Jung discusses imperialism in Asia

by Gavin Huang | 5/4/11 10:00pm

Drawing examples from the United States' use of Asian labor, the Philippine-American War and immigration restrictions, Asian-American historian Moon-Ho Jung, a history professor at the University of Washington, linked American imperialism in Asia to the United States' "war on anarchy" during a lecture in Filene Auditorium on Wednesday.

Jung noted the role of racism in shaping economic trade, revolutionary wars and immigration security in the United States.

"Race and empire, in a sense, killed the president," Jung said, referring to the assassination of former President William McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. "When Czolgosz, with his hand heavily wrapped in bandages to conceal a gun, reached ahead of the line, a secret service agent standing right next to McKinley noticed nothing out of the ordinary."

Citing McKinley's assassination as an example of racial profiling, Jung argued that Czolgosz appeared to be "an ordinary, clean-shaven white worker" to the secret service agent, who instead focused on "a very tall, black man nearby."

The United States' enterprising in Asia also had racial undertones, Jung said. Confrontational tactics by Commodore Matthew Perry, who was dispatched to Japan to negotiate an economic treaty, forced the country to open five ports to foreign trade in 1858 and mandated that American citizens receive immunity from Japanese laws, he said.

The United States used Japanese and Chinese ports to launch military expeditions into Korea in 1871. The missions, which aimed to protect stranded American sailors, marked the first war the United States fought in Korea, according to Jung.

"Displaying its growing military might, there was no question that the United States had become a formidable champion of free trade across the Pacific," Jung said. "Imperial encounters and relations in Asia, in turn, profoundly affected the course of race politics and labor on the other side of the world."

Foreign involvement in Asia led to the exchange of slave labor, according to Jung. In the late nineteenth century, European merchants sought Asian laborers to work in plantations in Hawaii and Cuba, resulting in the development of the image of the "coolie," or Asian laborer, Jung said.

American intervention in the Philippines was also marked by feelings of racial superiority, according to Jung. The Philippine revolutionary forces were characterized by the United States as racially different and innately unequal, Jung said.

Americans also saw themselves as liberators rather than enslavers, and justified their colonial conquest in an ethnic and ideological context, Jung said. The war against Philippine revolutionary forces became part of a larger global war against anarchy, according to Jung. The correlation between race and politics was apparent when the United States began enforcing stricter immigration laws to prevent radical ideologies from entering the country, he said.

"Coolies, goo-goos [a derogatory term for Filipinos] and anarchists emerged as seditious subjects, seemingly requiring U.S. state power," Jung said. "So white supremacy, anti-radicalism and state power often interpreted as being at odds against one another, especially in bloody battles over radical reconstruction were in fact very much intertwined forces behind the creation of the U.S. empire."

Jung ended the lecture which was sponsored by the women and gender studies department, the history department and the Leslie Center for Humanities by adding that the United States' incarceration of seditious people in the name of freedom and national security echoes the nation's current policies regarding the War on Terror.

Jung's work is significant within the field of Asian-American studies and the history of the United States, according to history professor Jean Kim, who invited Jung to speak at Dartmouth.

"Professor Jung's connected research has made very important methodological, empirical and epistemological contributions to scholarship in multiple disciplines," Kim said.