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.

Praise / Awards

  • “An extraordinary, much-needed history of yellowface, focusing on its English origins through usage in classical Hollywood. The book makes an enormous contribution to theater studies, performance studies, film studies, Asian American studies, material cultures, and U.S. history. Like the author, I hope that this book will teach readers about yellowface and inspire them to take anti-racist action.”
    —Donatella Galella, University of California, Riverside
  • “Written for a wide audience from theater aficionados to Asian American performance makers to academics, this timely book illuminates a fascinating archive of make-up conventions derived from instructional manuals and specific case studies from both the stage and the cinema.”
    —Sean Metzger, University of California, Los Angeles

  • "What is notable and made clearer by Lee’s book is how that “science” and things like acting performances worked together to produce the racist ideas that persisted throughout society. ...Esther Lee helps us to recognize and understand how the persistence of these practices comes from their deep roots and connections to the ways that race has been constructed in the US across history."
    Ethnic and Racial Studies 

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Interview with Esther Kim Lee with Duke | 09/23/2022
Listen: Made-Up Asians discussed on the On TAP Podcast | 05/06/2022
Read: Interview with Esther Kim Lee | 02/02/2022

Product Details

  • 282 pages.
  • 23 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2022
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-22032-8

  • EPUB: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $34.95 U.S.

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

Add to Cart
  • $34.95 U.S.

  • Kindle

Add to Cart

Choosing any of the above format options will take you to the appropriate e-retailer to complete your purchase. Pricing may vary by individual e-retailer. Please see e-retailer site for purchasing information.

For more information about our Digital Products, including reading systems and accessible formats, visit our Digital Products page.

Related Products

Add to Cart
  • $85.00 U.S.

Add to Cart
  • $34.95 U.S.



  • 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