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Race and Racism in Asia


Racial concepts, as well as racism, existed in Asia prior to the arrival of the West. Here, the temptation may be to assert that such an argument ignores the peculiarities of indigenous systems of conceptualization. But an overemphasis on the actual English words is misleading. These concepts need not be so static and narrowly defined that they cannot encompass commonalities across cultures. Nor does a focus on commonalities necessarily ignore the particularities of these societies. To argue that there were racial and racialist elements in Indian, Chinese, or Japanese thought and behavior is not the same thing as reducing those concepts to only those qualities.

And yet, clearly, the arrival of the Western concepts did uniquely impact Asian thought and behavior. Some of this clearly victimized the Asians—who had to face Western racism and seek ways to counter it. Moreover, as in the example of the British in India, Western colonialism could exacerbate and solidify social divisions that had existed previously in more fluid form. In these cases, the agents were Westerners.

However, indigenous individuals also incorporated Western notions into their analysis and used them to construct arguments—against notions of Western superiority, as they nurtured nationalism, as they defended caste interests, or as they criticized the dominant system. A narrow definition of racism that pinpoints only the Western impact on the non-Western world would result in a skewed portrayal of "the West" as peculiarly imbued with a malady. It also denies non-Western individuals and societies agency and responsibility.


Anderson, Michael R., and Sumit Guha, eds. Changing Concepts of Rights and Justice in South Asia. Calcutta and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Covers broad chronological time span but usefully focuses on the theme of rights and justice.

Bulmer, Marton, and John Solomos, eds. Ethnic and Racial Studies Today. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.

Burkhardt, William R. "Institutional Barriers, Marginality, and Adaptation Among the American-Japanese Mixed Bloods in Japan." The Journal of Asian Studies 42, no. 3 (1983): 519–544.

Dikotter, Frank. The Discourse of Race in Modern China. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992.

——, ed. The Construction of Racial Identities in China and Japan: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

Eberhard, Wolfram. China's Minorities: Yesterday and Today. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1982.

Figueira, Dorothy M. Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity. Albany: State University of New York, 2002. A fascinating comparison of the changing uses of the Vedic texts in both Europe and India.

Garcia, Jose L. "Current Conceptions of Racism: A Critical Examination of Some Recent Social Philosophy." Journal of Social Philosophy 28, no. 2 (fall 1997): 5–42.

——."The Heart of Racism." Journal of Social Philosophy 27, no. 1 (spring 1996): 5–45. Particularly helpful in comparing different definitions.

Goldberg, David Theo, ed. Anatomy of Racism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990. Useful for definitions of racism.

Goldberg, David Theo, and John Solomos, eds. A Companion to Racial and Ethnic Studies. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2002.

Goodman, David G., and Masanori Miyazawa. Jews in the Japanese Mind: The History and Uses of a Cultural Stereotype. New York: The Free Press, 1995.

Guha, Sumit. Environment and Ethnicity in India, 1200–1991. London: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Howell, David L. "Ainu Ethnicity and the Boundaries of the Early Modern Japanese State." Past and Present 142 (1994): 69–93.

——."Ethnicity and Culture in Contemporary Japan." Journal of Contemporary History 31, no. 1 (1996): 171–190. For background to issues of ethnicity during the Tokugawa vis-à-vis the Ainu.

Kotani, H., ed. Caste System, Untouchability, and the Depressed. New Delhi, India: Manohar, 1997. For a study of the caste system that conveniently gives brief snapshots looking at early India, under the British, and after independence.

Kurien, Prema A. Kaleidoscopic Ethnicity: International Migration and the Reconstruction of Community Identities in India. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Chapter 3, "Colonialism and Ethnogenesis," looks at how British policies invited Indian responses that solidified caste relations.

Miles, Robert, and Malcolm Brown. Racism: Second Edition. London and New York: Routledge, 2003. A useful introduction to the field.

Neary, Ian. Political Protest and Social Control in Pre-War Japan: The Origins of Buraku Liberation. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, 1989. For work on the treatment of the burakumin.

Pusey, James Reeve. China and Charles Darwin. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983. Directly addresses the impact of Darwinism on China.

Rao, R. Sangeetha. Caste System in India: Myth and Reality. New Delhi: India Publishers and Distributors, 1989.

Red Sun Publishers. China's Minority Nationalities: Selected Articles from Chinese Sources. San Francisco: Red Sun Publishers, 1977. For an interesting glance at idealized PRC presentation of their views on the matter during the Maoist era.

Sautman, Barry. "Anti-Black Racism in Post-Mao China." The China Quarterly 138 (June 1994): 413–437.

Singh, Virendra Prakash, ed., Caste System and Social Change. New Delhi: Commonwealth Publishers, 1992.

Sinha, Sachchidanand. Caste System: Myths, Reality, Challenge. New Delhi, India: Intellectual Publishing House, 1982.

Sullivan, Michael. "The 1988–89 Nanjing Anti-African Protests: Racial Nationalism or National Racism?" The China Quarterly 138 (June 1994): 438–457.

Thapar, Romila. Cultural Pasts: Essays in Early Indian History. New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press, 2000. For in-depth studies on various aspects of earlier Indian history.

Weiner, Michael, ed. Japan's Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity. London and New York: Routledge, 1997. A helpful book that presents issues edited by a leading contributor in the field.

——. The Origins of the Korean Community in Japan, 1910–1923. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, 1989.

——. Race and Migration in Imperial Japan. New York and London: Routledge, 1994.

Genzo Yamamoto

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