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The Discourse of Race in Modern China [Hardcover]

Frank Dikotter
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: £19.95 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

21 Feb 1992
Focusing on the discourse of race in modern China, this study looks at the emergence of racial stereotypes in the 19th century, the gradual formation of a racial discourse at the turn of the century and the emergence, institutionalization and habitualization of racial nationalism in this century.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 251 pages
  • Publisher: C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd (21 Feb 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1850651353
  • ISBN-13: 978-1850651352
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 22.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 833,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By ShiDaDao Ph.D TOP 1000 REVIEWER
At the time of writing this book, the author - Frank Dikotter - was a Postdoctrinal Research Fellow of the British Academy. To date he has written nine books on China, many of them dispelling myths and misunderstandings about this ancient country, both in its modern incarnation and old. This book is very important, as it sheds light on the Chinese cultural construct of the 'other', and the ramifications such an idea has in the broader community of the world. The Communist government of MaoZedong officially outlawed racial discrimination (i.e. Han chauvinism), just after coming to power in 1949.

The paperback (1994) edition contains 251 numbered pages, and is separated into a Preface and seven chapter sections:

1) Race as Culture: Historical Background.
2) Race as Type (1793-1895).
3) Race as Lineage (1895-1903).
4) Race as Nation (1903-1915).
5) Race as Species (1915-1949).
6) Race as Seed (1915-1949).
7) Epilogue: Race as Class (1949-?).

This is a complexed issue. The Times Literary Supplement (in its review of this book) made much of the fact that Anglo-Saxon racial attitudes were proven not to be the only discriminating cultural narratives in existence, and that China has had a notion of race, unique to its own development, free of outside influences. This is not an entirely correct assumption. In fact, Dikotter's research shows clearly how the Chinese contact with Western Racism during the era of imperialism, imparted to the Chinese intelligensia such notions as Social Darwinism, with its mistaken (and utterly disproven) notions of the existence of a racial hierarchy as a biological fact.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The reality of racial hierarchies 13 Sep 2012
Contrary to what a previous reviewer has stated, there is nothing mistaken or 'utterly disproven' about Social Darwinism or the idea of the existence of a racial hierarchy as a biological fact.

John Baker FRS made it quite clear in his 'Race', first published in the 1970s that some races have more primitive features (meaning that they are to be found in sub-human progenitors of modern man) than others.

Social Darwinism may be unfashionable for obvious reasons, but those who deny it must ask themselves why it is that East Asians (Chinese, Koreans, Japanese) invariably excel academically and in other ways in modern societies and are at or near the top of the socio-economic hierarchy in whatever multiracial society they happen to live. The simple and most likely correct answer is that they are simply more intelligent and capable on average than other races.

Indeed their mean IQ has been shown (by Richard Lynn et al)to be 106 (whites 100, south asians and north africans 89, subsaharan blacks 69 (80 by some measures). They are excelled only by the Ashkenazi Jews at 113.

If racial hierarchy is reflected in relative socio-economic success and achievement in cultivating civilisation, then there is plenty of evidence for it.
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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars highly recommended 6 Dec 2013
By YANG Yue - Published on Amazon.com
I genuinely think this is a good book and possibly the best one to start if you are interested in exploring race and racism in China.
11 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Alas, not a good book at all 20 April 2011
By C. Yew - Published on Amazon.com
In sum, this is not a good book, alas. The facts don't cohere, and the author selectively brings up suspect evidence to prove something which might not exist.

Stanford University Press published this text which claimed to be a groundbreaking first study on the "discourse of race" in modern China. Dutch-born Professor Dikötter published it to prove "racism...was not peculiar to a bigoted and ignorant minority in Europe". It is a valid argument of course, except that the "minority" might not be so few in certain nations. As it happens, this was Dikötter's doctoral thesis for the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies.

The problem with this work is that Dikötter views it completely from a Western perspective and ends up reading numerous Chinese references out of context. There were far fewer non-Chinese contacts in ancient China, owing to their geography (Gobi Desert in the West, Himalayas and the South China Sea in the East). Another thing is the use of the word "barbarians", translated from various names like Dongyi. A case can be made for the pinyin man (tone 2) to be translated as "barbarians", but the 121 AD dictionary Shuowen Jiezi defines yi 'as "level; peaceful" or '"people of eastern regions". The Dongyi are associated with archery, and legends say their leader Houyi ''invented the bow (courtesy Wikipedia). The Chinese simply defined yi 'as "people of eastern regions".

There are other ways in which Dikötter seems to take things out of context. Shanhaijing, for everyone who has seen its illustrations, was essentially a book of myths. Dikötter insists using animal radicals meant tribes were seen as "bestial", but ancient animal totems were common, and radicals might just be representative.

Bigotry of course exists in ancient China, as well as xenophobia. But some of Dikötter wrong references are quite glaring. For example, he quotes Zuozhuan (4th century BC), which he translates as "if he is not our race, he is sure to have a different mind." But what did Zuozhuan went on to say? "The Kingdom of Chu may be huge, but it is not our tribe (or kingdom)." So where was the Kingdom of Chu? Right in the middle of Central China, where the Yangtze and the Hwang-Ho are. (See map from Wikipedia) So that "race" should rightly be translated as "tribe".

There are many ancient references that Dikötter skimps or skips over. The ancient misreadings are many. From the Han Dynasty Dikötter skips five hundred years to the Song Dynasty, missing out on the Tang Dynasty, the most cosmopolitan Chinese dynasty. (The famous general rebel An Lushan - of Iranian-Turk ancestry - was a non-Han Chinese; the Emperor Xuanzong made him his godson.) There are counter-arguments too which Dikötter fails to observe. A patriarch of the Chinese, Shennong (ie. Divine Farmer) was described in Wikipedia as "ox-headed, sharp-horned, bronze-foreheaded, and iron-skulled"; and illustrations often depict an ape-like man chewing on plants. But Shennong was one of their most revered "mythic" ancestors. Mozi, one of the respected Chinese philosophers, was dark-skinned. "Kunlunnu", a chuanqi tale from the Tang Dynasty, depicts a noble, highly skilled Negrito slave (he was a slave to repay former debts: the Negrito slave was too highly skilled to be "enslaved".) And then, there's no mention of Silk trade either with foreigners.

The modern references of Chinese "racism" does show bigotry and racism, but more xenophobia. In truth, the Chinese's documentation should be highly influenced by Western accounts in the early 20th century.

Does bigotry, racism and xenophobia exist in China? Of course. They are plenty in the book to note. But a book which purports to report only these doesn't show the other side.
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