The White Slave Trade and the Yellow Peril: Anti-Chinese Rhetoric and Women’s Moral Authority
Despite the mid-to-late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s cultural preoccupation with white women’s sexual vulnerability, another phenomenon managed to take hold of public consciousness: “yellow slavery.” Yellow slavery was the variation of white slavery (known today as sex trafficking) that described the practice when Asian women were the victims. This thesis attempts to determine several of the reasons why Chinese women were included as victims in an otherwise exclusively white victim pool. One of the central reasons was the actual existence of the practice, which this thesis attempts to verify through the critical examination of found contracts and testimony of Chinese women. However, beyond just the existence of the practice of yellow slavery, many individuals used the sexual exploitation of Chinese women for their own cultural, religious, and political ends. Anti-Chinese agitators leveraged the image of the Chinese slave girl to frame anti-Chinese efforts as anti-slavery efforts, as well as to depict Chinese immigrants as incapable of assimilating into American culture and adhering to American ideals of freedom. Additionally, white missionaries created mission homes to shelter and protect the Chinese women and girls escaping white slavery. However, within these homes, the missionaries were then able to push their perceived cultural and religious superiority by pushing the home’s inmates into their ideals of Protestant, middle-class, white womanhood. Finally, suffragists utilized concern for Chinese sex workers to call for women’s suffrage based on women’s unique moral authority to stop immorality, an authority that men did not share.
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