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Yellow Peril

Entry updated 20 February 2023. Tagged: Theme.

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The popular Term, not only within sf circles, for military or economic expansionism by China and other Far Eastern nations (see Invasion; Politics) as seen through the distorting lens of Western Paranoia, and understandable in those terms as central to the language and fears expressed in Imperial Gothic in the years before World War One. It seems to have been coined – in German as "gelbe Gefahr" – by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1895. Early US examples of this theme before it gained its familiar name include Last Days of the Republic (1880) by Pierton W Dooner and "The Battle of the Wabash: A Letter from the Invisible Police" (October 1880 The Californian) by Lorelle.

M P Shiel launched the concept as an sf subgenre with The Yellow Danger (5 February-18 June 1898 Short Stories as "The Empress of the Earth"; 1898), exploiting fears that Chinese hordes could take over the world by simple strength of numbers. In Roy Norton's The Vanishing Fleets (serialized at various dates during 1907 Associated Sunday Magazines; 1908), which focuses more on Technology than race as such, America is saved through the Invention of super "radioplanes" which shift an invading Japanese armada (and other fleets) to mysterious locations; and Yates Stirling Jr's tales in The Battle for the Pacific; And Other Adventures at Sea (anth 1908 ed anon) show America defeating Japan at sea in the Near Future. Shiel's own later contribution, The Dragon (1 January-15 March 1913 Red Magazine as "To Arms!"; 1913; rev vt The Yellow Peril 1929), is also less racist and more science-fictional. The Peril's most famous single representative is Sax Rohmer's Dr Fu-Manchu, a Supervillain and Mad Scientist who first appeared in episodes assembled as The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu (stories October 1912-July 1913 The Story Teller as "Fu-Manchu"; fixup 1913; vt The Insidious Dr Fu-Manchu 1913); there are several sequels, and the sinister doctor also features in a number of films (see Fu Manchu).

Fu-Manchu was prefigured by the Japanese mastermind Dr Tsarka in The Radium Terrors (January-August 1911 The Scrap Book [US], 1911 Pall Mall [UK]; 1912) by Albert Dorrington, and blatantly imitated by the title characters of the magazines The Mysterious Wu Fang and Dr Yen Sin. Further echoes are numerous, as in Agatha Christie's The Big Four (fixup 1927), Ian Fleming's Dr No (1958) – whose titular Chinese scientist-villain has a penchant for Torture – and the Doctor Who sequence The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977). Fu-Manchu himself sometimes features in Recursive SF, such as Alan Moore's Graphic Novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 (1999-2000; 2000).

Sf manifestations of the larger Yellow Peril are likewise numerous, as indicated by the "see also" author list below. Specific examples include Jack London's "Unparalleled Invasion" (July 1910 McClure's), where Chinese aggression is quashed by genocidal bio-Weapons; Robert W Chambers's The Slayer of Souls (1920), with an Asian cult plotting world conquest; Arthur J Burks's "The Invading Horde" (November 1927 Weird Tales), openly stating the key fear that Asians "breed like flies, and must eventually find some place for their expanding population or perish"; Philip Francis Nowlan's original Buck Rogers story "Armageddon – 2419 A.D." (August 1928 Amazing), with the USA occupied by Chinese invaders who – it is suggested in the sequel "The Airlords of Han" (March 1929 Amazing) – may in fact be of Alien origin (so that ingrained hatred of them is technically not racism); Anthony Gilmore's Hawk Carse series, collected as Space Hawk (November 1931-November 1932 Astounding and July 1942 Amazing; coll of linked stories 1952), with a regular spacegoing adversary in the oriental tradition of Fu-Manchu; Gerald Heard's "The President of the United States, Detective" (March 1947 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine) as by H F Heard, in which China attempts to drown much of the West via forced Climate Change; Robert A Heinlein's Sixth Column (January-March 1941 Astounding as by Anson MacDonald; 1949 as Heinlein; vt The Day After Tomorrow 1951), opening with the defeat of America by highly unpleasant "PanAsians" (China, in this scenario, has previously absorbed Russia); Whitman Chambers's hysterical depiction of Japanese invaders of California in Invasion! (1943) is understandable in its post-Pearl Harbor context during World War Two; and Eric Frank Russell's "The Timeless Ones" (November 1952 Science Fiction Quarterly), whose inscrutable Chinese have quietly displaced Earth's other races and look set to outbreed humanoid Aliens throughout the galaxy. Exogamy may be a frequent theme of wider-ranging sf, but – like charity – Paranoia begins at home, here on Earth. [DRL]

see also: Robert Allen; Joseph Bushnell Ames; James Barr; H Bedford-Jones; Max Brand; Frederic Carrel; Lord Castletown; E Keble Chatterton; Joan Conquest; Captain Danrit; Charles Foleÿ; David Footman; Vernon George; Floyd Gibbons; Walter B Gibson; J U Giesy; Reginald Glossop; Homer Lea; Hume Nisbet; G Edward Pendray; Philip Reade; S N Sedgwick; Roy J Snell; Herbert Strang.

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