Thinking Orientals

Thinking Orientals : Migration, Contact, and Exoticism in Modern America

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What is the difference between an "Oriental" and an "Asian American"? In this fascinating study, Henry Yu explains how Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans came to be lumped together as "Orientals" in the United States, and how this eventually led to their understanding of themselves as Asian Americans. Yu tells the story of how white American intellectuals from the University of Chicago sought out Americans of Chinese and Japanese ancestry. Detailing how they together constructed theories about an exotic Orient completely opposite from American culture, Yu describes the history of American Orientalism and shows how it helped to produce modern notions of race and culture. The ideas that arose from studying Orientals, connected by social scientists with theories about African Americans and white European immigrants, inform the way we understand the race in America today. Yu uses poignant vignettes to illustrate the difficult and often ironic positions of intellectuals of colour, providing a glimpse into what W.E.B. Dubois called the "double consciousness" of racial minorities in the United States. He goes on to discuss how cultural theory has become confused with anti-racism, and how a colourblind denial of race has failed to free us from racism. His book is one of the first to describe how crucial Asian Americans have been in the shaping of theories of race and culture, helping to move us away from the black/white paradigm of race relations. Yu explains why an Asian American can be a fourth-generation citizen of the United States and yet still be considered a foreigner. He also details how theories about Asians as a "model minority" were created in the aftermath of Japanese American internment, and how Asian Americans have been pitted politically against African Americans and Hispanic Americans.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 278 pages
  • 154 x 234 x 14mm | 399.16g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 10 halftones, 2 maps
  • 0195151275
  • 9780195151275
  • 1,988,101

Review quote

Dominating stereotypes have humble origins as explanations. This is a revealing history on how we in the United States have come to think the way we do on 'Orientals,' assimilation, and whiteness. * John Kuo Wei Tchen, A/P/A Studies, New York University * Stylish, rigorous, dramatic, and unpredictable, this book makes enormous contributions to American Studies, to Asian American Studies, to the sociology of race, and to cultural studies. More than almost any other recent work, it shows what is gained for intellectual history by taking a broadly cultural approach. Yu surely places social science within a broader and highly unequal world and situates the creativity of a fascinating group of intellectuals of color within sharp constraints. * David Roediger, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign * Thinking Orientals is a brilliant synthesis of ethnic studies and intellectual history. Henry Yu's wonderfully cogent interpretation of the creation, racialization, and replication of the scholarly study of American 'Orientals' should be required reading for all scholars and students seeking to understand the intimate connections between race, culture, knowledge, and power in modern American history. * Peggy Pascoe, University of Oregon * Elegantly written, keenly argued. Page after page, Thinking Orientals is aglitter with insights which will be important, not only for specialists in Asian American studies, but for anyone interested in the workings of 'race' on the American scene. Henry Yu brilliantly illuminates the mutual engagement of the social and the intellectual worlds-the power of ideas to disfigure the social landscape, and of existing social and institutional structures persistently to hem our thinking. * Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University * In this masterful and densely textured book, Henry Yu explores how American social scientists at the University of Chicago grappled with the 'Oriental problem' during the first half of the twentieth century. Offering rich insights on how theories of race and culture in American intellectual life were constructed, Thinking Orientals exposes the limitations of binary racial theories and offers us sophisticated ways of thinking about the complexity of contemporary race relations. This is an important book. It is one of the best intellectual histories of the concept of race I have read. * Ramon A. Gutierrez, University of California, San Diego * A tour de force. Henry Yu takes us on a dazzling journey through twentieth-century social science and identity politics. There is something new and provocative on every page, from Yu's deep analysis of the construction of the "oriental" in Chicago School sociology to his finely-drawn biographical vignettes of famous intellectuals and little known immigrants. Thinking Orientals will find a place on a short shelf of absolutely indispensable books on the changing concept of race in American history. * Thomas J. Sugrue, University of Pennsylvania *show more

About Henry Yu

Henry Yu is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles.show more

Table of contents

FIRST MOVEMENT-COMING TO THE WEST: CONSTRUCTING THE ORIENTAL PROBLEM ; SECOND MOVEMENT-COMING TO CHICAGO: ASIAN AMERICANS AND THE ORIENTAL PROBLEM ; RETRACINGS-COMING TO AMERICA: THE ORIENTAL AS AN INTELLECTUAL/OBJECTshow more

Rating details

34 ratings
3.7 out of 5 stars
5 21% (7)
4 41% (14)
3 26% (9)
2 12% (4)
1 0% (0)
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