Sinophobia: Red Scares and Yellow Peril

CG, Baile Átha Cliath

Since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, an increase in racist incidents against Asian people has been recorded across the West, including in Ireland. In reaction, a small, disorganised movement arose, most notably through the hashtag, “Stop Anti-Asian Hate” which had viral moments across various social media platforms. This liberal reaction puts the causation of these racist incidents on individual “hate”, completely ignoring the material causes of this wave of racism, for example, why has there been such a sudden increase in “hate”? A Marxist, material analysis is drastically needed to combat this liberal narrative of individual, ineffable hatred if we intend to effectively combat this increase in racism or, at the least, to understand it.

The slogan “anti-Asian hate” is also underwhelming because it ignores the significant situation China is in. Although anyone with Asian heritage could suffer from this increase in racism, it is evident that China is in a unique position. Firstly, this increase was largely caused by covid-19, a virus which began in China and was immediately attached to China as a country, culture, and people; “China virus”, “Wuhan flu”, “Kung Flu” etc. Secondly, China is the foremost threat to global Western hegemony and has been targeted by Western press far more than any other nation. To ignore China’s unique position in the cause of these racist attacks is to disregard a material approach. Once again, this is not to say that only Chinese people or diaspora are affected, as all East-Asians suffer from these attacks, however, the catalyst for this increase is clearly rooted in Sinophobia which is perpetuated by Western governments, their press, and orientalist ideology.

Orientalism is, in its simplest definition, how the West portrays and views the East, and these portrayals are often rooted in colonialist and racist ideology. For example, the portrayal of Xerxes in the Hollywood film 300 is clearly based on an image of Xerxes delineated from Ancient Greece, such as Aeschylus’ play Persians, rather than any historical precedent. As seen in the image below, Xerxes represents many of the contradictory elements of orientalism; he is feminine and lavish, as displayed by his make-up and excessive jewellery, however, he is also barbaric, wearing little clothing and being extremely muscular and tall compared to the Spartan soldiers. Many of these tropes survive to this day, but are now redirected towards China. Furthermore, the movie 300 displays how orientalism is often based on a fear of the East invading the West as a movie about the despotic, authoritarian Persia invading the cradle of democracy, Greece. 300 displays how this orientalist view of the East has survived from Ancient Greece to the modern-day.

The “East vs West” connotations in the film did not go unnoticed, with some film critics even comparing it to the Nazi film, “The Eternal Jew”.


Following on from Ancient Greece, this fear of an Eastern invasion would be prominent in European history, for example, the First Crusade, which was justified at the Council of Clermont as a war to save the Christians in the Holy Land from the barbaric Muslims. As Vincenza Cinzia Capristo points out, “The fear of a foreign invasion has always characterised European history”. By the 1800s, this fear was predominantly directed towards the “Far East”, most notably Japan and China. The Boxer Rebellion emulated the orientalist hysteria of the First Crusade, as the murder of Christians, including missionaries, was used as propaganda to begin a war. The Russo-Japanese War was another event that led to a fear of the East invading the West and eradicating Western culture, values and, democracy. These events led to the “Yellow Peril” or “Yellow Danger”, which was an anti-Asian hysteria, like what we see today.

Propaganda images like these completely dehumanised East Asians and conflated them with immorality and disease.

“The concept of “yellow danger” changes becoming more a common theme in the mass culture and reflecting the stereotypes of racism, imperialism and colonialism” – Vincenza Cinzia Capristo 


Today, China is portrayed as an existential threat to the West; Can American Values Survive in a Chinese World?, China buys up the world, An assertive China challenges the west. These headlines, from “respected” and “mainstream” news outlets, perpetuate Yellow Peril ideas of China being an existential threat to Western values, democracy etc. China is portrayed as an invasive force who seek global domination which would lead to the downfall of the West and it’s “values”, emulating the “Yellow Peril” propaganda, as well as historic orientalist propaganda, as discussed above. This Western chauvinism is encapsulated in the label of “authoritarian”. Authoritarian is a word almost synonymous with modern China and is almost always reinforced with abstract idealism, if it is backed-up by any evidence at all. In reality, “authoritarian” is a buzzword, thrown around at rebellious, non-Western countries to dehumanise and delegitimise their governance; “Classifying a nation or a regime as authoritarian consolidates the West’s power as a knowing subject to define others and affirms its moral authority and superiority”, (Yunpeng Zhang & Fang Zu).

In the case of China, the abstract critique of “authoritarian” is reinforced with racist tropes of submissive Asians. A more common example of “submissive Asians” is the idea of a “good Asian wife”, whereby a Western man would prefer an Asian wife, as they supposedly are less trouble and more readily submissive than free-thinking, Western women. I was going to include an academic article at this point discussing the concept of a “good Asian wife”, but a much better experiment is to google something like “Asian wife” and see the sickening online marketing towards Western men for Asian women. This same dynamic is applied to governance, as Asian citizens are portrayed as submissive to their despotic governments, whereas Westerners are rebellious and demand democracy, free speech and so on. Westerners believe that they are immune to propaganda, whereas Easterners are easily controlled, like North Korea. This is not to say all critiques of China are racist, however, many non-materialist arguments are rooted in the racist ideology painted above. Hence, it is pertinent that criticisms of China and all nations are rigorous and based on material evidence.

“What worries us here is the danger of ready submission to, and fixating attention on this conceptual category of authoritarianism in destructing, if not completely distorting, social realities” – Yupeng Zhang & Fang Zu.


“Judeo-Bolshevism” is a Nazi conspiracy theory which link anti-Semitism and anti-communism, the main two pillars of Nazism. The idea was that “The Jews” were pulling the strings of the global order to implement global communism which would eradicate Western values and the Aryan race. Paul Hanebrink is a historian who has extensively studied the conspiracy theory of Jewish-Bolshevism and he has also observed how the Nazi conspiracy has evolved over time, “The ideological coordinates that once shaped the Judeo-Bolshevik myth have been reformulated. In the 1930s, right-wing extremists dreamed of Christian Europe as a bulwark against the Judeo-Bolshevik menace; now they imagine it as a defense against Eurabia or the Islamisation of the West.”

Hanebrink is not a communist and so he does not apply a materialist analysis to this work, however materialists can observe how the myth of “Judeo-Bolshevism” very clearly follows imperialist interests; anti-Soviet communism during WW2 and the Cold war and anti-Islam during American expansion into the Middle East (after the fall of the Eastern Bloc). It is clear that since the covid-19 pandemic fears of China have skyrocketed and the imperialist crosshairs are pointed squarely at Beijing. ”Judeo-Bolshevism” has followed this pivot, with China being portrayed as the magician behind the curtain. The far-right in Ireland are evidence of this, believing that China is behind the pandemic and even the HSE, “Counsel added that the applicants believe the pandemic was “a conspiracy” involving the state, the HSE and the HSE-funded media for monetary purposes, and that the state was controlled by the Chinese Communist Party” (The Journal.ie). This portrayal of China as evil communists pulling the strings of the globe is clearly utilising Nazi ideas about “Judeo-Bolshevism”. These narratives are anti-Semitic as well as racist against East Asians, and they are visibly perpetuated by mainstream news, the mouthpieces of capitalists like Rupert Murdoch. Some of these similar narratives are:

  • Thirst for world domination
  • Destruction of Western values
  • Spreading communism
  • Interfering and undermining Western democracies
  • Infiltrating academia
  • Racial supremacy (Jewish people and Han people as racial supremacists, e.g. “The Jews will not replace us”).


Intentional or otherwise, much of the anti-Chinese propaganda produced today mirrors the same tropes deployed by the Nazis in their anti-Semitic propaganda.

 

The rise of racist attacks against East Asians in the West is not due to individual hatred or fringe populists like Donald Trump. In reality, this rise in racism is due to centuries of white supremacist ideology, which is perpetuated by Western hegemony and its imperialist interests. Reading this article, one may take away that only the far-right is to worry about, but when you look at how the majority of leftists, centrists, and centre-right individuals perpetuate these ideas about China, especially through the media, it is clear that liberals enable and accentuate the fascist narratives around China.

Sources:

“Judgement reserved in Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters court appeal”, The Journal Jan. 20th, 2021.

Paul Hanebrink, “The story changes but hate remains; The myth of Judeo-Bolshevism”, Le Monde Diplomatique.

Vincenza Cinizia Capristo, “Fearing the Other: The Danger of a “Yellow Invasion” Between 19th and 20th Century in Europe”. Academius, 2019.

Yunpeng Zhang and Fang Xu, “Ignorance, Orientalism and Sinophobia in Knowledge Production on COVID‐19”, Journal of Economic and Human Geography, 19 June 2020.

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