Ethnicity, Religion, and Nationalism in China’s Changing Positions during the Cold War

AHA Session 120
Historical Society for Twentieth-Century China 2
Friday, January 5, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Xiaofei Kang, George Washington University
Xiaofei Kang, George Washington University

Session Abstract

In the last few decades, a number of studies categorized as “New Cold War History” have collectively proven that China’s emergence as a revolutionary country created an important connection between the Cold War’s ideological conflict and decolonization throughout Africa and Asia. However, few of these works incorporate a study of China’s position regarding ethnic and religious issues, both internally and abroad. On the one hand, China’s leaders, particularly Mao Zedong, viewed their revolution as an exportable model for movements throughout the Third World that could unify many ethnicities under the banner of anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. On the other hand, in order to secure their borders from foreign imperialist threats and progress towards the perceived necessary process of class struggle, the Chinese Communists pursued a state-building project that aimed to incorporate frontier regions populated by ethnic minorities into a Han Chinese-majority polity, a strategy simultaneously being pursued by its communist allies such as Vietnam. In both domestic and foreign policy, the ethnic policies of the Communists in China could be pragmatic, contradictory, or revolutionary depending on the time period and the context, including the foreign policy context.

This panel will shed new light on two fundamental questions: what was the ethnic experience of the Cold War in China? And how did the Cold War (re)shape China's understanding of ethnic relations in general? Steven Pieragastini will analyze the changing domestic and foreign influences on China’s ethnic and religious policy in the late 1950s. Qingfei Yin will explore the history of Sino-Vietnamese borderlands in the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on the efforts of ethnic minorities to maintain autonomy amidst the state-building projects of the allied Chinese and Vietnamese Communists. Gangzheng She will discuss the changing attitude of China towards the Arab-Israeli conflict from the 1950s through the 1980s, which matched China’s self-perception over the same period, from anti-imperialist revolutionaries, to leaders of global class struggle, and finally as responsible world power. Anran Wang will elucidate the changing depictions and commemoration of colonial-era (1910-1945) Koreans in Manchuria after 1949 by the Chinese Communist government. Xiaofei Kang, Associate Professor at George Washington University, an expert on ethnicity and religion in twentieth century China, will serve as chair and discussant.

By utilizing previously unexamined sources on China’s shifting strategies in its borderlands, as well as Beijing’s changing involvement in ethnic conflicts in the Middle East, this panel will reveal the interaction between Chinese domestic and foreign policies regarding ethnic and religious issues during the Cold War.

See more of: AHA Sessions