Why and how Asian characters have been represented by non-Asian actors on stage and screen

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction – The Persistence of Yellowface
Chapter 1 – “A Dumb Chinese Slave”: The Stage Chinaman and Clown Yellowface
Chapter 2 - “Chinee by Nature”: Physiognomy and Scientific Yellowface
Chapter 3 – “How to Makeup”: Theatrical Makeup Guidebooks and Private Yellowface
Chapter 4 - “Dainty as Needs Be”: The White Actress and Cosmetic Yellowface
Chapter 5 – “The Oriental Eye”: Special Effects Technology and Prosthetic Yellowface
Epilogue – Casting as Gatekeeping
Appendix - Yellowface Instructions in Theatrical Makeup Guidebooks during the Exclusion Era


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.

“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

- Donatella Galella

“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

- Sean Metzger

"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 

- Ethnic and Racial Studies


- G. R. Butters Jr., Aurora University

Winner: American Theatre and Drama Society (ATDS) 2023 John W. Frick Book Award

- ATDS John W. Frick Book Award

Finalist: Theater Library Association (TLA) 2022 George Freedley Memorial Award for Outstanding Theater Books

- TLA George Freedley Memorial Award

Winner: 2023 American Society for Theatre Research Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theatre History | 03/01/2024
Read: Author Q&A | 07/05/2022
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
Finalist: Theatre Library Association George Freedley Memorial Award | 10/04/2023