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Race and Revolution: Blackness in China's Long Twentieth Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


It is in the context of race and revolution during china's long twentieth century that we can best understand the many implications of Ferdinand Oyono's Une vie de boy (1956) in China, where it was translated into the standard Sinitic script as (“The Life of a Boy Servant”) in 1984.

The cycle that had begun as a national strengthening movement in the 1890s achieved some kind of completion or vindication with the early-twenty-first-century rise of China on the world stage. Chinese sovereignty was not only achieved during this century but flaunted; revolutions were not only won but largely put aside. Throughout this process, racial thinking played a crucial role, but its significance has been largely ignored because of an all-consuming nationalism that justified itself through a discourse of wounding: China was the victim of Western imperialism and the object of racism. Racism was and is supposed to be a problem for other, principally Western nations, with tainted histories of slavery and imperialism—hence the failure to acknowledge that Chinese nationalism actually has a distinct, though shifting, racial character. Chinese racial nationalism, and, for a time, racial internationalism under Mao, was a major undercurrent in China's revolutionary sequence in the long twentieth century: the late Qing reform and the ensuing republican revolution of 1911, which overthrew the Manchu Qing dynasty; the communist revolution of 1949, which drove out Western and Japanese imperialism and overthrew the republican government; and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, the end of which started China on the path to postsocialism, or “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Theories and Methodologies
Copyright © 2013 by The Modern Language Association of America

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