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Reviewed by:
  • Yellow Perils: China Narratives in the Contemporary World ed. by Franck Billé and Sören Urbansky
  • David Martinez-Robles (bio)
Franck Billé and Sören Urbansky, editors. Yellow Perils: China Narratives in the Contemporary World. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2018. vii, 276 pp. Hardcover $68.00, ISBN 978-0-8248-7579-4.

The emergence of China as a global superpower in recent decades has run parallel to the rebirth of old stereotypes about China and the Chinese and the rise of new ones. Far from being an outdated topic, the representations of Asians in the Western world have been the aim of several recent books and articles, written from a historical perspective or with the focus on how images of Asia and Asians are currently constructed.1 Coedited by Franck Billé and Sören Urbansky, Yellow Perils should be counted among the latter, as it addresses the changing views on China and Chinese in the contemporary world.

The aim of the book is to provide readers with an analysis of how the presence of Chinese in different geographical, national, and cultural contexts configures a representation of China. One of the virtues of the book is its internal coherence. Rather than a collection of essays by authors that have [End Page 108] written them independently—as it is too frequently the case in these kinds of edited books that derive from a panel in a conference—Yellow Perils is the result of an evident endeavor to offer a cohesive—although not always totally convincing—narrative, an argument that permeates all chapters and authors of the book. The result is a coherent work, despite the diversity of contexts and objects analyzed and of methodologies applied.

The work is headed by an introductory chapter written by Franck Billé which summarizes the history of the Yellow Peril discourse, from its origin in late nineteenth century to its evolution in the twentieth to the current rise of new narratives on Asia and Asians. The author and coeditor of the book outlines the evolution of fantasies, views, constructions, and representations associated with the concept, its application to different regions of the Asian world, and its problematic conceptualization. Billé insists on the idea that the different views aroused by the emergence of China as a global superpower, often perceived as threatening, reveal that today the term Yellow Peril must not be used in the singular but as multiple, split in the different geographical contexts which, for their part, are respectively analyzed in the rest of chapters—hence the pluralized title of the book. The will of the work is precisely to delve into these multiple yellow perils as crystallized and/or used in very diverse cultural contexts, including regions with very different cultural and historical backgrounds, from countries with a recent colonial past to leading participants of the Cold War, including Asian countries and the Chinese world itself. This is actually one of the major contributions of the book: the aim of covering a wide array of contexts (in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the West) in order to understand the different types of reactions and discursive strategies triggered by the emergence of China.

In addition to region-based analyses, Yellow Perils also points to (in chapters 2 and 9) global phenomena. Christos Lynteris provides an outstanding analysis of how images of China as origin of pathologies and diseases, as well as the representation of Chinese bodies as carriers of global biological perils, have been constructed, both past and present. The argument is that there is a discontinuity between late-Qing and contemporary associations of China with infectious diseases. Lynteris first outlines the process of pathologization of Chinese culture ("the sick man of Asia"), people, and bodies. In the nineteenth century, China was considered the origin of several plagues, such as cholera and smallpox. The Chinese space was also described as the cradle of diseases, and Chinese bodies as transmitters of pathologies. Next, the chapter contrasts these old associations of China and sickness with the contemporary SARS and avian-flu crises. Lynteris argues that the new Sinophobia of the twenty-first century is not simply a variant of the original Yellow Peril; rather, China...


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