Moral Panics and Sexuality Discourse: The Oppression of Chinese Male Immigrants in Canada, 1900-1950.


  • Stephanie Weber Mount Royal University



Racial hierarchy in Canada between 1900 and 1950 shaped the way immigrant “others” were portrayed in White-Anglophone Canadian discourse. Crimes involving ethnic minorities were explained in racial and cultural terms that fed stereotypes and incited fears that served to marginalize and oppress minority groups, particularly people of colour. Chinese men in particular were targets of a racial and sexual othering that resulted in the distrust and oppression of this group. Moral and sexual threats posed by Chinese immigrants were part of an overarching fear of Chinese influence on white Canada known as the “Yellow Peril.”  The myth of the Yellow Peril interwove all of the predominant discourse in the early twentieth century, encouraging and exacerbating accusations of vice, gambling, interracial seduction, drug use, and other ‘moral offences’ against the Chinese. Racist perception of Chinese immigrant men in Canada helped to sustain prevailing imperialist ideologies, marking out Asian societies as ‘backward’ and ‘primitive.’ Chinese immigrant men were perceived to have inferior moral standards and, like other men of colour, were believed to be  ncapable of controlling their sexual desires. Moral anxieties of this kind contributed to public support for racist legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, and other laws and regulations which served to limit the entry of Chinese persons into Canada and to  socially and economically marginalize those already here.