“Yellow peril” campaign Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

One of several nativist movements directed against Asian immigration, the “yellow peril” campaign attempted to restrict and remove Japanese immigrants from the United States. The movement strengthened anti-Asian feeling in the United States, strained relations between the U.S. and Japanese governments, and contributed to public support for the federal government’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

In 1890, only about 2,000 Japanese were living in North America. Most worked as laborers and farmhands in California and the Pacific Northwest. Despite their minuscule numbers, the use of Japanese to break a labor strike in British Columbia Coal industry;Japanese incoal mines began what was to become a widespread anti-Japanese campaign. During the ensuing decade, Japanese immigrants began to arrive in large numbers in California. Prior to this, most of the small number of Japanese immigrants were temporary residents. The shortage of labor caused by the exclusion of Chinese immigrants made these early Japanese immigrants welcome. However, with this influx of Asian immigrants who intended to settle permanently, there arose an almost immediate anti-Japanese movement."Yellow peril" campaign[yellow peril campaign]Nativism;"yellow peril" campaign[yellow peril campaign]Japanese immigrants;CaliforniaCalifornia;"yellow peril" campaign[Yellow peril campaign]"Yellow peril" campaign[yellow perilcampaign]Nativism;"yellow peril" campaign[yellow peril campaign]Japanese immigrants;CaliforniaCalifornia;"yellow peril" campaign[Yellow peril campaign][cat]EAST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;"Yellow peril" campaign[cat]ANTI-IMMIGRANT MOVEMENTS AND POLICIES;"Yellow peril" campaign[cat]EVENTS AND MOVEMENTS;"Yellow peril" campaign[cat]NATIVISM;"Yellow peril" campaign

Comparing the Japanese to the Chinese

With the surge of Japanese immigration during the 1890’s, the new century brought increased scrutiny of Asian immigrants. In 1900, new Japanese and Chinese immigrants were quarantined on their arrival on the West Coast on the pretext of health concerns. To protest this action, Japanese businessmen formed the Japanese Association of AmericaJapanese Association of America. Their action provoked an anti-Japanese meeting in San Francisco;Japanese immigrantsSan Francisco that discussed why Japanese were a problem. Among the charges made against them was the claim that the Japanese were not assimilating to American culture. Also, because they worked for less money than Americans, they took jobs from American workers. That charge tied into a third charge: That the Japanese had lower standards of living that created health, moral, and legal problems. Finally, it was charged that the Japanese would never understand American democracy and would always remain loyal to the Japanese emperor.

Early Twentieth Century Developments

As California’s state government became concerned with the sudden rise in Japanese immigration, it began investigating the question of whether the Japanese were, in fact, a potential problem. In an effort to forestall some of the difficulties that Chinese immigrants had faced in the United States, the Japan;emigration policyJapanese government limited the number of its subjects who could emigrate to American. Meanwhile, fear of the “yellow peril” continued to grow in the eyes of American labor. Both the Asiatic Exclusion LeagueExclusion League and the American Federation of Labor;and Japanese immigration[Japanese immigration]American Federation of Labor asked that Japanese immigration be limited. Anti-Japanese agitation also figured into local politics. In San Francisco, for example, both major political parties sought to exploit the anti-Japanese feeling in the city during a mayoral race.

Through the first few years of the twentieth century, the anti-Japanese movement had focused on the dangers Japanese immigrants posed to American labor. In 1905, a shift occurred that caused the Japanese to be seen a threat to the security of the United States. In the immediate aftermath of the Japan;Russo-Japanese WarRusso-Japanese WarRusso-Japanese War of 1905, in which Japan defeated the much larger Russia, the anti-Japanese movement began warning that the “yellow peril” would soon be threatened the shores of the United States. Armed with this new argument, the anti-Japanese forces pushed even harder to limit the impact of new immigrants as much as possible.

San Francisco School Board<index-term><primary>San Francisco;Japanese immigrants</primary></index-term>

On October 11, 1906, San Francisco’s city school board ordered students of Japanese descent to attend a school that had been created during the 1870’s for the Chinese. Although this event was little reported elsewhere in the United States, it elicited a strong response from the Japanese government that provoked President Roosevelt, Theodore[p]Roosevelt, Theodore;and Japanese immigrants[Japanese immigrants]Theodore Roosevelt to persuade San Francisco to withdraw its order. This action, however, merely irritated groups such as the Asiatic Exclusion LeagueAsiatic Exclusion League and increased anti-Japanese feelings in California. Anti-Japanese feelings were further strengthened by the growth of the Native Sons of the Golden WestNative Sons of the Golden West (not to be confused with the Chinese immigrant advocacy organization “Native Sons of the Golden State”). This organization limited its membership to white persons born in California. From its founding in 1907 until World War II, it advocated a strong anti-Japanese platform, which it used to its is own political advantage. The segregation issue always raised support for the anti-Japanese feeling among southern congressmen,who saw a connection between their own attitudes toward African Americans and Californian attitudes toward the Japanese.

Continued Resentment

Although Japanese immigrants were never numerically significant along the West Coast, the fear that they represented a threat to the United States continued to grow. One area of Japanese immigrant control that came under attack was their ability to own land. In 1913, California passed a law denying Japanese the right to own land within the state. Supporters of this law hoped not only to prevent Japanese from owning land but also to drive them from the state. The yellow peril campaign continued through the 1920’s and 1930’s and finally came to a head with the entrance of the United States into World War II and the internment of more than 110,000 West Coast Japanese during the war."Yellow peril" campaign[yellow peril campaign]Nativism;"yellow peril" campaign[yellow peril campaign]Japanese immigrants;CaliforniaCalifornia;"yellow peril" campaign[Yellow peril campaign]

Further Reading
  • Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans: An Interpretive History. Boston: Twayne, 1991. Broad survey of Asian American history that examines aspects of Asian immigration from the 1850’s to 1990. Excellent college-level overview of the subject, with photos, maps, chronology, and bibliography.
  • Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988. Well-written, scholarly account of the experiences of Japanese and Chinese immigrants in America.
  • _______. Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II. New York: Hill & Wang, 1993. Analyzes the decision of the federal government to intern Japanese Americans from the West Coast during the war.
  • Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. Boston: Little, Brown, 1988. Highly readable history of all Asian American communities by a leading Japanese American scholar who drew upon a variety of primary sources, from newspapers to court cases.

Anti-Japanese movement

Asiatic Exclusion League

Japanese American internment

Japanese immigrants

Native Sons of the Golden State

San Francisco

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