From Pariah to Paragon: Shifting Images of Chinese Americans during World War II

TitleFrom Pariah to Paragon: Shifting Images of Chinese Americans during World War II
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsWong, K. Scott
EditorChan, Sucheng, and Madeline Y. Hsu
Book TitleChinese Americans and the Politics of Race and Culture
PublisherTemple University Press

When the United States entered World War II in late 1941 and became allies with China in the shared fight against Japanese aggression, the first sizable American-born generation of Chinese Americans was reaching adulthood. The racial and cultural stereotypes of the Chinese in America centered on their supposed inability to embrace American political and social values; they were seen as “perpetual foreigners,” forever on the margins of American society. When this American-born generation came of age, however, they were determined to claim a place in the broader American political, social, and cultural landscape. In this pursuit, Chinese Americans sought to take control of their public portrayals, which in turn reflected how they saw themselves as Americans. This chapter examines three interrelated trends in the late 1930s and early 1940s that would greatly improve the image of Chinese Americans and would allow them to move from the status of social pariahs to paragons—what would later be called the “model minority”: the distinguishing and distancing of the Chinese from the Japanese, Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s tour of the United States, and the congressional repeal of the Chinese exclusion acts. These developments were played out in the public sphere through political and cultural activities, congressional hearings, and the print media—both the mainstream press and English-language Chinese American newspapers. [Author]

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