“No one in China or Japan applied yellowish pigment to the skin…and no one in the Far East referred to himself as yellow until late in the nineteenth century, when Western racial paradigms, along with many other aspects of modern Western science, were being imported into Chinese and Japanese contexts.”-Michael Keevak, from the introduction of Becoming Yellow
A Short History of Racial Thinking
By Michael Keevak
In their earliest encounters with Asia, Europeans almost uniformly characterized the people of China and Japan as white. This was a means of describing their wealth and sophistication, their willingness to trade with the West, and their presumed capacity to become Christianized. But by the end of the seventeenth century the category of whiteness was reserved for Europeans only. When and how did Asians become “yellow” in the Western imagination? Looking at the history of racial thinking, Becoming Yellow explores the notion of yellowness and shows that this label originated not in early travel texts or objective descriptions, but in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientific discourses on race.
Michael Keevak is a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages at National Taiwan University. His books include Sexual Shakespeare, The Pretended Asian, and The Story of a Stele.
We invite you to read the introduction online: