“Racial” Discrimination in China: A Brief Overview through the Experiences of Chinese Han People

by Xu Yuan

“Race” as an English word has totally different meaning in China, another Chinese word “民族” [1](National Minority) is usually used to describe different ethnic groups instead. 91% of Chinese population is of the Han race, which is the the only non-minority in this country.

“Racial” discrimination in China should be more accurate as “ethnic discrimination” or “geographic discrimination” [2]. “Geographic discrimination” based on geographic differences and cultural gaps, because of national minority’s regional distribution of residence, most minority ethnic groups live separately from other different ethnic groups and have their own ethnic autonomous regions in China, as shown in the graph. Also, the Registered Residence policy makes ethnic identification and their privileges obviously and invidiously [2], which causes the current phenomenon of ethnic discrimination, which exists as one manifestation of geographic discrimination in China.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 1.25.45 PM

As a Chinese scholar Chen Guojie’s studies indicate [4], China’s geographic features cause the prosperous eastern part and poor western part. In the east, convenient transportation, comfortable climate, the large area of plains and the most of the nation’s population promote the sustained and rapid economic growth. In the west, high-altitude plateau and extremely climate affect the progress and integrity of infrastructure, thus result in economy of minority areas has always lagged behind the eastern coast areas. Discrimination caused by economic disparity widespread in the eastern coastal areas, and such discrimination has no connections with race, nation, or skin color. China’s ethnic discrimination comes from imbalance of regional development between less-developed western minority areas and highly-developed eastern coastal Han neighborhoods.

About the debate of whether geographical discrimination comes from ethnic discrimination or ethnic discrimination comes from geography, through my survey and interview of all my old classmates I can reach in high school and former university, 93% of the respondents care more about geography and wealthy status than ethnicity. Especially the data from college, all the classmates are from everywhere all over the country and several of them are minorities, 97% students hold the same opinions. The different opinions are focus on complaints and the feeling of unfair about ethnic privileges, such no one-child policy, less or no tax, allowed to carry weapons, free college tuition, free dormitory, regional autonomous and even monthly financial subsidy [5].

The word “Race” in Asia and Western world means totally different things, especially in countries with tens of hundreds of national minorities like China. According to Chinese scholars’ analysis about legal system [6], with the population and trade integration, more and more African Southeast Asian migrants have been in China and the population is increasing rapidly in recent years, racial barriers and inadequate legal system would be problematic.

[1]. 《“中华民族多元⼀一体”理论的创⽴立、内涵及其影响》. 中国社会科学院
[2]. 《地域歧视背后的社会⼼心理分析》. (2010年). 《中国新闻周刊》
[3]. Scanned from《中国少数民族⻛风情⼤大观》.(1992年). 中国民族摄影艺术出版社
[4]. 陈国阶. 《我国东中⻄西部发展差异原因分析》. 《地理科学》. 中国科学院⽔水利部. 成都⼭山 地灾害与环境研究所.
[5].⻢马启智. (2012年). 《我国的民族政策及其法制保障》.《中国⼈人⼤大》
[6].冯博林. ⺩王婧. 李思洋. 胡晋煜. 徐韬. 《全球化冲击下我国⾮非洲移民相关法律问题研究—— 以⼲⼴广州市⾮非洲移民及其聚集区为例》. 中国⼈人民⼤大学 法学院

The Worldwide Abuse of Women

English: American women's earnings by educatio...

English: American women’s earnings by educational attainment, from Women in America (2011) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Olivia Katherine Parker

As an American-born woman, I have a choice. I have a choice to my career, who I marry, whether or not I raise children, and how I spend my future. Women in other countries are not as fortunate. In class, we discussed a few of these cases. For example, Filipino maids face abuse from their employers. Chinese women move to Beijing in order to temporarily escape marriage and to find work in factories that pay low rates. Migrant workers in Japan’s hostess bars have pay withheld from them. Furthermore, mothers from Sri Lanka who need to raise money to feed their children move thousands of miles away to do so. Even in a developed country known as an economic superpower, Japanese husbands oftentimes regard their wives as the domestic half – an idea that was common in American society in the 1950’s. That is not to say that America is the perfect place for women; the Caucasian woman only earns 70 cents to her male Caucasian coworker’s dollar. On top of that, women in America also face prejudice when they decide to live childfree lives or focus on their careers. This boils down to a thought: are women being taken advantage of in a global sense?

It was not long ago that, universally, men were the breadwinners and women were the caretakers. Why is it that in extreme poverty it is the mother who leaves her children behind to earn money for the family? Where are the husbands? Why aren’t they moving thousands of miles away to earn money and why are they allowing their wives to go to such lengths to care for their children?

In class we discussed that human trafficking and sex work are rampant in Japan’s night life. We focused on research by Rhacel Parreñas, who explained that male employers pressured female employees to perform sexual acts in return for money (the definition of prostitution). Parreñas also stated that if an employee was in Japan on an expired visa or any other less-than-legal terms, her pay was almost always withheld at least once.

Recently, we have been seeing a new trend in Japan where fathers are becoming more involved in the early years of their children’s lives. After speaking with several Japanese students I learned that it was common for their fathers to be absent from the home. It wasn’t manly to be seen with their children! After working long hours they would go to the bar and return home late in the night to eat dinner, watch TV, and go to sleep. Now, Japan has laws that allow fathers to take time off work to care for their newborn babies and we are seeing Japanese fathers take on the responsibilities that normally only the wives would have. Still, this is a new trend and it may be looked down upon by old and new generations alike.

Overall, we see a unified theme of women being taken advantage of, whether it is in a domestic setting or the work place. Of course, the severity ranges by location, and the idea that everything is the male’s fault is flawed. Still, the tired belief that women belong in the home needs to change and it is, slowly. Ultimately, we could see a shift in responsibilities between men and women.

Dickens in China: Industrialism and the Perpetuation of Social Divides

by Marcel Koníček

We probably all own something made in one of innumerable factories in eastern Asia, be it China, Taiwan, Thailand or somewhere else. These articles are so ubiquitous that we may sometimes wonder, which of the things we own are not “made in China”.

Even though the news outlets inform us quite frequently about the problems of factory workers and the conditions they live in, they do not tell us much about the system that enables Chinese work force to be as cheap as it is right now.

When I first started to inquire into the issues of Chinese factory workers, a striking comparison came to my mind. The system clearly reminded me factories of nineteenth-century Europe. Twelve hour shifts, meagre pay, harsh working conditions, overcrowded accommodations and no possibilities of moving up the ladder of the company, all that was very common in the European factories of nineteenth century was also clearly present in the Chinese factories of the twenty first century.

However, the main difference between them lies in the way the system was created and sustained. While in Europe, the industrialization came into being without the will of the ruling class of the time, the landed gentry, so the governments consisting mainly of the members of the landed gentry did not feel much obligation to pass laws that would serve to disrupt the, so the development was guided mainly by the invisible hand of the market, this is not true for the current Chinese situation. Chinese government consciously enacts laws that perpetuate the factory work in its current Dickensian state. The main part of these policies is the hukou system, which limits migration of the rural population into cities.

While in the nineteenth century the rural workforce freely migrated to the cities, rising their population several times, and lived their life there with their families, raising up new generation with much better chance to climb the social ladder, rural workers of China cannot.  They are limited by the hukou, house registration, system that prevents rural workers from permanently settling in the city. They can live in the cities only for a limited time based on their employment and their children cannot attend schools in the city. This system also bars them from doing any urban jobs “except of those considered dirty and low paying” (Kam and Buckingham, 583) and keep their children from attending schools outside the district they were born in. This basically creates system of “urban-rural apartheid” and “cities with invisible walls” (Kam and Buckingham, 583), that makes the rural workforce very cheap and thus perpetuating the industrial system. Also, since the workers come from many language backgrounds, their employment is not long-term and they are basically at mercy of their employers, it is very hard for them to organize into unions or similar organizations. Thus, the system perpetuates itself and the social divides between the migrant workforce and the city dwellers broaden.

The ones gaining profit from this system are the rich industrial companies and their stock owners, not the people working there. It is quite ironic, that the country that uses this perfected form of unequal social organisation is the one that has “People’s” in its name and that claims to be “socialistic”. Only the future can say if the system holds.

Works Cited

Kam Wing Chan and Will Buckingham. 2008. “Is China Abolishing the Hukou System?” The China Quarterly 195:582-606. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20192236

Seeking Whiteness: For Asian Women Only?

by John Wang

As Ashikari (2005) mentions in “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening‘ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity”, in contemporary Japanese society, the strong preference for light complexions and skin tone was actually expressed as a dichotomy of ‘white’ and ‘black’. Another interesting result coming from the survey she conducted was that although in contemporary Japan the dark skin was spoken of negatively, “many informants, both men and women, insisted that white skin was the ideal only for women, and that dark skin was the ideal for men.” I found similar arguments in many Chinese media, although recently I was actually against this argument since I felt that seeking whiteness is no more a social phenomenon, which just limited to the Asian women. Asian men are also gradually involved.

According to International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, the sales of skin care products for men increased 30 percent to over $280 million in China. Some industry giants including L’Oreal from France and Shisedo from Japan are looking forward to the boost of their business in China. China is going to account for half of the global growths in the men’s skin care market within the next five years.

Personally I did not realize this tendency until I met one of my roommates in my high school. In the first day of entry, the small bags he brought to the dormitory surprised all of his roommates, including me. There were so many bottles of cosmetics that we had never heard about and there were also some foreign cosmetics. He was always the last to go to class since he usually spent around twenty minutes to put on makeup. We were even more surprised that after a month, some female students started to ask him for advice on choosing the right white-lightening cosmetics. His skin was truly lighter compared to most male students, due to long-term use of different kinds of cosmetics. After I came to study in Japan, I also found male students using white-lightening cosmetics in order to keep their skin looking good and white. Some of my classmates in my high school have also started to use whitening cosmetic products.

So question here is whether lightening cosmetics are also “must-haves” for Asian men?

Research conducted by Zheng (2010) shows that the main reason for the increase in men’s use of cosmetics is that cosmetic use has become a symbol of men who care about their appearance, while previously this use had been regarded as feminine. Zheng argues that this change is due to the influence of mass media and advertisements. Meantime, rapid economic development has made cosmetics affordable for more men. Being able to using cosmetics is also one way to show one’s social status. These factors have made whiteness more appreciated. However, Zheng also pointed out that this tendency does not challenge the idea that tanned skin is a proper skin color for males. These two standards have become parallel in Asian countries.

The spread of whiteness as a standard of beauty seems unstoppable in Asian countries. With globalization and the spread of western aesthetics, whitening cosmetics are becoming must-haves for both men and women. It is creating massive business chances as well as changing people’s taste of aesthetics. I feel it is interesting if Ashikari can do her survey again, this time focusing on the opinions of Japanese men. They result might be similar as it was for women in contemporary Japan.


Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity. Journal of Material Culture, 10 , 73-91.

Cosmetic market for men in China booming – Media Centre – International Enterprise Singapore (2011). Retrieved from International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, Web site: http://www.iesingapore.gov.sg/Media-Centre/News/2011/2/Cosmetic-market-for-men-in-China-booming

Zheng, J. (2012). 男士护肤品掀起热潮. 日用化学品科学, 10 10-16.

The Meanings of Lightness

productsby Lin Tzu-Chun

In “Consuming Lightness,” Evelyn Nakano Glenn discusses how skin lightening products and the value of lighter skin are different in various regions around the world. Based on that, different marketing strategies may be planned because of the different formations of the ideology of beauty and the meaning of lighter skin. In Glenn’s work, we can find that among the regions that have a history of colonization, for example Africa, Latin America, and India, lighter skin is recognized as the representation of the elite, higher social capital, and education. Besides skin tone, the people also migrate to regions with more light-skin people to be socially whiter.

In Asian areas, the Philippines is an example of a colonized country. However, instead of taking white people as the beauty standard, people tend to make themselves like Japanese or Koreans, as the standard of beauty. For Japan, makeup has become a basic manner for woman, and some men also use cosmetic products.

In the following part, I will discuss specifically my observations of what whiteness means in China. To end Glenn’s work here, I want to mention that as a whole, Glenn argues that the ideology of “white is right” is due to “the workings of the Western-dominated global system”.

The very first reaction of my friends from China or Taiwan when visiting a Japanese drug store is “How could these brands sell in a drug store at such a cheap price?” These similar reactions told me that this brand must be more expensive and may not be simply found in drug stores like in Japan, which is actually true. Back before I came to Japan, I actually held an image of Sekkisei or KOSE as luxury goods, but now I have gotten used to seeing them in every drug store and seeing them as normal goods with a little bit higher price but still goods that everyone may consume. That is a dramatic transition in my values.

products2In China, for example, you have to go find some exclusive shops to buy a KOSE products, but here in Japan they are put at the entrance of many drug stores. This different marketing strategy reminds the Chinese phrase “Bai, fu, mei” or “White, Rich, Beauty”, is that white means you are rich because you are able to consume expensive lightening products. Does that mean that the products might be more effective? If we compare the income difference, it may be true that you really need money to buy expensive cosmetics but there is no guarantee they will be effective. For whiteness, I refer to a common saying in China, “one white covers hundred (three) ugly”, which means that if you are white and make it the focus point of people’s sight, people won’t care much about your other problems.

In conclusion, whiteness seems the representation of education, status, beauty, wealth, and more. But it is nearly impossible to stop the lightness consuming as long as the huge profitable industry still runs, argues Glenn.


Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2009. “Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade.” In Shades of Difference, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Thinking About Getting Cosmetic Surgery in Korea? Make Sure You Read This First


My class ‘Race and Ethnicity in the Modern World’ focuses on the relationship between race, notions of beauty, the global trade in skin lighteners, and the growing use of plastic surgery. Along those lines, this post gives a helpful overview of debates over plastic surgery in Korea. Enjoy!

Originally posted on The Grand Narrative:

Korea Cosmetic Surgery(Sources: left, dongA; right, The Kyunghyang Shinmun)

The more operations, the more possibilities for complications, mistakes, and patient deaths. So, with the highest per capita number of cosmetic surgery operations in the world, you’re always going to hear a lot of harrowing, even terrifying experiences of going under the knife in Korea. Korean cosmetic surgeons, who are no more unethical or incompetent than those from any other country, shouldn’t be singled out for horror stories that can and do happen everywhere.

But it’s more than just numbers. With so many clinics lacking even basic first-aid equipment; doctors clamoring to break into the lucrative cosmetic surgery market whatever their training and specialty; patients receiving little to no warnings of side-effects; little regulation by the Ministry of Health and Welfare; insufficient support staff because they’re too expensive; and patients doped-up to disguise the fact that the hot-shot surgeons they’ve hired have been replaced with…

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The Contradictory Cultural Identity of Rural Children in China

guoby Dream Guo

Recently, a Chinese reality show called “X-Change” received widespread attention and initiated topics among Chinese people. In the show, two children from totally different backgrounds, one is from a well-off urban household, and the other is from an extremely poor rural family, exchange their lives for nearly thirty days.

The audience will see how the city boy changes his personality and behaviors from extremely traitorous, selfish and hedonistic to sensible, obedient and considerate of others during his thirty-day severe life in rural area.

At the same time, the rural child who has hard-working, observing all rules and regulations and honest high morals will first time see the outside world and adapt new modern culture and city life-style. The reforms of the city boys are always successful, since at the end of the show, the city children will turn over a new leaf and become good children at home and school. Meanwhile, the rural children will be judged by people and baptized by urban culture, and at last due to the public opinion, two kinds of identities of them which are contradictory will be constructed by the program.

Gao, one of the rural protagonists in the show is described as “backward” and “rude” when he first landed in the city. People made fun of him when he said he had never heard of Zhao Benshan (a famous Chinese comedian) and Liu Dehua (a famous Chinese singer); people laughed at him when he took a lift awkwardly; people criticized him when he wolfed down his food; people disliked and avoided him when he complained a lot and said he wanted to earn money. All these conducts give him a label – “backward”. Nevertheless, when we think about his background, which always makes him suffer from hunger, poverty, and information shortage, his conducts can be translated to cherishing food, curious about new things and fighting for life and easily be understood.

Thus we would find that people made comments actually based on a comparison, a comparison made by who has material civilization, consumer culture and himself is from urban city. As Gao was alone in the city, the dominant urban culture certainly became “advanced” while the minority rural culture became backward. Linking to reality, the urban population has always been dominant in cities, and therefore, the idea that urban culture is superior gradually became a national concept.

During the thirty-day-life experience in the city, when facing the concussive advanced urban culture, rural children will either adapt it or reject it. If the child adapts it, he will be considered as one who forgets the original source. If the child rejects it, he will be seen as a model of rural child, however, spending his entire life in the mountain.

Rural people are frugal in common. As a result, when Gao experienced the prosperous urban life, shopping, entertaining, he started spending money on snacks and amusement park by himself. Moreover, when he was asked whether wanted to go back to rural area, he hesitated for a moment and said “I don’t know”. Consequently, people blamed him, saying that he was lacking in will power when facing material life, and forgetting his roots and simple, thrifty characters. Yet, becoming a “spender” is the rule of urban cities. It is exactly what urban culture taught him and as well as what he needs to do to adapt to the environment, let say the development and rich resources would make him hesitate. Nonetheless, he was again blamed, just because that people saw his identity packed with frugality and they were not willing to accept him to adapt to their urban culture. People believed that going back to rural area and making contribution for his hometown was the right choice.

Seen this way, children like Shi and Luo were highly praised. Shi was always industrious and frugal. When he had time, he did not play or enjoy life, and instead, he did all the housework of the host family as he did at his home in rural area. Luo also refused the pocket money given by his host parents and refused help from school. He said he did not want to always rely on someone else, and he needed to struggle by himself. Then people praised them as having the self-discipline and being brave enough to challenge their poor fate. Nevertheless, more often than not, this praise would not appear if Shi and Luo did not refuse to stay in the city.

Hence, we can tell that rural people are welcome to experience urban life, however, if they stay in the city, enjoy spending, people will think they are affected by the temptation of materialism and addicted to material life. As a consequence, in the reality, it is hard for rural children to have both modern civilization as well as “high morality”.

Chinese as “honorary Whites” in Apartheid South Africa

“For use by white persons” – sign from the apa...

“For use by white persons” – sign from the apartheid era Español: “Sólo para blancos” – letrero de la era del apartheid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Krishna Vanstraelen

If assimilation theory seems to oppose the general trend for first generation Chinese migrant in recent years, it however sheds light and corroborates segmented assimilation theories for the second and third generations. The first wave of Chinese migrants in South Africa in the early 1900s has followed a so-called typical way of integrating a culturally foreign society. Though what drove Chinese migrants in South Africa to follow classic segmented assimilation theories is the succession of two distinct historical events, their entrepreneurship and desire to access the higher sphere of South African society, which is striking and somewhat unusual, given the political and social nature of the host country.

Much like current Chinese migrants to South Africa, first generation migrants tended to send their offspring to China, both to learn and preserve Chinese tradition and culture and to receive what parents viewed as a “proper” education. However, in the early 1950s, the Immigrants Regulation Amendment Act enacted by the newly established Communist Party, along with the strengthening of institutionalised apartheid in South Africa, made it increasingly difficult for Chinese to travel in and out of China, hindering thus education in the home country.

When examining the case of first, second, and third generations, Yoon Jung Park, the most cited scholar in this specific field, refers to them respectively as shopkeepers, fence-sitters, and bananas. Shopkeepers because these children born in the 1920s and 1930s usually received Chinese education, had little to no English proficiency, and typically ended up helping their parents as shopkeepers or working in unskilled or semi-skilled positions in factories, retail shops, or offices. Though second generation children as well, fence-sitters were born from the 1940s through the early 1960s, and were labelled as such due to an ambiguous identity.

Although growing in a climate separating whites and non-whites, Chinese migrants and their children were given concessions and privileges as their social status shifted progressively towards “honorary whites”. Hence, most Chinese children born during this time period attended private white church schools by means of a progressive loosening of discriminatory rules and heavy financial sacrifices made by their parents. Ineluctably, as children were gradually losing their Chinese language ability and increasingly conform to western culture, their identity and place in the South African society became equivocal.

Lastly, the bananas refer to the physicality of the fruit; yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Born in the late 1960s through the 1970s, these children had little to no experience of Apartheid-era discrimination, as Apartheid and its institutionalized rules were gradually fading away—at least for Chinese residents/citizens, who enjoyed a full primary and secondary education alongside white children in government and private white schools. As a result, most children of this generation developed a strong affiliation to western culture, low relations to China and its language, and an ever-growing number completing tertiary education allowing them to climb the social ladder (Park, 2009).

The crux of Chinese assimilation that trails segmented theories is found in the early 1950s, when regulatory rules hamper Chinese migrants to follow customary patterns in regards of their low integration and their offspring. When returning to their home country became less of an option, Chinese migrants generally estimated that providing their children with better/white education will facilitate and increase their social mobility. Through massive financial sacrifices and the withstanding of discriminatory rules and societal norms, parents of children born from the 1940s through the early 1960s (and onwards) were able to send them to white schools, allowing these children to access tertiary education and gain a foothold and recognition in the South African society.


Park, Y. J. (2009). A matter of honour: Being Chinese in South Africa. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Learning in Hong Kong—in English or Cantonese?

English: Hong Kong colonial coat of arms ‪中文(香...

English: Hong Kong colonial coat of arms ‪中文(香港)‬: 香港盾徽 ‪中文(简体)‬: 香港盾徽 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


by Liz Ma

I am writing a paper on education system in Hong Kong and Chinese immigrants. I want to know how exclusive (or not inclusive enough) the education system is, especially the medium of instruction, i.e., Cantonese and English. Here, I recognize as Chinese immigrants those who migrated from China, in particular, those who migrated after 1997.

Hong Kong used to be under British rule, thus the official language of the public sector and government departments was English, instead of Cantonese or Chinese. The foreign language was highly engaged in the general public’s life. The language environment gives rise to two problematic issues. The first is that parents debate hard on whether they should send their children to EMI (English Medium of Instruction) or CMI (Chinese Medium of Instruction – here I mean Cantonese).

Back in the days of British rule, being accepted to EMI schools was a prerequisite for “the winning group”. The reasons behind parental preference, if not the child’s own choice in most of the cases, are multiple. However, the most powerful pull and push factor is that English was the official language in Hong Kong and outside the border. Positions in the government (still running the pension system) and foreign invested companies (highly paid jobs) were the easiest way to achieve promising career prospect. To get those keen competitive positions, the least requirement was high English proficiency. If you were able to master the language, you enjoyed a higher chance of promotion, and being appointed as an overseas manager.

Flag of Hong Kong (1959–97) ‪中文(简体)‬: 香港殖民地时期旗帜

Flag of Hong Kong (1959–97) ‪中文(简体)‬: 香港殖民地时期旗帜 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similar to the Chinese boom in many countries nowadays, English is a very preferable foreign language in Hong Kong. Not to mention how attractive going abroad is, most students holding a foreign degree (the United States and the United Kingdom are the top two choices for studying abroad) get a very sound job when they return. Some top government officials can speak very fluent English, Anson Chan was one of the well known ones. Therefore, we can see how people look towards English speakers (even if they are Asian rooted). People believe learning English means knowing how to achieve a successful life. In Hong Kong, Cantonese makes you normal, while English helps you to stand out of the crowd, to become elite.

We can see a discrimination created by government in silence, because of how the system operates, how discrimination is rooted and generated and confirmed by parents and then among students. EMI schools are desirable. It is true that most of the top ranking secondary schools are EMIs. The top university in Hong Kong puts more emphasis on scores on English subjects rather than Chinese subjects during their admission and interview process.

As for Chinese immigrants, most secondary schools do not provide support to them when they first come to Hong Kong. As I mentioned above, English is viewed as more important when compared with Chinese. Chinese immigrants in classroom therefore become the inferior group, and in term of attention from teachers, naturally less than their classmates. It might also because of teachers’ poor level of Chinese. It is a fact that Chinese has never been a must to learn. The situation has changed gradually in recent years, I believe.

I am still doing research on the subject, but it seems the first issue takes up the main part. Information now in my hands contributes, more useful for building up the first issue.

A counter-narrative to the Chinese exclusion policies of the US

English: Racist US political cartoon: Uncle Sa...

Racist US political cartoon: Uncle Sam kicks out the Chinaman, referring to the Chinese exclusion act. image published in 19th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anonymous student post

During the late nineteenth century, immigration to the United States from East Asia, particularly China, saw a massive influx, much to the surprise and eventual dismay to the American white population. For a population that were also inherently immigrants, built on the foundations of native population extermination before and after independence from the British, their indignation could be seen as quite hypocritical and in some sense, ironic. At the time, the Chinese were seen as a threat to ordinary, hard-working US citizens and “overlapped with domestic fears about American race, class, and gender relations and helped fan the fires of organized anti-Chinese sentiment … Chinese workers were blamed for competing unfairly with white workers. Chinese as a race were charged with being inassimilable, inferior, and immoral” (Lee, 2007, pp. 546-547).

Different states had different laws regarding the Chinese, and it is important to realise that at this time racism was rife in the country with the black population facing the brunt. In 1854, the State of California recategorised the Chinese to the same level as black and Native Americans, which meant that they did not have the right to testify against a white man in a court of law (Bancroft, 2005). In 1882, the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, country-wide, which severely prohibited the movement of Chinese citizens to the US, a law which was only repealed in 1943.

As all this went on in the foreground, there was other events taking place in the background. Seemingly at odds with the official stance of the US being “anti-Chinese”, there was however a few openings on the education front. Hsu (2014), in her work on educational exchange during this period of exclusionary policies, highlights what she calls a “counter-narrative” (p. 315) to the prevailing view of this time. She writes that “… even in the depths of restrictive fervor, Chinese students—seen as a leadership class that eventually shaped the future of modern China—were not only welcomed in the United States, but funded and protected by powerful American and Chinese interests”.

English: Editorial cartoon showing a Chinese m...

Editorial cartoon showing a Chinese man being excluded from entry to the “Golden Gate of Liberty.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previous historical circumstances had made China wary of foreign influence, encapsulated by the “Boxer Rebellion”, a strong backlash against western Christian missionaries and foreigners in general. (At the time, China was the predominant country for US missionary work). In the Qing dynasty, there were worries that students sent abroad would become “denationalized” and China would see no benefit (Hsu, 2014, p. 319). Through the creation of the China Institute, however, the US saw a climb in foreign students from China, as well as an acceptance that China would face an inevitable decline if they did not attempt to familiarise themselves with Western education. Even during the height of exclusion, Chinese students made “were among the most numerous of foreign students on U.S. campuses” and such a exchange managed to persuade “Americans not only to invest in positive experiences of the United States for Chinese, but also to rethink racialist ideologies of exclusion against Asians.” (Hsu, 2014, p. 322). In essence, student exchange helped to counter-balance xenophobic attitudes towards China.

The Cold War threatened to undo most of these relations, however, with a communist China considered a threat. Plus that to today, with increasingly paranoid US afraid of losing their Number 1 status, economically and politically, could there be similar sentiments rising? This video echoes of the late nineteenth century. And the US currently operate an anti-Chinese exclusion policy for NASA, and do not forget the Huawei “national security concerns” story. Will more Chinese students studying in the US help to ease tensions, or have times changed too much?


Bancroft. (2005). ‘Anti-Chinese Movement and Chinese Exclusion’, Bancroft Library, The Regents of University of California. Retrieved from http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/chineseinca/antichinese.html on 8 June 2014.

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