Jack (John Kuo Wei) Tchen is a historian, curator, and writer devoted to anti-racist, anti-colonialist democratic participatory storytelling, scholarship, and opening up archives, museums, organizations, and classroom spaces to the stories and realities of those excluded and deemed “unfit” in master narratives. Professor Tchen has been honored to be the Inaugural Clement A Price Chair of Public History & Humanities at Rutgers University – Newark and Director of the Clement Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture & the Modern Experience, since Fall 2018.

Most recently, he is engaged with global warming crisis, eco justice, and the deep history of the region, founding the Public History Project (PHP), funded by the Ford Foundation. And he has been appointed onto the New York City Panel on Climate Change dealing with the 31-county regional estuarial impacts we are all facing. He has been supporting Munsee Lunaape bands with their Homeland efforts reconstructing their language, maps, place names, and stories. The PHP is reframing the history of the estuarial region starting with the triple foundational histories of dispossession, extractivism, and enslavement (work emerging from serving as a Commissioner on the NYC Mayor’s Commission on Monuments.) His ongoing series of work on eugenics in the New York City region surfaces how patrician elites fashioned a tested, measured, sorted tiered hierarchic system of “fit” European-descended “Nordics” on top, and the rankings of the great majority of “unfit” below–resulting in the Immigration Act of 1924 and practices of sterilization and incarceration all still impacting US political culture to this day. He is working with faculty from the University College London in their 2020-2021 work on coming to terms with eugenics in London and NYC – for the 100th commemoration of The Second International Eugenics Conference held at the American Museum of Natural History in 1921, NYC.

He served as the senior historian for a New-York Historical Society exhibition on the impact of Chinese Exclusion Laws on the formation of the US and also senior advisor for the two-hour “American Experience” PBS documentary on the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” His most recent book – Yellow Peril: An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear (2014) is a critical archival study of images, excerpts and essays on the history and contemporary impact of paranoia and xenophobia. In 1996, he founded the A/P/A (Asian/Pacific /American) Studies Program and Institute, and research collections, New York University, NYU where he worked closely with Jack G. Shaheen and brought in his research collection on anti-Arab representations in television and Hollywood. In 1980, he co-founded the Museum of Chinese in America.



New York before Chinatown Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882

From George Washington’s desire (in the heat of the Revolutionary War) for a proper set of Chinese porcelains for afternoon tea, to the lives of Chinese-Irish couples in the 1830s, to the commercial success of Chang and Eng (the “Siamese Twins”), to rising fears of “heathen Chinee,” New York before Chinatown offers a provocative look at the role Chinese people, things, and ideas played in the fashioning of American culture and politics. Piecing together various historical fragments and anecdotes from the years before Chinatown emerged in the late 1870s, historian John Kuo Wei Tchen redraws Manhattan’s historical landscape and broadens our understanding of the role of port cultures in the making of American identities.

VERSO, 2014

Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear

The “yellow peril” is one of the oldest and most pervasive racist ideas in Western culture—dating back to the birth of European colonialism during the Enlightenment. Yet while Fu Manchu looks almost quaint today, the prejudices that gave him life persist in modern culture. Yellow Peril! is the first comprehensive repository of anti-Asian images and writing, and it surveys the extent of this iniquitous form of paranoia. Written by two dedicated scholars and replete with paintings, photographs, and images drawn from pulp novels, posters, comics, theatrical productions, movies, propagandistic and pseudo-scholarly literature, and a varied world of pop culture ephemera, this is both a unique and fascinating archive and a modern analysis of this crucial historical formation.




Jack Tchen served as Senior Historical Advisor for this film examining the origin, history and impact of the 1882 law that made it illegal for Chinese workers to come to America and for Chinese nationals already here ever to become U.S. citizens. The first in a long line of acts targeting the Chinese for exclusion, it remained in force for more than 60 years.

A/P/A Institute

In response to student interest combined with the University’s commitment to global excellence, the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU was established in 1996 by Founding Director Jack Tchen (who led the Institute from 2006-2018). A/P/A Institute provides a space in which research and public programs with a focus on community and intercultural studies are made accessible to faculty, students, and the New York community within a broad, rigorous international, and comparative framework.


The Museum of Chinese in America was founded in 1980 by John Kuo Wei Tchen and Charlie Lai (both formerly of Basement Workshop). The organization was originally called the New York Chinatown History Project but has seen several name changes through the years before settling on its current name in 2007.

The Paradigm Shifters series is brought to you by NYU Center for the Humanities & NYU Skirball.

Hosted by Uli Baer, PhD, Director of NYU Center for the Humanities.