At the Asian-African Conference at Bandung, Indonesia, in April 1955, the world's press concentrated its gaze on Premier Zhou Enlai of the People's Republic of China. Premier Zhou's every gesture, interaction and statement was scrutinized for evidence that his motivations at Bandung were antagonistic to Western interests. This preoccupation with the motivations of the Chinese was, however, no new phenomenon. By 1955, literary tropes of the ‘Yellow Peril’ had been firmly established in the Western imagination and, after 1949, almost seamlessly made their transition into fears of infiltrating communist Chinese ‘Reds’.
The first half of this paper explores the historical roots of the West's perceptions of the Chinese, through the literary works of Daniel Defoe to the pulp fiction of Sax Rohmer's Dr Fu Manchu series, which ran from 1917 to 1959. It then examines how this negative template was mobilised by the print media at the height of the Cold War to characterize Premier Zhou Enlai, not only as untrustworthy, but also as antagonistically anti-Western. This reading of representations of Premier Zhou at Bandung, as well as the literary tropes propagated in support of eighteenth and nineteenth-century imperial expansion, exposes a history of Western (mis)interpretations of China, and sheds light upon the media network's role in constructing a Chinese enemy in the mid-1950s.
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