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Blacks and China

A Communist Chinese party leader meeting with W.E.B. DuBois, one of the leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement

This week’s readings focus on the perhaps surprising relationship by which Black Power and Civil Rights activists, like W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, communicated and commiserated with the newly Communist People’s Republic of China. Although on opposite sides of the world and consisting of different races, both suffered from the socioeconomic effects of Western imperialism. These effects were associated with western capitalism and were part of what led the Chinese Communists to come to power in the first place. (Although it is worthy mentioning that, ironically, the whole idea of Communism originated in the western nation of Germany.) These socioeconomic effects included the imposition of a racial system where whites were at the top and thus had access to greater educational and employment opportunities and Blacks and Chinese had no ability to resist this. In the case of Blacks, they were forcibly taken from their home countries and brought (via slavery) to the New World, while the Chinese stayed in their country of origin, which was invaded by the western powers. This shared commiseration in the face of a common enemy made these two groups into diplomatic friends.

Interestingly, this shared misery at an enemy expanded to include Gandhi, who, although Indian, was fighting against British rule of his nation and ludicrous salt taxes. This was also true of the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, who fought against the lack of good jobs for Cubans and the abundance of them for Americans. So, in essence, revolutions, some of them Communist, which shook the world from the 1930s-1960s, were in essence a result of long-simmering antagonism resulting from colonialism and imperialism.

It was only in 1963 that the Communist Chinese began to give up on the idea of peacefully overthrowing these western ideals and began to physically fight them. This would contribute to the nuclear era, with China adding to the nuclear warfare threats made by the US and USSR.

In the years since these seemingly amazing relationships began, the efforts to promote “country x for the citizens born in country x” have both succeeded and failed. In China, western manufacturing owners bring their business to the Chinese. They employ Chinese, but the actual companies are American. In each of these countries, racism towards the darker-skinned is still rampant. This is a legacy of when western Europeans taught the world that white was the best color to be.

Image courtesy of: Google Images

Information courtesy of:

Johnson M.D. “From Peace to the Panthers: PRC Engagement with African-American Transnational Networks, 1949-1979.” Past and Present 218, no. Suppl.8 (2013): 233–57.

“Statement by Mao Tse-Tung, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, in Support of the Afro-American Struggle Against Violent Repression, April 16, 1968” In Afro Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections between African Americans and Asian Americans. Book Collections on Project Muse. Edited by Bill Mullen and Fred Wei-han Ho, 94-96. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.

Brown, Keisha and Ruodi Duan. “Teaching China through Black History“. Fairbank Center Blog, Jan. 30, 2019.

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Chinese Communists

Mao Zedong, Leader of Communist China

I read option one, Edgar Snow on Red China, this week.

This week’s readings dealt with America’s initial divided beliefs regarding Mao Zedong. Some believed that he was good for China. Specifically, some talked about how Mao was “modernizing” China by erecting skyscrapers, department stores, and teaching children English and music. Also, no traditional Chinese clothing is depicted, so all of the Chinese people are wearing western clothing. (All of this shows ethnocentrism because the Chinese had previously got along perfectly well without these things. So long as they had a modern army and enough goods to trade with westerners, the Chinese, as a whole, were just fine the way they were. Westerners just loved seeing these things perpetuated in China because westerners originated and used these things. I mean, after all, what greater flattery is there than imitation?)

This week’s readings also mentioned how, since Mao had read Western works, like The Communist Manifesto, and those by Greek authors, he was well-educated. This was something that was not well known by most Westerners because little news made it through the Iron Curtain or, thanks to the Kuomintang, was allowed out of Red China. (Although it is worth mentioning that these writings take place in the 1920s-1930s, prior to China’s Communist Revolution in 1946.) So, these writings would have been fallen on uninterested American ears. (These ears were too busy dealing with the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and worrying about Hitler and Mussolini’s rise to power to worry about what was happening in a non-white nation so far away.) Remember, most Americans still didn’t want the Chinese in America (the Chinese Exclusion Act), so why would they care what happened in mainland China, so long as we could continue trading with them? Remember, although the western powers threw their weight behind the anti-Soviet white army, the Cold War wouldn’t start until after World War Two.

Although this is from a different period in history, another section of one of this week’s readings finally cleared up (for me) when the racist idea of “yellow skin” finally got started. Apparently it started in the 18th century when missionaries (this time, not Jesuit), returned from China with disparaging news of the Chinese. As a matter of fact, these new missionaries’ views of the Chinese were so disparaging that they quickly left China in order to train Chinese in European missions. Thus, more missionaries were created. I’d like to know- did the idea of “slanted eyes” come with the “yellow skin” idea, or did it develop separately?

Image courtesy of: Google Images

Information courtesy of:

Spence, Jonathan D. To Change China: Western Advisers in China, 1620-1960

Bethune, Norman, and Larry Hannant. The Politics of Passion: Norman Bethune’s Writing and Art. Cel – Canadian Publishers Collection

“China’s Dictator Kidnapped”. Narrated by Westbrook Van Voorhis, In March of Time, Volume 3, Episode 5 (New York, NY: HBO, 1936), 10 minutes. https://video-alexanderstreet-com.muhlenberg.idm.oclc.org/watch/china-s-dictator-kidnapped

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Boxer Rebellion

I read option 2, which featured the book “Student Ambassadors: Patriots or Traitors?” Before I say anything else, I have to say that the story of a teenage boy studying very hard to be accepted into an American college made me think of The Good Earth series by Pearl S. Buck (who was featured in one of the optional readings for this week.)

In particular, this reading mentioned how poorly the Chinese students were treated (due to the atmosphere of racism surrounding the Chinese Exclusion Act) once they got to the United States. Also, that act was still in place when this book was written, thus resulting in only merchants and students being allowed to come from China. This also resulted, at least in the late twentieth century, in the racist idea that Asians are smarter than white people. This leads to higher academic and salary expectations of Asian-Americans and increased expectations of children in the Asian American community. At home, despite the fact that the Boxers had provided money for these students’ scholarships, they were considered to be traitors to the Boxer Chinese ideal of China for the Chinese. This was especially true because they were going to the United States, a Western nation, literally one of the ones who took over part of China, helping to contribute to the Boxer Rebellion. So, they were stuck between two worlds, with only their dreams and other people, like themselves, to guide them. It’s really much like the story of most immigrants.

The driving factors in narrating a story are the protagonist and antagonist, how each relates to the world around them, and how others relate to him/her. The time period and the physical location are critical to the setting. Similarly, the person’s race, ethnicity, country of origin, gender, age, personality, and physical, emotional, and mental behavior are critical to how the reader understands the protagonist. The same is true of any truly good antagonist.

One factor in anything academic is how much previous knowledge and experience one has had with the subject matter. In this case, last week’s readings allowed me to better understand the causes of the racism that the students experienced, forcing them to live in bad housing in Chinatown, even if they could afford better. More factors which we can never escape from are how the atmosphere we grew up in views our subject matter (implicit biasis) and how much (if at all) we have learned to conquer this.

Image courtesy of: Google Images

Information courtesy of: Bieler, Stacey. “Chapter 6: Student Ambassadors” “Patriots” or “Traitors”?: A History of American-Educated Chinese Students, 199-250

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The Chinese Exclusion Act in America

I knew a little about the treatment of the Chinese-Americans from a series of lectures given by a Harvard professor in the spring and from the history of public health class I took a few years ago at Muhlenberg. However, I didn’t learn anything about it in my high school history classes, which is really an outrage. It mainly happened all the way across the country, but that doesn’t negate the suffering and the lessons that can be learned from it. Also, our Eastern states participated in it by agreeing to it in the House of Representatives.

The outdated racist thinking driving the Chinese Exclusion Act soured China on the United States. Since we still haven’t really resolved this issue, and since we still throw racist slurs at Chinese, especially ones who are either very successful or, much more rarely, very unsuccessful, the Chinese undoubtedly still look at us as a racist nation.

Most importantly, our democracy not working to protect their American bretheren may well have set the Chinese on a path away from democracy, towards communism. That, as we know, has been a major stumbling block for Chinese-American relations for decades. (This to the point that President Nixon’s visit to China was hotly contested and front-page news.) Also, the Korean and Vietnam wars, with tens of thousands of American casualties, drove a further wedge between the East and the West. After all, the Chinese (and Soviets) spread communism to North Korea and Vietnam and helped the communist insurgents there in their fight against democracy. What isn’t commonly known (or thought of) by westerners is that the Chinese at least claimed that they were saving these countries from the yokes of western imperialism. Thus, in these wars, the United States’ attempt to promote democracy was portrayed by the Chinese as being just more western imperialism.

Despite this, like under the Qing empire, China continues to be a major trade partner of the United States. The big difference is why. In the 19th century, China offered the world lots of unique products, like silk and spices. In the late 20th and 21st centuries, China’s main contribution has been very underpaid workers (a product of Communism), thus allowing the West to buy Chinese products cheaper than their identical American products. This has proved to be a problem among the lower paid American laborers who used to make these products and are now unemployed. Noticeably, this is the same group of people who originally had the problem with the Chinese-American laborers “taking their jobs.” Like then, when these white American laborers limited the number of ships (or at least who and what they could carry) coming from China, they are now advocating for a high tariff on all Chinese-made products, for the sake of saving their jobs.

Knowledge of the Chinese Exclusion Act has changed my view of what Asian-Americans are like. I did think that Asian-Americans tended to be smarter than other races, but I didn’t know that that was the result of immigration restriction. I also knew that they had special schools (which a former friend of mine used to attend), in addition to regular schools. But, I didn’t know that that was because those Asians who do make it to America tend to be doctors and other scholars and therefore have a great respect for knowledge.

As in any case where diplomacy is involved, greater cultural understanding would be helpful. In this particular case, it would be wonderful to understand that Asian-Americans, just like white Americans, want to do the best they can to support their families and increase their financial and social standing. Like other immigrants, if they have family and/or friends in China, they send money home. Like other minorities, they tend to stick together, or at least know of other members in their communities, even if they are not friends with them. That’s a way of coping with having so many white people around and having racism aimed at them. The statistics showing that Asian-Americans tend to have higher salaries and lower rates of unemployment than whites aren’t helpful because they don’t point out that, for many of the decades when immigration was much more open to lower paid people, the Chinese weren’t allowed to come. Even 125 years on, these effects are still felt because the lower paid workers have been subjugated to a lottery since they’ve been allowed in.

Image courtesy of: Googe Images

Facts courtesy of: “The Chinese Exclusion Act”. Directed by Burns, Ric and Li-Shin Yu. Public Broadcasting Service, 2018

Molina, Natalia. “Chapter 1: Interlopers in the Land of Sunshine: Chinese Disease Carriers, Launderers, and Vegetable Peddlers”. In Fit to Be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939. American Crossroads, 20. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006