Made-Up Asians

Yellowface During the Exclusion Era
Esther Kim Lee
Why and how Asian characters have been represented by non-Asian actorson stage and screen


Made-Up Asians traces the history of yellowface, the theatrical convention of non-Asian actors putting on makeup and costume to look East Asian. Using specific case studies from European and U.S. theater, race science, and early film, Esther Kim Lee traces the development of yellowface in the U.S. context during the Exclusion Era (1862–1940), when Asians faced legal and cultural exclusion from immigration and citizenship. These caricatured, distorted, and misrepresented versions of Asians took the place of excluded Asians on theatrical stages and cinema screens. The book examines a wide-ranging set of primary sources, including makeup guidebooks, play catalogs, advertisements, biographies, and backstage anecdotes, providing new ways of understanding and categorizing yellowface as theatrical practice and historical subject. Made-Up Asians also shows how lingering effects of Asian exclusionary laws can still be seen in yellowface performances, casting practices, and anti-Asian violence into the 21st century. 

Esther Kim Lee is Professor of Theater Studies at Duke University.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 296pp.
  • 23 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2022
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-07543-0

  • $85.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2022
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-05543-2

  • $34.95 U.S.

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  • yellowface; Asian exclusion; Chinese Exclusion Act; theatrical makeup; racial impersonation; racial masquerade; whitewashing; Asian Americans; actors; brownface; blackface; race science; stage Chinaman; prosthetics makeup; early film; pantomime; clowning; Madame Butterfly; Aladdin; Fu Manchu; Oriental; Lon Chaney; Blanche Bates; Boris Karloff; Joseph Grimaldi; Charles Parsloe; physiognomy; phrenology; cosmetics; Samuel French