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Dikötter, Frank (1990) White Ash and Black Coal: The Perception of Race in Modern China 1793-1949. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Race relations have often been considered a major problem of modern societies. In history, however, research on race relations and racial theories has been almost exclusively centred upon the Western-related facets of the problem: it is assumed that racism can only be a white phenomenon under which other people, lumped together under the heading "coloured", had to suffer. The narrow focus of such historical research, which can be explained by the vivid sense of guilt of modern Western society and by a still dominant feeling of eurocentrism, has distorted our comprehension of racial matters in non- Western countries. In China, the notion of "race" appeared at the end of the nineteenth century and was considered a vital problem by most intellectuals. Though the importance of such concern has been recognized by several historians, it has been hastily ascribed to either Chinese "xenophobia", a concept rarely defined, or to the effects of "social Darwinism", an equally vague term. The first chapter of this thesis presents the historical background of Chinese racial theories. It introduces a broad spectrum of material pertaining to the traditional attitudes toward skin colour, the social perception of physical differences, the concept of the "barbarians", environmental determinism, and geographical notions. It also reviews the main ethnocentric theories, including anti-Buddhism of the fourth and fifth centuries, Song loyalism and anti-Manchu thought. The second chapter covers the period ranging from 1793 to the Sino-Japanese War of 1895. It briefly analyzes the formation and composition of racial stereotypes, which arose as a result of ethnic contacts in the ports open to foreigners. The next chapter discusses the reformers' perception of race (1895-1902). It focuses mainly on the works of Liang Qichao, Tang Caichang and Kang Youwei, but also considers other writers who were preoccupied with the idea of race. Chapter four is constructed around the idea of race as nation, which appeared in China around 1902. It studies the conceptual link between racial theories and the emergence of the nation-state concept. Chapter five is centred on the perception of race as species: how did the Chinese explain the origin of their own "race"; how was the idea of racial evolution handled; how were foreign races treated in anthropological works; how were racial differences explained? The last chapter covers the same period as chapter five (1915-1949), but is devoted exclusively to eugenics, the pseudo-science of race improvement. The popularity of eugenics in the 1930s reflected anxiety about the nation's racial health: intellectuals were tormented by the idea of racial degeneration in the face of foreign aggression. An epilogue briefly discusses the perception of race after 1949.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:37

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