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Picturing Model Citizens

Civility in Asian American Visual Culture

Thy Phu

Publication Year: 2011

At the heart of the model minority myth—often associated with Asian Americans—is the concept of civility. In this groundbreaking book, Picturing Model Citizens, Thy Phu exposes the complex links between civility and citizenship, and argues that civility plays a crucial role in constructing Asian American citizenship.

Featuring works by Arnold Genthe, Carl Iwasaki, Toyo Miyatake, Nick Ut, and others, Picturing Model Citizens traces the trope of civility from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Through an examination of photographs of Chinese immigrants, Japanese internment camps, the Hiroshima Maidens project, napalm victims, and the SARS epidemic, Phu explores civility's unexpected appearance in images that draw on discourses of intimacy, cultivation, apology, and hygiene. She reveals how Asian American visual culture illustrates not only cultural ideas of civility, but also contests the contradictions of state-defined citizenship.


Published by: Temple University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

It would be unseemly, in a book about civility, not to acknowledge the tremendous support that has helped sustain this research through the years. Many of my archival expeditions were funded through the assistance provided by the English Department at the University of Western Ontario and...

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pp. 1-5

Should civility govern public discourse and the conduct of citizens? This seemingly simple question sparked fierce debate in response to incendiary statements about Jared Loughner’s infamous shooting spree in a suburb near Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011. Nineteen people were shot, and...

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Introduction: Clasped Hands and Clenched Fists

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pp. 6-25

It is May 10, 1869, and the mood is jubilant in Promontory Point, Utah, where workers have just finished joining two lines of the transcontinental railway that link the East with the West. To mark this momentous event, wine bottles are uncorked and hats are doffed. Strangers exchange...

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1. Spectacles of Intimacy and the Aesthetics of Domestication

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pp. 26-53

Rare is the person who is satisfied with her passport photo. Instead, she may feel a sense of misrecognition1 and wonder whose face gazes unsmiling back at her. Set against the requisite unflattering plain (“white or off-white”) background in accord with the strict regulations outlined by the...

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2. Cultivating Citizenship: Internment Landscapes and Still-Life Photography

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pp. 54-83

Since the introduction of William Petersen’s concept of the model minority to Americans in 1966, this figure has, despite ongoing attempts to discredit its authenticity, swiftly become an enduring part of popular discourse. Even though the model minority myth has been the focus of...

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3. A Manner of Apology: Transpacifism and the Scars of Reparation

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pp. 84-120

Few scenes of reconciliation could be more touching than that between Kim Phuc, the famous “girl in the picture” whose anguished escape from the flames of a napalm attack is captured in one of the most famous war photographs of the twentieth century, Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut’s Pulitzer...

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4. Racial Hygiene: SARS, Surgical Masks, and the Civility of Surveillance

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pp. 121-146

On April 4, 2003, President George W. Bush invoked Executive Order 13295, extending the list of quarantinable diseases maintained by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS ). A disease that first emerged in November 2002 in Guangdong...

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Postscript: The Inhospitable Politics of Repatriation

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pp. 147-157

In 1999, seventeen-year-old Kim Ho Ma and two friends, members of a Khmer gang in Seattle, Washington, were convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of a rival gang member. Ma was sentenced to thirty-three months in a correctional facility. Yet even after serving his time, he remained...


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pp. 159-188


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pp. 189-203


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pp. 205-209

About the Author

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p. 210

E-ISBN-13: 9781439907221
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439907214

Page Count: 218
Illustrations: 42
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 785939437
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Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Asian Americans in popular culture.
  • Images, Photographic -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Photography -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • Courtesy -- United States.
  • Citizenship -- United States.
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