Thursday, August 13, 2020


Article Index

I. Perceptions of Asian Women as Prostitutes

The history of Asian immigration to the United States has shaped current views about Asian women. After Asian immigrants first arrived to the United States, they were quickly met by antagonism and anti-Asian sentiment. Opponents to Asian immigration capitalized on perceptions of cultural difference between Asians and Americans. Western ideas of morality, sexuality, and marriage were contrasted with perceived Oriental values. Legislators focused on Asian characteristics of despotism, hierarchy, polygamy, and unwillingness to assimilate to paint a picture of a people so different that they could never become U.S. citizens with American values of democratic government, freedom of contract, and Christian morality.

As part of this campaign, Chinese (and subsequently other Asian) women were portrayed as prostitutes and sexual slaves in contrast, and as a danger to, the American ideal of Christian monogamous marriage based on notions of love and consent. During the Victorian era, sexuality was carefully confined; it moved into the home and monogamous marriage was the only acceptable outlet for female sexuality. This early perception of Asian women as prostitutes, and subsequent fear of them as a dangerous corrupting force, continues to color current immigration and citizenship laws, which still aim to regulate sexuality, morality, and marriage.

This Part focuses on specific aspects of the early immigration of Asian women and how such immigration affected the American perception of Asian women. Due to the immense scholarly focus on Chinese and Japanese immigration to the United States, and the fact that these two groups arrived earlier in time than other groups of Asian immigrants, I will primarily discuss Chinese and Japanese women. The section also touches on women in Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam as they relate to military prostitution, to show how notions of sexualized and submissive Asian bodies continued to shape images of Asian women into the late 1900s.