Pacific crossings : American encounters with Asians in the progressive era of empire and exclusion

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This dissertation addresses a central but often-ignored question: what was so "progressive" about the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s), a period of unprecedented American overseas colonization in the Pacific and surge of anti-Asian immigration legislation? By taking up this question, it explains how historical figures in this period sought to reconcile a belief in racial hierarchy with the democratic promise of progressivism. What made this reconciliation possible, I argue, was the calibration of American imperial and immigration policies to allow for the selective inclusion of Asians who conformed with Western standards of "civilization." Japan, more than any other Asian country, symbolized this era's highly conditional form of racial inclusivity. Early 20th century American diplomats, politicians, academics, and missionaries recognized the Japanese as a respectable "race" based in part on the idea that the United States and Japan were engaged in analogous colonial projects to "develop" the "backward" races in Korea, the Philippines, and the American South. Imperial politics in the Pacific likewise shaped US immigration policy. Because of American imperialists' high regard for Japan, the United States government exempted the Japanese from exclusion acts that unilaterally restricted the entry of the Chinese and South Asians. In spite of the growing anti-Japanese sentiment in the American West, national policymakers prohibited only the entry of Japanese laborers through the bilateral Gentlemen's Agreement and continued to admit select classes of Japanese immigrants. Congress, however, eventually decided to exclude even the "civilized" Japanese after World War I, when a nativist lobby in California countered the national perception of its parochialism by recasting its desire for exclusion as a response to Japan's actions against people of "her own color." Although US and Japanese policies were quite different, the architects of the landmark Johnson-Reed Act (1924) adopted the Californian argument and used Japan's restriction of Chinese and Korean entry as a pretext to justify Japanese exclusion. Seen from the Pacific, the limits of the Progressive Era's conception of "progress" were made evident by this exclusion of the "civilized" Japanese. While American policymakers in the first two decades of the 20th century promised that Asians would gain increasing opportunities for participation in imperial governance and American life as they acquired the virtues of Western "civilization, " the promise of racial inclusion did not become a reality. Indeed, after 1924, American policymakers became far less concerned with Asian peoples' conformity with Western standards of "civilization" than the possibility of a war arising out of Asian migration, economic competition, and geopolitical conflict. By the time the United States entered the Pacific War in 1941, Americans no longer saw the Japanese as prime examples of the "civilized" non-white race but as "barbarians" who must be defeated in a race war.


Type of resource text
Form electronic resource; remote; computer; online resource
Extent 1 online resource.
Place California
Place [Stanford, California]
Publisher [Stanford University]
Copyright date 2019; ©2019
Publication date 2019; 2019
Issuance monographic
Language English


Author Suh, Jung Wook
Degree supervisor Chang, Gordon H
Thesis advisor Chang, Gordon H
Thesis advisor Fishkin, Shelley Fisher
Thesis advisor Hobbs, Allyson Vanessa
Thesis advisor Moon, Yumi
Degree committee member Fishkin, Shelley Fisher
Degree committee member Hobbs, Allyson Vanessa
Degree committee member Moon, Yumi
Associated with Stanford University, Department of History.


Genre Theses
Genre Text

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Jung Wook (Chris) Suh.
Note Submitted to the Department of History.
Thesis Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2019.
Location electronic resource

Access conditions

© 2019 by Jung Wook Suh
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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