Fear of the Rising Sun

In an ominous prelude to World War II, Japanese forces surged through eastern China in 1937 and laid waste to Shanghai and Nanking. Japan’s leaders proclaimed this the first step in creating a “new order.” Japan had annexed Korea in 1910 and taken control of Manchuria in 1931. By 1941 Japan occupied resource-rich French Indochina (now Vietnam), then set its sights on Western colonies across the Pacific and Australia. Japan’s advance threatened European and U.S. ambitions in the Pacific and fueled American fears of the “yellow peril.”

Political cartoon depicting Imperial Japan’s desire for power, 1935
Erich Schilling, Courtesy of Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University 

In response to long-standing anti-Asian prejudice and the perceived threat of resident Japanese, the sheriff of Hood River, Oregon, started this “watch list” of local Japanese families in 1937.

In 1938 Blony gum created a series of trading cards, packaged with bubblegum, titled “The Horrors of War.” Many in the 288-card set showed Japanese atrocities against Chinese civilians, further fueling American fear of the “yellow peril.”

"Some future historian may trace a cause for a future U.S.–Japanese war to the fact that the generation which was preadolescent in America . . . received severe anti-Japanese prejudices through its curious liking for blowing bubbles with Blony gum."

Life magazine, May 9, 1938