The “Smiling Young Asian Student": Ending Asian Exclusion in the Transpacific, 1950s–1970s

A seminar with Professor Tandee Wang

This talk examines the social construction of Asians as a racial category (Asian racialisation) in the period leading up to the formal dismantlement of anti-Asian immigration laws, from the end of WWII to 1965 in the US and 1973 in Australia. Until immigration liberalisation, many Asians were only able to enter the US and Australia as students—indeed, they were actively encouraged to do so by Cold War “soft power” programs such as the American Fulbright and the Australian Colombo Plan. Such exemplary students, along with their numerous self-funded student counterparts, prefigured the large-scale Asian immigration that followed the dismantlement of exclusion laws, but they did so under highly class-selected, geopolitically constrained circumstances.
I read the Cold War Asian international student within the genealogy of the “model minority”—that is, the perception of (some) Asian diasporas as hard-working, well-educated and socially adaptable “success stories,” in contrast to the racialisation and social pathologisation of other groups—an apparent transformation from the dominant view of Asians as a “yellow peril.” By engaging a transpacific framework, this paper aims to explicate the transnational historical material conditions that shaped Asian racialization in the Anglophone settler colonies of the Pacific, bringing interventions in Asian American studies and “Global Asias” to bear on Australian historiography.

Tandee Wang is a PhD student in History and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His work concerns the racialisation of Asian diasporas after World War II in the Anglophone settler colonies of the transpacific. He graduated from ANU in 2020 with the University Medal. In 2021–22, he received a Fulbright Scholarship to research transpacific Asian diasporas in the US. He is presently the recipient of a National Library of Australia Scholarship to examine international students from Asia in Australia’s 1950s to 1970s.

Date & time

Wed 06 Mar 2024, 4.15–5.30pm


Level 1 Auditorium (1.28), RSSS Building 146 Ellery Cres. Acton 2601, ACT


Tandee Wang (University of California)


School of History


David Romney Smith


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