The Chinese Dragon and the Yellow Peril: The Evolution of Western Media Portrayals of China since Opium Wars

Dr. Ariane Knüsel, University of Fribourg

This talk discusses how European and American media portrayals of the late Qing Dynasty have had a lasting influence on perceptions of China. Relations between China and Western countries since the Opium Wars have often been portrayed with “the West” as a single entity. A closer look, however, tells a different story. Relying on American and European newspaper and magazine articles and editorial cartoons about China, this talk shows how enduring metaphors about China like the dragon or the yellow peril were created and how they spread in Europe and the USA. Since media discourse is influenced by geopolitical interests, the discursive construction of nationhood, as well as the respective political, economic, social and cultural context in each country, media portrayals of China in the closing stages of the Qing Dynasty differed considerably from country to country. In order to illustrate this, the talk traces the evolution of Western media portrayals of China as a dragon and as the yellow peril from the establishment of foreign spheres of interests in China to the Boxer Uprising, and it compares them briefly to media reactions to the founding of the People’s Republic of China and portrayals of China in recent years. It will explain that, although the dragon and the yellow peril are transnationally circulating metaphors, media images of China are cultural constructs, and so the way China is portrayed in a specific country at a certain time is always influenced by the national context as well.

Registration is required to attend the lecture. Once registered you will receive the Zoom link.

Zoom Registration

Supported by a gift from Leung Tung Peter & Lin Young.

Ariane Knüsel is Senior Researcher, working on Sino-Swiss relations in the Cold War. She has been Swiss Scholar at the Wilson Center, and Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. Her publications deal with Western relations with China, Western media portrayals of China, and Chinese and Swiss intelligence.