Yellow Tiger: Tensions Between East and West
Dr. Rigger and Dr. Churchill
3 November 2017
Yellow Tiger: Tensions Between East and West
The war between the Japanese and the Russians in 1904 and 1905 caught the attention of the world and brought to light new shifts in power that had previously gone undetected. The defeat of the Russians at the hands of the Japanese shocked the west and showed them that a new power had risen in the east. It also set the stage for a new type of warfare, one that would be seen again in World War I. Despite the fact that the war was one of the first major conflicts between the east and the west, several aspects of the situation suggest that the west had a lot of sympathy for the Japanese against the Russians. For example, Japan financed much of the war by raising loans in both London and New York. In addition to this, Japan had formed a military alliance with Great Britain in 1902, thus insuring that the British would not come to the aid of the Russians once the war broke out (Baruma 58-60). With this new evidence in mind, it is easy to understand why most would believe that the west, aside from Russia of course, sympathized with Japan. However, postcards such as “Yellow Peril” would appear to contradict this claim.
It was around the time of the Russo-Japanese war that postcards became popular as a means of helping the public understand news from around the world. Political cartoons were popularized in the west, and one sequence of five postcards can give some insight into what the west truly thought about the war. Entitled “Yellow Peril,” the postcards portray Japan, in the form of a yellow tiger, devouring the four major European powers: Russia, France, Great Britain, and Germany. The first postcard shows these four powers, each represented by men in the respective traditional apparel of their nation, deep in discussion with each other. They seem to be totally unaware of the yellow tiger advancing towards them in the background. In the second postcard, the tiger has pounced on Russia, ravaging the man’s head with its claws while the other men look on. In the third postcard, the Russian now lies dead in the dirt. The yellow tiger of Japan has moved on to attack France, and is seen with its jaws entirely enclosing the Frenchman’s head. Britain and Germany don’t seem to care; in fact, they are looking at each other with what appear to be amused expressions on their faces as France meets its demise. The fourth postcard shows there tiger standing on top of all four bloodied bodies. All the great powers of Europe now lie bleeding in the dirt as the yellow tiger of Japan devours them. In the final postcard, the scene has zoomed out to show the entire globe. The yellow tiger has grown appropriately, and is seen sinking its teeth into the earth itself, its sharp claws gripping the planet on either side. The earth bleeds streams of red blood that drip from its surface as the tiger ravages it.
The “Yellow Peril’ postcards are clearly anti-Japan, especially as an imperial threat to the west. It is a criticism of the way the west is so ignorant of the potential power from the east, and represents the fear of an eastern nation like Japan overthrowing all that the west stands for. This is particularly evident in the first postcard, in which the European powers appear to be completely unaware of the threat that approaches them, as well as the third, where Britain and Germany are nonchalant about the misfortunes of the French and Russians. As a result of this ignorance, Japan is able to defeat the west and begin a conquest of the world. The racial aspect of the artifact is also important to understanding how the west truly felt about Japan. The tiger is yellow, which is meant to represent the “Yellow Peril” of Japan. The European countries are also represented by human beings, while Japan takes the form of a savage tiger, illustrating that the Japanese were seen as a subhuman force coming to destroy the human representation of the civilized west.
Despite the popular belief that Japan was generally favored by the west, artifacts like the Yellow Peril postcard series reveal that this was not really the case. In reality, many westerners feared the rise of Japan as an imperial power. Racism and and fear resulted in mistrust and even outright hostility towards Japan for many westerners, even in countries allied with Japan.
Buruma, Ian. Inventing Japan: 1853-1964. Random House Publishing Group, 2004.
“Yellow Peril.” MIT Visualizing Cultures, 1905, https://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/yellow_promise_yellow_peril/index.html.