The Chinese in the Initiation of America's Pan-Indianism

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author: Tao Zhang 1
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  • 1 Peking University, China
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Despite some scholarly attention, the Native-American–Chinese association is mainly studied from the White perspective. One may get the impression that connections between the two similarly marginalized groups are either imagined or promoted by Whites for their own benefit. But, as a matter of fact, American Indians, joined by their White friends, did initiate associations with the Chinese out of their own racial considerations. One case in point is Pan-Indians’ reference to the Chinese in the process of forging a united and unique identity for the Indian race at the turn of the twentieth century. With those allusions, Native Americans were constructed into a group that was exceptional and progressive, benevolent and cosmopolitan—in short, a group that Whites should accept and respect as fellow Americans. Passively involved in proving Indians’ eligibility for American nationality, the Chinese emerged as racialized but less repugnant than they had been in Whites’ racist depictions. Pan-Indians’ citation of the Chinese thus registers the caution with which they navigated the constraints imposed by American racism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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