The New “Yellow Peril” in “Western” European Symphony Orchestras

Kawabata, Maiko (2023). The New “Yellow Peril” in “Western” European Symphony Orchestras. In: Bull, Anna and Scharff, Christina eds. Voices for Change in the Classical Music Profession: New Ideas for Tackling Inequalities and Exclusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 159–171.



The “Yellow Peril”—a term referring to the historical racist phobia of invasion by foreigners, specifically East Asians—also describes a current problem among professional Western European orchestras. Interviews with ethnically Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese musicians reveal that bullying, microaggressions, and discrimination occur in a range of settings from conservatoires to auditions, rehearsals, concerts, and tours. The reasons why the pervasive stereotypes of the soulless automaton or the perpetual outsider persist ultimately appear to be structural: the deeply entrenched Eurocentric hypocrisy that the “universal” language of classical music belongs exclusively to white people reflects a white supremacist ideology. While US scholars (Yoshihara, 2007; Yang, 2014; Wang, 2015) have documented racism against East Asian and Asian-American classical musicians, Yellow-Perilism in Berlin, London, or Vienna has received less attention in academic literature. Acknowledging existing inequality is a necessary first step if orchestras are to become truly more diverse and inclusive.

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