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Orientalism, “Yellow Peril,” and the “New Yellow Journalism”

Abstract

In this essay, I take the recent publication of several texts examining the historical and contemporary phenomena of Sinophobia, Orientalism, and Sinologism as an opening for theorizing underlying and related issues including pervasive anti-China biases in Western journalism and China’s position therein. In addition to illustrating how the concepts of Orientalism arise from Western historical and epistemological foundations, I theorize what I call a “new yellow journalism” that has grown in tandem with “China’s rise” and the threat this indicates to many Western observers, and how this threat and others like it have been met in the age of “new imperialism.” I compare this new phenomenon with its historical antecedents, “yellow journalism” and America’s emergence as a imperialism power with the Spanish-American War (1898), and note several key insights offered by recent critical analyses of that period, which together suggest a confluence of different players, including policymakers, new media business models, and what I describe as a type of public “corporatism” in which citizens, particularly Americans, function effectively as shareholders in maintaining hegemonic if not imperialist power.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Contemporary research indicates that yellow journalism both shaped and was shaped by readers and policymakers (Campbell 2003; Spencer 2007). The possibility of yellow journalism’s influence on McKinley’s assassination was said to derail William Randolph Hearst’s own presidential ambitions (Nasaw 2000, pp. 156–158).

  2. 2.

    Although both “red” and “white” terrors ensued, the New York Times famously skewed reporting to emphasize “red” atrocities, despite evidence of greater violence by the fascists and Franco’s complicity with Hitler. The fascist struggle against the socialist Loyalists, who were supported in part by the Soviet Union, was cast as a new, Catholic Crusade against the “Asiatic horde,” and carried the support of the Catholic Church, who, recalling the war to expel Muslims from Spain in 1492, justified, as necessary, the New Inquisition of Franco, who with his generals promised to kill half the population of Spain if necessary. (Graham 2005, pp. 33–35; Beevor 2006, pp. 87–94).

  3. 3.

    See for example from the Spring and Autumn Period (from whence these terms become popular in Chinese), Mengci, “Gua Ren Zhi Yu Guo Ye,” in Mengci, Lianghuiwang Shang.

  4. 4.

    I have discussed this extensively elsewhere (Mahoney 2013b).

  5. 5.

    This theme is repeated throughout Nietzsche oeuvre, first developed in The Gay Science (1882/1887) and finding its well-known apotheosis in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1891).

  6. 6.

    She has made the comment in different forums. The first time we heard it was at a GIGA-sponsored conference in Hamburg, December 17, 2011, where she presented a paper titled, “The Velvet Fist in the Velvet Glove: Social and Political Control in Contemporary China”.

  7. 7.

    Studies reviewed include: Smythe (2003), Altheide and Grimes (2005), Kellner (2004), Page and Bouton (2006), Hammond (2007), Hiebert (2003), Chadwick (2001), Kaplan (2003).

  8. 8.

    Allegations that the USS Maine was sunk by the USA as a “false flag” operation persist, as evidence to the contrary remains inconclusive. Other possibilities include an onboard accident given the ship’s controversial use of a highly combustible type of coal. What is certain, despite the uncertainty, is that the USA used it as a pretext for war, insisting the Maine was sunk by Spanish saboteurs. It should be noted, however, that military officials in the Pentagon would later refer to the Maine as a “false flag” operation and proposed repeating it in Guantanamo Bay as a pretext for attacking Communist Cuba (Weiner 1997).

  9. 9.

    I take as inspiration here the imaginary museum Michael Taussig uses as a device in My Cocaine Museum (2004) to narrate the denied-discourse of the pervasive effects of narco-trafficking in Colombia.

  10. 10.

    A number of reports have indicated this, including leaks associated with Edward Snowden’s disclosure, see Webster (2011), Storm (2011), Fielding and Cobain (2011), Monbiot (2011), Washingtonsblog (2014), SCG News (2014).

  11. 11.

    For the classic discussion of Gramsci’s distinction between hegemony and imperialism (Hobsbawm 1977).

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Mahoney, J.G. Orientalism, “Yellow Peril,” and the “New Yellow Journalism”. Fudan J. Hum. Soc. Sci. 9, 123–146 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40647-015-0089-4

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Keywords

  • China
  • Orientalism
  • Yellow peril
  • Yellow journalism
  • Sinophobia
  • Sinologism
  • New imperialism
  • Anti-China biases