The Asian American Century: A Brief Historiography of Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Creation of Modern Asian America in the 20th Century – Part 1

Part 1 of 5 (6 min read time)

Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur

[Edited by J]

“What, fundamentally, is colonization?  …The decisive actors here are the pirate, the wholesale grocer and the ship owner, the gold digger and the merchant, appetite and force, and behind them, the baleful projected shadow of a form of civilization which, at a certain point in its history, finds itself obliged, for internal reasons, to extend to a world scale the competition of its antagonistic economies.”

— Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism


In 1969, a radical woman¹ in New York penned an essay with the title “The Personal is Political”.  A rallying cry of bra burners everywhere, the slogan referred to the fact that under a patriarchal system of domination, there are two spheres: the public sphere and private sphere.  The public sphere is where public affairs take place, where public works are celebrated and recognized, and where one receives public recognition and remuneration in the form of praise, honors, or simply, cold hard cash.  Then there is the private sphere, the domestic sphere, where work goes unrecognized and unpaid, where the subject is treated as a mere object, and where one is systematically dehumanized and devalued.

As I traced the historiography of Asians in America, I realized that the same principle applies to us Yellow folk.  Of course, my emasculation as a Yellow man gives me unique insight into the bifurcated public and private realms through which I pass, as we have traditionally been confined to the domestic sphere in America — cooking, cleaning, laundry².  But it goes much further than that.  Forever foreigner, yet perpetually fighting to be recognized as “one of us”, our history embodies the principle that what we suffer on an individual basis is a direct result of interlocking systems and historical forces.  Together, these forces have shaped the contours of world history for the last century — what is known as the American century.

Simply put, the history of Asians in America and the creation of our community in the modern era is world history, and world history is our own.  The same concept also applies to America; our foreign policy is our domestic policy, and as I shall show in my essay, our domestic policy is our foreign one.  Without a deep understanding of both, one can never truly grasp either. The entire 20th century can aptly be called the Asian American century: one hundred years of global conflict and struggle both here and abroad by the Yellow races against white supremacist imperialism, hegemony, neo-colonization and the Anglo-American Order³.  Born in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944, and midwifed by the delegates of the Allied Powers, this neo-imperialist architecture led directly to the formation of our community, America’s sole superpower status, and the political identity of “Asian American.”

This is our story.


Two years before the dawn of the 20th century, the United States found itself embroiled in the Philippines as part of the Spanish American War, led by American imperialist William McKinley.  The alliance between U.S. forces and Filipino revolutionaries led by Emilio Aguinaldo brought about Spain’s defeat, and after throwing off the yoke of their oppressor, Aguinaldo boldly declared the independence of the Philippines on June 12, 1898.  Unfortunately, America had other plans.

Six months later, in December of 1898, William McKinley signed a treaty with Spain, one colonizer to another. It called for Spain to cede the Philippines to the United States after over 300 years of racist caste control (the origin of colorism in the Philippines).  Incensed, Filipinos did not recognize the treaty, and Aguinaldo was named president of the newfound Philippine Republic. The U.S. refused to recognize his leadership, and hostilities commenced almost immediately. The new war, known as the Tagalog Insurgency, lasted from 1899 to 1902. The American side was helmed midway by none other than Teddy Roosevelt, that age-old white supremacist imperialist — nay, “expansionist” — for whom Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem “The White Man’s Burden.”

We call it a war, but it was truly a genocide.  Tactics focused on interning and segregating Asian folks (sound familiar?) into “zones of protection.”  Protection from whom? The ensuing conflict resulted in the deaths of at least 200,000 Yellow people, with some estimates for the civilian dead reaching up to 1,000,000.  Villages were burned to the ground and bodies were horribly mutilated, often decapitated and with stomachs slit open.  As always, the imperial ambitions of the U.S. were squarely aimed at China, and historical records show that from the beginning, the intention had always been to seize the Philippines as a base of operations to force entry into the Middle Kingdom and gain access to its market.

America won the war, and even after allowing nominal independence in 1946, the U.S. continued to direct the country for decades later through the Men in Black.  Agent Edward Lansdale controlled the entire career of seventh Filipino President Ramon Magsaysay, even physically beating him when Ramon attempted to reject a speech the CIA had written for him.  This is a startling, but accurate depiction of the relationship between the Yellow and White Man when he is allowed to lord over us.  Am I your slave?


The Cold War¹ᵒ, the War of American Imperialist Aggression against the Yellow Race, kicked off with the Korean conflict in 1950.  In the Korean War bombing campaign, the U.S. literally burned down every town in North Korea¹¹. Outside America, the entire world was baffled and called it what it was — another unjustified racist genocide of Yellow people.  “Well over half a million tons of bombs dropped, napalm and chemical weapons deployed, cities leveled.”¹²  That’s not to mention the civilian massacres¹³ of even South Koreans by the U.S. Army, who saw us as looking “all the same”.  The death toll reached 3 million, nearly 20% of the population (mirroring when they previously reduced the Asian American population by 1/5 through the pincer act of anti-miscegenation laws and laws barring women from entry¹⁴, forcing Yellow men to live and die alone in Bachelor Societies¹⁵).

After three years of fighting, not a single major city changed hands, save Kaesong.  What was the cause of all this? Again, it was racist white imperialists sitting in Washington, D.C.  With the Japanese defeated after World War 2, the Korean people had begun to take back their country. Resistance fighters that had helped overthrow the Japanese occupation forces set up local and regional governing councils.  However, the imperialists in Congress and the Pentagon had already decided, just as they had with the Philippines almost two generations earlier, that they were going to establish Korea as an East Asian outpost to again, force China open and gain access to her markets.

Their methods had grown more sophisticated.  After they “saved us from Japan”, just as they “saved the Filipinos from the Spanish”, the U.S. installed right-wing former Imperial Japanese collaborators from Korea into positions of power in the governing structure it had “nation built” called USMGIK¹⁶ (U.S. Military Government in Korea).  During the five-year period leading up to the Korean War, leftists and democratic organizations and individuals were imprisoned, tortured, mutilated, gang-raped, and killed through various U.S. puppets while fake elections were held¹⁷.  At Cheju Island in 1947, the rightists sent police to shoot into peaceful crowds. When shocked islanders went on strike, the USMGIK responded by sending more police, who used more violence, inciting a local riot.  The U.S. blamed “Communists”. 500 strike leaders were arrested, and the popular governor was replaced with a rightist from the mainland.

On April 3rd, 1948, the populist Cheju Mass Uprising¹⁸ intensified growing resentments between the people and leftist resistance fighters on one side, and the police and rightist terrorist gangs the U.S. had mobilized to squash the people under “anti-Communism” slogans.  The U.S. military was well aware of and encouraged the violent crimes and seizures being committed by police and rightist terrorist gangs up until the outbreak of the War.  Even when their puppets, the USMGIK, struck a deal with the resistance fighters for a peaceful resolution, the U.S. and the police opted for forced subjugation — which escalated the conflict — in order to conceal and cover up the crimes committed by the police and rightist terrorist gangs and U.S. involvement.  This would all come to a head later that year.

That November, the U.S. Command and its puppet, the sham Republic of Korea (ROK) that had been swept into power on the back of the ultra-rightist National Police in the fake election of May 1948, began a crackdown on Cheju Island that lasted until the following year.  It was a holocaust.  Some 30,000 innocent inhabitants were systematically butchered¹⁹, including their newborn babies.  The U.S. embassy happily celebrated the massacre that led to the Korean War, stating: “The all-out guerilla extermination campaign came to a virtual end in April [1949] with order restored and most rebels and sympathizers killed, captured, or converted.”²⁰

This barbaric genocide of Yellow people and unforgivable crime against humanity occurred during peacetime between 1945 and 1950.  It set off the tensions that eventually split my people and country in two, forcing my mother in Seoul to live under the shadow of nuclear holocaust, while my overseas brothers from another mother perform farcical “military exercises” with the U.S.

From the very beginning, U.S. occupation immediately post-World War 2 had been characterized by mass cruelty and legitimized by racism.  As a French journalist poignantly summed it up at the time, “The Koreans were not even communists, they were gooks.”

(Part 2)
(Part 3)
(Part 4)
(Part 5)


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