Dirty, diseased and demented: the Irish, the Chinese, and racist representation

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The alien, the foreigner, the outsider have been historically represented as unclean, sick, contagious, and mentally unsound. In the nineteenth century, the British and American imaginaries framed both the Irish and the Chinese in such terms, even though it was primarily the Irish who staffed Britain’s imperial armies, and the Chinese who manned its merchant ships, washed it sailors’ clothes, and dug its trenches. The sexual union of both Irish and Chinese with British or American women was particularly feared, and the hybrid child seen as especially mentally unstable and undesirable. The discursive and institutional treatment of “the Irish” and “the Chinese” was not an isolated practice, and would be reapplied to other ethnic groups in both the USA and the UK right into the present century, as the UK Home office’s treatment of the British citizens of Caribbean origin has illustrated.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTranstext(e)s Transcultures 跨文本跨文化
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2018


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