Eurasian Hybridity in Chinese Utopian Visions: From “One World” to “A Society Based on Beauty” and Beyond

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2012-12-02 03:24Z by Steven

Eurasian Hybridity in Chinese Utopian Visions: From “One World” to “A Society Based on Beauty” and Beyond

positions: east asia cultures critique
Volume 14, Number 1, Spring 2006
pages 131-163

Emma Jinhua Teng, T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations; Associate Professor of Chinese Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 “Can Mixed-Blood Hybrids Really Improve the Chinese Race?” This provocative question appeared in in August 2001. Columnist and on-line pundit Shangguan Tianyi began his essay by contrasting the racialist thinking of the past with contemporary attitudes:

In the past, the German Nazis promoted the idea of Aryan superiority on the basis of the notion of racial purity…. Ironically, nowadays there are people who are taking an avid interest in racial intermixing and hybridity as a means of improving the Chinese race [Zhongguo renzhong], and of producing a more intelligent new generation….decades after [the Nazi era], the mixed-blood hybrid has unexpectedly become a figure of admiration…. In concrete terms, are we talking about interbreeding with Blacks, American Indians, Australian Aborigines or Pacific Islanders? The answer in each case is, no. Essentially, the scope of intermixing is limited to Whites, preferably Americans.

Shangguan then proceeded, in equally inflammatory terms, to critique what he identifies as a new interest in intermarriage as a tool for genetically reengineering the Chinese race and the fetishization of Eurasians as the breed of choice. This fascination is readily apparent in the Chinese media, particularly the entertainment industry where Eurasian models, actors, and athletes have become hot commodities, purported to be not only exceptionally beautiful and physically superior, but also more intelligent. Declaring this type of “blind faith” in Eurasian physical and mental superiority absurd, Shangguan asserts that only a geneticist in a lab could create the ideal child.

Shangguan’s (rather cantankerous) critique stands in sharp contrast to the celebratory discourses on hybridity current in both postcolonial studies and the emerging field of multiracial studies. The theoretical concept of hybridity as a metaphor for the new transcultural forms produced by the colonizer/colonized relation has become fashionable in academic circles since the late 1980s, thanks, among others, to the influential work of Homi Bhabha. Indeed, hybridity has become one of the most widely employed (and hotly disputed) concepts in postcolonial studies, and is frequently cited as a defining characteristic of “the postcolonial condition.” For example, the editors of The Post-Colonial Studies Reader write: “Hybridity and the power it releases may well be seen to be the characteristic feature and contribution of the post-colonial, allowing a means of evading the replication of the binary categories of the past and developing new anti-monolithic models of cultural exchange and growth.”

Whereas within postcolonial studies hybridity is largely conceptualized in cultural or discursive terms, multiracial studies concerns itself with hybridity in racial or bodily terms. Multiracial studies has emerged over the past decade in tandem with the growth of a multiracial movement in the United States, and related movements in Britain and elsewhere, dedicating itself to the analysis of the “multiracial experience” and “multiracial identity.” Largely due to its association with multiracial activism, multiracial studies tends to construct racial intermixing as a socially progressive and liberal phenomenon. As in postcolonial theory, hybridity is treated as a disruptive or destabilizing force, with mixed-race identity promising to break down racial boundaries and bring an end to racism, which is equated with the ideology of racial purity. As one of the leading voices of this emergent field, Maria Root, asserts: “The presence of racially mixed persons defies the social order predicated upon race, blurs racial and ethnic group boundaries, and challenges generally accepted proscriptions and prescriptions regarding intergroup relations. Furthermore, and perhaps most threatening, the existence of racially mixed persons challenges long-held notions about the biological, moral, and social meaning of race.” Hybridity, then, seemingly holds the promise of moving us beyond the old identity politics of white and black, colonizer and colonized, toward a boundaryless future where indeterminacy…

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“A Problem for Which There Is No Solution”: Eurasians and the Specter of Degeneration in New York’s Chinatown

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, History, Media Archive, United States on 2012-10-21 19:10Z by Steven

“A Problem for Which There Is No Solution”: Eurasians and the Specter of Degeneration in New York’s Chinatown

Journal of Asian American Studies
Volume 15, Number 3, October 2012
pages 271-298
DOI: 10.1353/jaas.2012.0022

Emma J. Teng, T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations; Associate Professor of Chinese Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In 1898, journalist Louis J. Beck offered the reading public what he saw as a valuable case study in “heredity and racial traits and tendencies.” This case study was none other than the infamous “half-breed” criminal George Washington Appo (1856–1930), whose name was virtually a household word for New Yorkers of the time. Born to an Irish mother and the “Chinese devil man” Quimbo Appo, a notorious criminal in his own right, George Appo was a preeminent celebrity criminal of the 1890s. A notorious pickpocket and “green-goods man,” George was catapulted to national fame after appearing as a star witness in the dramatic Lexow Committee investigation that brought down New York’s Tammany Hall. Taking sensationalism to a new level, the “king of confidence men,” as the Boston Globe called him, had even appeared on the stage, playing himself in George Lederer’s theatrical melodrama In the Tenderloin to national acclaim. To cap it all off, the World voted Appo among “The People Who Made the History of 1894.”

But Beck was not much interested in the details of New York police corruption, nor in the new low point to which American theater had sunk: his true concern was the Chinese Question. Beck was the author of New York’s Chinatown: An Historical Presentation of Its People and Places, published by the Bohemia Publishing Company in 1898. Part tourist guidebook, part amateur ethnography, part muckraking exposé, this amply illustrated volume was the first full-length book on New York’s Chinese Quarter, and would in time become a frequently quoted source for Chinatown history. Beck promised his audience that his book would shed light on the vexed Chinese Question by presenting the city’s Chinese residents through the unbiased lens of the reporter. At the heart of the Chinese Question was this—could the Chinese in time become assimilated, and patriotic, American citizens, or did their “racial traits” render this impossible, warranting their exclusion from the nation? Beck offered George Appo’s biography as food for thought:

George Appo was born in New York City, July 4, 1858 [sic], and is therefore an American citizen, and should be a patriotic one, but he is not. His father was a full-blooded Chinaman and his mother an Irishwoman. He was an exceedingly bright child, beautiful to look upon, sharp-witted and quick of comprehension. For ten years he was the pet of the neighborhood where his parents dwelt. . . . At the age of ten he became a pickpocket.

Beck’s decision to dedicate an entire chapter to the celebrity criminal stemmed from his conviction that this “noted Chinese character” was “well worth investigating,” not only for the light his story shed on the operation of the green-goods business, but, more important, “because he is the first one of the new hybrid brood” to gain public attention. As such, Beck argued, “The question which naturally presents itself to the thinker is: ‘What part will the rest of his tribe take in our national development?’”

It was a question that was on the minds of many journalists, social reformers, travelers, and others as they toured America’s Chinatowns and saw growing numbers of “half-castes” on the streets and in doorways. Indeed, by the late nineteenth century, such “mixed” children could be found virtually wherever Chinese immigrants had settled across the country. When pioneering Chinese American journalist Wong Chin Foo reported on the New York Chinese for the Cosmopolitan in 1888, he asserted that there were over a hundred “half-breed” Chinese children in that city alone. Although their absolute numbers were small, their anomalous looks drew attention and aroused curiosity. Observers attached a special significance to these children that went beyond their numbers. For many, they represented the future shape of the Chinese American population, for better or worse. Some regarded these “hybrids” as living specimens that offered a chance to see firsthand the…

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Naming the Subject: Recovering “Euro-Asian” History

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2010-12-20 23:11Z by Steven

Naming the Subject: Recovering “Euro-Asian” History

Journal of Women’s History
Volume 22, Number 4, Winter 2010
pages 257-262
E-ISSN: 1527-2036, Print ISSN: 1042-7961

Emma J. Teng, T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations; Associate Professor of Chinese Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The historic election of Barack Obama as America’s first biracial president has drawn attention once again to a phenomenon that has been gathering momentum since the 1990s: that is, the movement among so-called “multiracial” or “mixed-race” people for recognition, both political and cultural. Although the American media has mostly focused on the multiracial movement in the US, this push for recognition actually has global dimensions. Kumari Jayawardena’s Erasure of the Euro-Asian: Recovering Early Radicalism and Feminism in South Asia is among the latest in a spate of books published in Asia that seeks to restore those of Asian/European ancestry to the historical record, including Michael Roberts, et al., People Inbetween: The Burghers and the Middle Class in the Transformation within Sri Lanka (1989), Myrna Braga-Blake’s Singapore Eurasians—Memories and Hopes (1992), and Vicki Lee’s Being Eurasian: Memories across Racial Divides (2004).  In fact, if Paul Spickard identified a “biracial biography boom” in the US during the 1990s, we seem to be currently in the midst of a “Eurasian publishing boom” that spans the globe from Asia, to Australia, Europe, and the US.  This publishing trend includes not only academic books like Jayawardena’s, but also memoirs, family biographies/genealogies, dictionaries, musical CDs, and even cookbooks.  It further includes projects such as the Anglo Indian Heritage Books series, which reprints classic works such as H.A. Stark’s Hostages to India (1926) and Cedric Dover’s Cimmerii?: or Eurasians and Their Future (1929).

What does Jayawardena’s book add to the mix? Although South Asian studies is beyond my own field, I can say…

Read or purchase the article here.

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