Book Review: Sons of the Yellow Emperor



Sometimes when my wife and I travel, we take note of the local Chinese community. No matter where you go in the world, there is always a Chinese restaurant. As a Chinese American, I'm always curious as to how life is for other overseas Chinese. My parents are prime examples of the wide and varied range of the Chinese Diaspora: my father grew up in Kentucky, my mother was born and raised in India before moving to Hong Kong.

A great book to read on this very topic is Sons of the Yellow Emperor by Lynn Pan.

As someone who majored in Ethnic Studies and minored in Asian American Studies, I found this book to be an excellent complement to Asian American history books. In fact I would say I enjoyed this book much more than Ron Takaki's Strangers from a Different Shore or Sucheng Chan's Asian Americans: An Interpretive History.

Sons of the Yellow Emperor is more focused in that it concentrates solely on the Chinese, but at the same time it is far more global in it's scope than any of the Asian American Studies books I've read. Because Asian American history books focus solely on America, the historical, political and social context of the overseas Chinese is very limited.

Sons of the Yellow Emperor, however, puts Chinese immigration in a larger perspective. Why are Chinese communities all over the world?

A lot of it has to do with the European colonization of Asia, Africa and the Americas. When slavery was abolished, the European and American powers still needed labor to exact a colony's natural resources and to build its infrastructure. The Europeans also needed merchants to purchase goods and services. So the Chinese filled in the gap, which caused a lot of resentment on the part of the natives. As a result the Chinese were the victims of pogroms in a lot of these countries.

What I like about this book (as opposed to some of the Asian American history books) is that despite the overwhelming racism the Chinese experienced worldwide, the author presents plenty of stories about individuals who overcame the odds and resisted or circumvented the racist establishments of these various countries.

The only negative about the book is that it focuses primarily on the overseas Chinese of Southeast Asia and the Philippines. But this is a minor quibble, because the author covers a lot of topics, a lot of historical ground (1600-1980) and a lot of countries in addition to Southeast Asia, such as the Americas, Africa, Europe and Australia.

It's a fascinating and entertaining read. I highly recommend it.

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