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Tchen, J.K. (2010). Notes for a History of Paranoia: “Yellow Peril” and the Long Twentieth Century. Psychoanal. Rev., 97(2):263-283.

(2010). Psychoanalytic Review, 97(2):263-283

Notes for a History of Paranoia: “Yellow Peril” and the Long Twentieth Century

John Kuo Wei Tchen, Ph.D.

This paper offers preliminary thoughts on a specific history of “yellow peril” during what Giovanni Arrighi (2009) terms “the long twentieth century” of United States global dominance. Ramped up during periods of war and saber-rattling, there has been a steady level of U.S. paranoia toward imagined evil “Oriental” and “Asian” others since the 1839-1858 Opium Wars and the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Here I follow Ashis Nandy's challenge to refocus the “politics and paranoia” rubric of this volume toward “the politics of paranoia,” with notes toward a remapping of what can be called the “civilizationalist” fears within Anglo-American political culture.

The dominant U.S. self-perception of its place in the world is one of an innocent and good-willed neighbor. Hence, there is an utter lack of self-reflexive, public awareness of historic U.S. projections of threat onto different peoples of Asia—an absence betraying the active ignorance of the long-standing U.S. role in and around the “Asia/Pacific” region. This lack of public awareness—from the long-standing China trade to the opium wars to the current conjoined nature of the United States-China economy—stretches across the entire history of the United States but is most pronounced during the era of U.S. empire building in the late nineteenth century. Part and parcel to America's global power is the simultaneous imagining back into a past and the imagining into a future of clever spies and invasive hordes from without, above, underneath, and within—all threatening honest, hard-working, white, Protestant individuals, families, and societies.

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