Old Fear in New Face: Yellow Peril of the Twenty-First Century in Sherlock
Anti-Asian sentiment emerged in Western countries in the late nineteenth century because the growing presence of Asian immigrant workers, especially of Chinese origin, began to pose a threat, firstly to local labourers’ living and working conditions,1 and also to local cultures and religions. The term “Yellow Peril,” a racist label for yellow-skinned Asians, originated from such a historical backdrop, even though terms of comparable antagonism had been used long before its appearance. The definitions of “yellow peril” in various dictionaries concur in relating Oriental villainy to Western anguish. For example, the Random House College Dictionary defines the term as “the alleged threat of the populous yellow race to the white race and Western civilization”; and the American Heritage College Dictionary explains it as the “threatened expansion of Asian populations as imagined in the West”; while the Merriam Webster Dictionary describes it as “a danger to Western Civilisation held to arise from expansion of the power and influence of Oriental people.” The Oxford English Dictionary elaborates on the origin of “Yellow Peril”: E. Reeves, in Homeward Bound after Thirty Years, depicts the Chinese as the “yellow agony” (5), and later C. McCullough in Thorn Birds describes Japan as “part of the Yellow Peril poised like a descending pendulum above Australia’s rich, empty, unpopulated pit” (xv, 348). The two OED examples testify that not only is “yellow peril” used interchangeably with “yellow agony” and “yellow menace,” but its referents also correspond to contemporaneous political and economic circumstances. The changes...
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