The Yellow Peril rises from the grave... to get your White women! Orientalist themes in zombie stories
by Eric Hamako — University of Massachusetts Amherst
September 28, 2009 – 17:03
In zombie stories and Orientalist fiction, there are fates worse than death. In zombie stories, it’s becoming one of the undead. In Orientalist fiction, it’s living in a world in which the Oriental dominates the West – economically, culturally, physically – and sexually.
Gina Marchetti’s work has highlighted sexual themes in Orientalist stories, including gang rape, sexual slavery, and racial pollution. In this video collage, I’ve cut together video and images to compare themes in zombie and Orientalist stories. I invite your comments and feedback.
Zombies’ hunger for flesh symbolizes more than just gluttony. We can also interpret “flesh” as sexuality (e.g., “fleshpots” refers to sex workers), particularly White women’s sexuality. Orientalism has represented “the Oriental” as a sexual threat to White women and White racial purity. Asian, Arab, and Muslim men have long been cast as perversely lustful sexual predators, looming over terrorized White women. In 2008, Lan Dong said, “One of the most potent aspects of the Yellow Peril discourse in American popular culture is the predatory sexual desire from the yellow race that endangers white womanhood and consequently threatens the racial purity of white American society.”
In 1877, Dennis Kearney, infamous American leader of the anti-Chinese “Workingman’s Party” said, “To an American, death is preferable to life on a par with a Chinaman.” The Orientalized enemy doesn’t just want to enslave individual White women – it wants to make all of Western civilization its sexual slave.
In 1992, Gary Hoppenstand said, “A favorite convention of the yellow peril featured the lone white woman surrounded by a horde of Chinese bent on debauchment. She holds them at bay with a revolver, and that revolver has only a single bullet left. Seeing that her situation is hopeless, she points the barrel of the gun to her temple…" Sometimes – as in Taken – the White male hero saves the White woman in the nick of time; other times, not. Resident Evil 2 evokes this Orientalist nightmare, with zombies standing in for the lecherous Oriental – reiterating to White women that suicide is preferable to racial pollution – and to White men that homicide or genocide is justifiable in protection of White racial purity.