A Historical Basis for Media Stereotyping from 184 Essay

This essay has a total of 2963 words and 13 pages.


A Historical Basis for Media Stereotyping from 1840 to Today




The intellectual and entertaining aspects of the media have always been at the forefront
of spreading cultural ideas. People rely on such mediums for learning items they had not
known about and for solidifying belief systems about them says Gerald Baldasty, author of
The History of Communication. Since media is so pervasive and little information
contradicts its monopolistic persuasion, stereotypes form from the audience’s ignorance .
The white majority, who may have never met any Asian Americans, judged, in this case, the
Chinese culture based on what they had read in a newspaper or had seen on television and
movies. In the late 1840’s and early 1850s when the Chinese began immigrating to the
United States in search of economic promise and even through today when Chinese continue
to pursue the American Dream, the media classified the Chinese as sinister, pensive, and
nefarious; the public readily accepts such media caricatures as the archetype for the
entire Asian culture . The portrayal of Chinese Americans in the media, coupled with the
oppressive history of immigration to the United States, adversely affected the white
majority’s perception of the Chinese American.

Prejudice arises from fear according to Benson Tong, author of The Chinese Americans .
American knew little about the Chinese because of the concentration of the Chinese
population living on the West Coast and in Chinatowns, isolated from the majority of the
American population, the average. For example, in the 1860s and 1870s, Chinese in the
United States were concentrated almost entirely on the West Coast, especially in
California. According to the 1870 and 1890 U.S. Census, all of the 34,933 Chinese in the
United States in 1860 lived in California, with 84 percent of them living in rural mining
regions and only 7.8 percent living in San Francisco. In 1870, 78 percent of Chinese in
the United States (49,277 out of 63,199) lived in California, with now 24.4 percent living
in San Francisco , where a sizable Chinatown had developed . Elaine Kim’s book Asian
American Literature:An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context expands on
the idea that people also feared the Chinese because of exclusionary policies, that
segregated the Chinese from mainstream life, set forth from the American government . Many
of the Chinese stereotypes existed well into the twentieth century and even persist in
today’s culture because most Americans were more likely to have gotten their knowledge of
Chinese-Americans from archetypal entertainment characters such as Fu Manchu, Charlie
Chan, or Suzy Wong. People unfamiliar with the Chinese culture learned about it from
television rather than from actually encountering Chinese-Americans in real life. As
recently as 1960, the Chinese population in the United States was only 237,292 out of the
total U.S. population of 179,323,732, or only 0.132 of one percent. Thus, very few
American could come in close contact with the Chinese because of their locality and
instead learned about the Chinese through various mediums.

Since people knew so little about the Chinese immigrants, when they first began arriving
in the United States in the late 1840s drawn by the prospects of gold in California, they
immediately became exotic, novelty objects of curiosity who differed greatly from Anglo
Americans. P.T. Barnum capitalized on such alien demeanor and initiated the Chinese
pigeonholing the as mysterious, which had not yet taken on its negative connotation. He
purchased a "Chinese Museum" in 1850 to be displayed at his American Museum at Ann Street
on Broadway in New York. Tens of millions of Americans were estimated to have visited
Barnum's museum, taking away with them Barnum's circuslike and perhaps fraudulent images
and portrayals of Chinese as curiosities, exotic and different from the Anglo American.
While none of these characterizations appeared to be overtly negative, the exotic
categorization cultivated by Barnum would persist for many years to come, still existing
to some extent in today's society.

Although many people saw the exhibit, people never actually had to attend his museum to
perceive the subservient Chinese because the stereotypes were disseminated in the
newspaper. The April 21, 1850 edition of the New York Sunday Dispatch, and April 22, 1850
edition of the New York Courier and Enquirer covered the exhibit. National publications
such as these served to inform readers in the 19th century, with peak circulations ranging
from 80,000 to 400,000. Although these publications reached predominantly urban, literate
white males, that number took into account 48 percent of the total population. The
educated populace w extends its knowledge garnered from the paper to the rest of the
community.

According to The Dispatch, the exhibit purportedly consisted of a good number of
"curiosities", including a 17-year-old "Chinese belle."


In June, 1850, I added the celebrated Chinese Collection to the attractions of the
American Museum. I also engaged the Chinese Family, consisting of two men, two
"small-footed" women, and two children. My agent exhibited them in London during the
World's Fair.


He mentioned the woman as “small footed,” alluding to the Chinese custom of binding
Barnam’s imagery was so powerful that he perpetuated the mysterious stereotype without
verbally suggesting it in his exhibit verbally suggested in the exhibit. This same
exhibit received further coverage in yet another newspaper, ensuring that almost everyone
witnessed the new “acquiescent Chinese” exhibit. The April 22, 1850 edition of the New
York Courier and Enquirer described the woman as a "Chinese beauty" with "tiny feet
...polished manners ... distingue air ...pretty face ...charming vivacity". This Courier
quote again emphasizes the obedient nature of the Chinese. Other Barnam exhibits included
an "eight-foot giant named Chang-Yu Sing" and the "Siamese Twins" named Chong and Eng
Bunker.

While none of these characterizations appeared to be overtly negative, Barnam’s exhibit
predated Chinese involvement in the change of the American Economy. Initially,
anti-Chinese sentiment appeared when American, white miners complained about competition
from foreign miners, especially the Chinese, in the gold fields of California in 1852.
American citizens viewed the Chinese as contract laborers who were not looking to become
American citizens, who degraded American white workers and discouraged them from coming to
California. The foreign miner's license tax was passed in May, 1882, which charged a
monthly tax of three dollars to every foreign miner who did not desire to become a
citizen, and Chinese were ineligible for citizenship because of the 1790 federal law that
limited naturalization to whites.

When the gold fields started to dry up, many Chinese went to work for the Central Pacific
Railroad starting in February of 1865. Within two years the Central Pacific Railroad
increased from 50 Chinese laborers to 12,000. That embodied 90 percent of the work force.
During this time, The United States government created the Burlingame-Seward Treaty in
1868, which abolished the Chinese government prohibition on emigration and resulted in the
majority of those 12,000 railroad laborers. Chinese were paid less than white workers, who
complained that Chinese were driving down the wages for everybody.

With the completion of the railroad in 1869, thousands of subsequently unemployed Chinese
migrated to cities such as San Francisco, where the growing California economy created
thousands of new jobs in the manufacturing industry and agriculture. However, the
completion of the railroads made the West Coast accessible to many white workers from the
East Coast and Midwest in search of jobs, which placed them in direct competition with
Chinese workers. Anti-Chinese sentiment peaked as the ethnically based differential wage
system saw Chinese being paid less than white workers for the same tasks. Chinese workers
were accused by white workers of driving down wages in industries ranging from agriculture
to manufacturing.

The economic situation sparked the change from ignorant stereotyping to malevolent
categorizations. In the late 1860s and 1870s, anti-coolie clubs such as the Anti-Chinese
Union were formed in San Francisco and there were anti-Chinese mass meetings. Labor unions
held mass rallies in 1870 condemning the Burling-Seward Treaty. Anti-Chinese violence
broke out in California in places such as Los Angeles Chinatown in 1871 and in Chico in
1877, and occurred outside of California in places such as Rock Springs, Wyoming in 1885
and Tacoma, Washington in 1885-86, a sign of the increasing spread of the anti-Chinese
movement. Anti-Chinese violence continued to occur sporadically throughout the United
States during the 1880s. These were the times that Chinese had to deal with.

In addition to poor economic conditions and an excess of gratuitous violence, the lack of
familial stability caused by the Page Law led many Chinese to turn to prostitution,
gambling, and other vices as ways to pass the time. From this, the “Yellow Peril” cliché
of Chinese as immoral, sensual, and being a threat to white women arose. Congress passed
this law in 1875 and it forbade the entry of Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian contract
laborers, women for the purpose of prostitution. It resulted in a severe reduction of
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