From “Yellow Peril” to “Model Minority”: Chinese American Educational Experiences under the Perspective of Racial Formation

Mar 1 2:00–3:15pm
Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave., Cambridge

Chen Bateer (Professor, Higher Education Research Institute, Zhou Enlai School of Governance, Nankai University; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair/Discussant: Natasha Warikoo (Associate Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education)

Co-sponsored with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

During the mid-19th century, as Chinese immigrants started arriving to the US in considerable numbers, they were categorized by “yellowness,” and finally as a “yellow peril” when their population rose to more than 100,000 by 1880. Under the “yellow peril” discourse, they experienced serious inequity and discrimination in education, and were ineligible for citizenship. Initially, the Chinese were regarded as an inferior race to be kept away from public schools. Later “separate but equal” Oriental schools were set up in the 1880s. Prior to 1940, the average number of years of schooling for Chinese Americans was less than five. Ironically, the racial designation of Chinese immigrants changed from “yellow peril” to “model minority” soon after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The “model minority,” as a new racial representation, influenced Chinese Americans’ experiences in two ways: on the one hand, the label put pressure on young Chinese to perform educationally. It also enhanced identity development. On the other hand, it provided a stimulus for anti-Chinese sentiment among many majority and other minority Americans. In the history of American immigration, the racial position of “yellow” Chinese has been inconsistent, swinging between black and white and indicating a conflicted “alien” and “native” relationship. “Yellow, neither black nor white” and “perpetual foreigner” are the main features of Chinese racial categorization in American history.