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The Representation of East Asians in the Media: Yellow Peril, Stereotypes, Ads, and Hope for the Future

Updated on January 17, 2018

The following article is meant to illustrate the ways in which Asians are misrepresented in the media. Their misrepresentation results in various stereotypes that can be damaging to peoples of East Asian races.

"Yellow Peril" (left), Asian brides (top right), Chop Suey Eyes (bottom right)
"Yellow Peril" (left), Asian brides (top right), Chop Suey Eyes (bottom right) | Source

The American media has perpetuated stereotypes of Asians and this influences Asian Americans.

Asian Americans are an ethnicity, which includes second generation Asian people who may not have any ties to their Asian ancestry.

"Yellow Peril"
(image above on the left)

This cartoon was drawn and published in 1899. It was inspired by the fact that many Asian immigrants were coming to the US at this time.

The media attempted to show Asians in a negative light—as savages. The caption says, “The Yellow Terror in all his glory.” This stigma came from the fear of Americans losing their jobs and their culture to immigrants.

Racist Asian Jello Ad

Americans were afraid of the way Asians would change their culture, so they would discourage the use of chopsticks to show how America is more “civilized.”

A common stereotype is that Asians work in service sector jobs; that they don’t speak English well enough to get a better paying job.

Abercrombie and Fitch Asian T Shirt

Wong Brothers
Wong Brothers | Source
A print from an Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirt
A print from an Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirt | Source

This T-Shirt design by Abercrombie & Fitch shows two, stereotypical Asian men.

It says, “Two Wongs can make it white,” which replaces “Wrongs” with “Wongs” and “Right” with “White.” This further emphasizes the polarity between East and West.

Kung Fu Skittles Ad

Skittles Ad
Skittles Ad | Source

This is a Skittles ad, which displays a very stereotypical Asian man performing martial arts. The stereotype that al Asians must have learned some type of martial arts in their life is one that is destructive.

Times Model Minority

Asains as the model minority
Asains as the model minority | Source
Model minority in the workforce
Model minority in the workforce | Source

A common Asian stereotype for both men and women is the model minority complex. This is a positive stereotype, which describes Asians as smart, hardworking, responsible and studious.

This Time Magazine cover was published in 1986, in which they bragged about the intelligent races from the East. Although it is a positive article about Asians, it promotes a stereotype, which could be damaging.

Asian or Gay?

Gay or Asian?  A quiz from Details magazine
Gay or Asian? A quiz from Details magazine | Source

Asian men are often represented as asexual and emasculate. In this spread from Details Magazine, they ask their reader to determine whether the man is Asian or Gay.

They make the assumption that it is difficult to tell because Asian men are very clean cut and feminine.

Women are actually represented the opposite way; they can also be seen as unintelligent.

Unintelligent Asian Women Ad: Cat Food

Asian women are represented in a very sexual and erotic way.

The image on the left is an ad for a nightclub where they claim there’s “Always a happy ending.”

The image on the lower right is a banned ad for Tiger Beer, which is not even in the image.

Asian Women Sexualize in the Media

Asian women in provocative ads
Asian women in provocative ads | Source

Because these stereotypes affect Asian Americans who don’t identify with their Asian ancestry, there are various movements which aim to break these stereotypes.

Chris Iijima was an activist for the Asian American movement during the 60’s-80’s in America. He united Asians from New York, Los Angeles and Hawaii.

The film, Sing A Song for Ourselves was made by his nephew, Tadashi, last year to honor the late artist.

Asian American Movements

Asian American Movements
Asian American Movements | Source
A Song for Ourselves, a documentary following the active life and tragic death of Chris Iijima
A Song for Ourselves, a documentary following the active life and tragic death of Chris Iijima | Source
Popular Asians breaking the stereotypes
Popular Asians breaking the stereotypes | Source

The Korean couple on the ABC show, Lost, are said to have broken some racial stereotypes and gave more complexity to Asian culture.

Basketball player, Yao Ming, is also is a proud Asian American.

To conclude, we should really think before believing stereotypes and should attempt to end them when we are put to the test. The media has misrepresented Asians and their culture. Don't be like the media.


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    • brittanytodd profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Kennedy 

      8 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      I agree, Vinaya. I think that's the problem with the media. They lump it all together and the viewer is accustomed to seeing all "Asians" as the same. I'm happy to see that there are people out there who see it the way I do. I think as long as we expose the media's misrepresentation of race, more people will see the issues and become more aware.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      8 years ago from Nepal

      I think the term Asian is actually quite misleading. When you say European or African you can make some idea about their appearance, or even culture, but Asians cannot be generalized. Chinese are different from Indians, and we Nepalis are very different from people in Afghanistan.

    • brittanytodd profile imageAUTHOR

      Brittany Kennedy 

      8 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      I agree. I do not think everyone in America thinks these things. I just think it is important to be aware of such stereotypes promoted by the media. We need to be the change and just like you said, we need more down to earth people. Thanks for reading!

    • MelloYelloMan profile image


      8 years ago

      To be honest, the media has misrepresented everyone. They want us all to hate each other and only see the faults in people. UGH. Not all Americans believe those stereotypes you know. I surely do not, nor do I ever want to hate anyone or judge them for they way they act or look. Great hub by the way :) We need more down to earth people :P


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