America's Asia

America's Asia: Racial Form and American Literature, 1893-1945

Colleen Lye
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sfpd
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    America's Asia
    Book Description:

    What explains the perception of Asians both as economic exemplars and as threats?America's Asiaexplores a discursive tradition that affiliates the East with modern efficiency, in contrast to more familiar primitivist forms of Orientalism. Colleen Lye traces the American stereotype of Asians as a "model minority" or a "yellow peril"--two aspects of what she calls "Asiatic racial form"-- to emergent responses to globalization beginning in California in the late nineteenth century, when industrialization proceeded in tandem with the nation's neocolonial expansion beyond its continental frontier.

    From Progressive efforts to regulate corporate monopoly to New Deal contentions with the crisis of the Great Depression, a particular racial mode of social redress explains why turn-of-the-century radicals and reformers united around Asian exclusion and why Japanese American internment during World War II was a liberal initiative.

    In Lye's reconstructed archive of Asian American racialization, literary naturalism and its conventions of representing capitalist abstraction provide key historiographical evidence. Arguing for the profound influence of literature on policymaking,America's Asiaexamines the relationship between Jack London and leading Progressive George Kennan on U.S.-Japan relations, Frank Norris and AFL leader Samuel Gompers on cheap immigrant labor, Pearl S. Buck and journalist Edgar Snow on the Popular Front in China, and John Steinbeck and left intellectual Carey McWilliams on Japanese American internment. Lye's materialist approach to the construction of race succeeds in locating racialization as part of a wider ideological pattern and in distinguishing between its different, and sometimes opposing, historical effects.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2643-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Minority Which Is Not One
    (pp. 1-11)

    Soon after I started teaching at Berkeley, I was invited to speak in a large student-organized undergraduate English lecture course called “Other Voices,” a course that exists primarily to introduce lower-division students to minority faculty on the campus. It was suggested by the course facilitators that I talk about my research interests, but that in preparing my remarks I bear in mind that I would be the only Asian American guest that semester. For the students’ reading assignment I chose a short poem by Mitsuye Yamada, “Looking Out”:

    It must be odd

    to be a minority

    he was saying.

    I...

  5. CHAPTER ONE A Genealogy of the “Yellow Peril” JACK LONDON, GEORGE KENNAN, AND THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR
    (pp. 12-46)

    The idea of Pacific travel launched Jack London’s literary career, though in his earliest stories Asia itself is never reached. London’s first published work, which won a local prize for best descriptive article, is “Story of a Typhoon off the Coast of Japan” (1893), but despite the specificity of the title, this shipboard adventure could have taken place anywhere. A second tale, “The Run Across” (1895), which this time presents the gentle face of nature, is set in the middle of the Pacific, on the passage between San Francisco and Japan; its action ends, however, before the ship reaches its...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Meat versus Rice FRANK NORRIS, JACK LONDON, AND THE CRITIQUE OF MONOPOLY CAPITALISM
    (pp. 47-95)

    Between March 1894 and February 1895, several short stories by Frank Norris appeared in the West Coast magazineOverland Monthlyunder a series named “Outward and Visible Signs.” The title was an allusion to the famous claim by the contemporary Italian criminal anthropologist, Cesare Lombroso, that the bodies of criminals wore the “outward and visible signs of a mysterious process of degeneration.”¹ The termdegenerationfirst began to appear in medical dictionaries in the 1850s and was taken to refer to a “morbid change in the structure of parts consisting in the disintegration of tissue or in a substitution of...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The End of Asian Exclusion? THE SPECTER OF “CHEAP FARMERS” AND ALIEN LAND LAW FICTION
    (pp. 96-140)

    Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the western halves of the three Pacific Coast states and the southern third of Arizona were declared a military zone, from which all persons of Japanese descent were to be removed.¹ The sequence of events, proceeding from Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, to the wholesale evacuation and incarceration by the end of the year of more than 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, 70,000 of whom were United States citizens, presented an extraordinary diversion of military and civilian governmental resources at a time when the country was under the immediate wartime imperatives...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR A New Deal for Asians JOHN STEINBECK, CAREY MCWILLIAMS, AND THE LIBERALISM OF JAPANESE-AMERICAN INTERNMENT
    (pp. 141-203)

    Looking back upon Japanese American internment in 1971, William Petersen, a conservative pundit who began promoting postwar Japanese American success and self-reliance in the 1960s, observed: “This was an era dominated by liberals, among who one counts virtually every civilian significantly involved in the action against Japanese Americans.”¹ Petersen’s polemic, repeated and made more explicit in an article for theNational Reviewthe next year, attacked liberalism for its “support—partial or total, knowing or innocent—of totalitarianism.”² Disregarding whatever shifts within liberal outlooks on race may have occurred between the 1940s and the 1960s, Petersen sought to cast suspicion...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE One World PEARL S. BUCK, EDGAR SNOW, AND JOHN STEINBECK ON ASIAN AMERICAN CHARACTER
    (pp. 204-254)

    Upon the 1931 publication ofThe Good Earth(1931), which sold a million and a half copies in its first year and was subsequently translated into thirty languages, Pearl S. Buck became the premier interpreter of China for a generation of American readers. In 1958 Harold Isaacs’s study of American opinions about Asia found that a majority of interviewees still identified Buck as the source of their images of China.¹ In the view of Maxine Hong Kingston, Buck’s achievement was no less than to have made “Asian voices heard, for the first time, in Western literature.”² Buck authored an astounding...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 255-300)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 301-328)
  12. Index
    (pp. 329-342)