bruce Lee, he never gets involved with his female foil. Even though Americans think they are cosmopolitan and non-biased, these harsh stereotypes are still being perpetuated in the media today. An example from the late twentieth century that substantiates this stereotype can be seen in an article entitled “What It’s Like to Be a Chinese-American Girl” by Lily Chang.

It appeared in the October 1978 issue of Cosmopolitan and characterizes Chinese women as possessing greater amount of emotional and physical restraint, but “once we exorcise family-bred inhibitions, we can be quite delectable in bed”. She describes Chinese women as having “a style of femininity that differs subtly from the one typically favored by forthright all-American girls”, being “softer, more pliable, more willing to defer to our men in public”. Again, old stereotypes are being reinforced and not refuted.

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