No turn-of-the-century images convey a more vivid impression of Western “Yellow Peril” animus than the picture postcards of the Russo-Japanese War. The bile in these images can still seem overwhelming to viewers today, over a century later.
The phrase “Yellow Peril” itself seems to have been first used by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who commissioned a semi-realistic rendering, titled “Gelbe Gefahr,” in 1895, after Japan’s victory over China in the first Sino-Japanese War. In this, the archangel Michael stood on a bluff with Amazonian female figures representing the nations of European Christendom, pointing to a small Buddha surrounded by a nimbus of flame on the distant horizon.
10 years later, the iconography of the Yellow Peril was as dense, varied, and vicious as could be imagined—as these samples suggest. Much of the most compelling such graphics came from French artists—the same group that also produced some of the most incisive and impartial renderings of the horrors of the war. “Yellow Peril” postcard imagery often featured saturation with the color yellow. Chimeras, dragons, and other grotesqueries frequently symbolized the threat. Sometimes the figures depicted were garbed in Chinese rather than Japanese clothing—for, after all, it was “the yellows” rather than Japanese per se who now seemed to threaten Western, Christian, and Caucasian hegemony.
One need not read between the lines to identify the thrust of this white racism, for many postcard captions, as seen here in the French, make the odious “yellow” identity explicit.