The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend: A Dramatic Shift in American Sentiment toward China

Featured image from PICRYL.

Photo 1:

Cartoon from 1882 (one month before the Chinese Exclusion Act) portraying the animosity Americans had toward Chinese immigrants. Source from NYPL Digital Collection.
This is a negatively stereotyped Chinese man being beaten by a crowd. I wonder how many Chinese immigrants were beaten, or worse, killed, because of normalized portrayals of violence?
The cartoon shows political opponents uniting against a common “evil”. Were democrats, republicans, and independents equally against Chinese immigration? Or was one party known to be more aggressive?
The only friends most Chinese immigrants had during this time were in their own racial communities. Were there any American organizations that actively helped Chinese immigrants during this time?

Photo 2:

Cartoon created in 1905, nearly 20 years after the Chinese Exclusion Act. Source from Library of Congress.
Chinese man with a stereotyped rattail being kicked out of the country by Uncle Sam. I wonder how widespread Chinese immigration was, even decades after the Chinese Exclusion Act?
A pompous portrayal of a Chinese immigrant trying to gain entry into the United States. Due to the sophisticated disguise and forged pedigree, I wonder what lengths Chinese immigrants went to immigrate to the United States?
The name “John” was likely adapted by many Chinese immigrants, hence how it is used like a slur in this example.

Photo 3:

Advertisement from United China Relief, an organization that provided aid to China for their struggles against Japan. No specific date is provided, but it has a date range from 1941-1945. Source from PICRYL.
Complete change of tone from the previous depictions of Chinese men. This Chinese soldier is portrayed to be strong, determined, and most noticeably, does not have the stereotyped rattail. This positive portrayal results from China fighting one of the United States’ mortal enemies of the time, Japan.
This is a reference to China’s early fighting with Japan, and is likely an attempt to differentiate the two.
Was United China Relief successful in their efforts to distinguish Chinese people from Japanese people? How much money did they raise, and did they make a noticeable difference in China? Was the organization’s true intention to help America’s cause more so than China’s, so Japan would be more occupied in Asia?

7 Replies to “The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend: A Dramatic Shift in American Sentiment toward China”

  1. I was surprised to see a topic that was somewhat paralleled to the one that I chose for this assignment! I promise I didn’t copy your theme!

    I enjoyed the abundance of thought provoking questions in your post. It is refreshing to see the abandonment of stereotypes in the portrayal of the soldier during WW2 in the United China Relief advertisement.

    1. Funny coincidence, Jacob! On that note, I was close to using the same picture you used from Frank Leslie’s Newspaper, but I barely decided against it. Your thoughts about the image are similar to mine regarding constitutionality and the coincidental(?) opium article.

      I agree that it is refreshing to see a positive portrayal of a group that was demonized as subhuman, but it reeks with piousness. In my first two pictures, the negative portrayal of Chinese men reflected white American fears that “lesser” races were taking opportunities from whites. In other words, it was convenient for the majority to discriminate. Then, fast forward to Pearl Harbor and it became convenient for Americans to support China, hence the positive portrayal of the Chinese family. Reflecting this new sentiment, in 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed (but elements of white supremacy lingered).

      Thanks for your reply!

  2. Hi Matt. This was pretty interesting to watch as portrayal of the Chinese has evolved over time. From immigrants that were scorned upon, to political rivals and to an ally in the second world war. I like that you managed to get a wide variety of photos and that you went into such detail. One thing I would have added is a photo related to Communist China since that was a pretty dramatic shift from the alliance shared in WW2. Otherwise great post. Very well researched.

  3. Very neat topic. It’s such a shame that our country has such a racist history behind it, but I suppose even in less than ideal circumstances – like the ones shown here – a more progressive mindset has to start somewhere. I don’t know if I have ever really learned much about this period of history for Chinese-Americans, as I often skipped WW2 classes during undergrad to study other time periods, but it certainly makes sense when you take into consideration everything that was playing out during the time period. Well done!

  4. Matt! Fantastic topic. I really appreciated how detailed you were in your descriptions, and the questions you asked were very thoughtful. It’s so interesting to see the racism change from the early illustrations of the Chinese people to the later illustration during WWII. The last poster actually makes the people look like real human beings, while the earlier ones are just full of stereotypes and depictions of the Chinese people being evil or conniving. Great work!

  5. Wow, what a switch from the radicalized stereotypes used in the first two cartoons to something so realistic in the third picture. Not only realistic, but dark and gritty, not something I’ve ever come across in that time period. What would be interesting to know is how Chinese immigrants were treated in the US during WWII. We obviously all know how Japanese Americans fared unfortunately, but were Chinese Americans treated with the respect given to an allied country? Whatever good will was felt towards China during WWII was also short lived, as the Communists managed to take over the country by the end of the decade. Great post, really got me thinking!

  6. Matt, your thoughtful selection of images and keen eye for detail (nice catch on the disappearing “rat-tail” hair) invites thoughtful consideration of how attitudes toward Chinese immigration are more a product of domestic politics than attributes of the Chinese. An observation echoed by your classmates.

    Great idea to fast forward from our racist past, to WWII necessities. And your post title does a great job of cleverly captioning the bigger picture.

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