Black Intellectuals on China: W.E.B Du Bois

“Come to China, Africa, and look around you…China is flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood. China is colored and knows to what the colored skin in this modern world subjects its owner…” – W.E.B. Du Bois

 

W.E.B. Dubois is one of history’s most important Black-American intellectuals. His work was not only beautifully written but also, provided Black-Americans with a new framework for understanding their condition.

the-souls-of-black-folk-essays-and-sketches.jpgThe Souls of Black Folk”, published in 1903, was one of his most striking pieces. In it, Du Bois unravels his theory of “Double Consciousness”; the idea that, because Black-Americans lived in a society that fundamentally repressed and devalued them through discriminatory and racist policies, it was difficult to reconcile “Blackness” with “Americanness”. Thus in his view, Black-American identity was fragmented by the way that Black people perceived themselves and the perspective of the outside world. Going even further, Du Bois believed that U.S. democracy intensified the fragmentation of  “Black Consciousness” in that it disenfranchised and barred Blacks from accessing U.S. politics and could, therefore constitute a true representative democracy.

In his own words, the U.S.’ version of the democracy was “a mockery to representative Democracy and the constitution”. In his search for a socio-political structure that did not willfully exclude racial-equality, Du Bois came to believe that only an anti-colonial and anti-capitalist government could provide the framework for the realization of a true democracy (Bell 2).  His dissatisfaction with the U.S. led him to communicate with other governments led by “oppressed” people from around the world.

It is easy to see how this revelation led him to China. Du Bois was inspired by China’s 1911 revolution and openly supported the notion of an “independent China”.  Du Bois even visited China while it was under Nationalist rule in 1936.

The Black-American leader stayed in Shanghai for a week and was horrified by the blatant mistreatment of Chinese people by European and Japanese imperialists. He felt that the “open displays of racial arrogance and imperialist oppression in Shanghai and Beiping (now Beijing) reminded [him] of Mississippi” (Lewis 2000).

Although Du Bois was unsatisfied with his first visit from China, he was intrigued by Marxism and Socialism and became interested in engaging with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The interest was mutual. In fact, in a February 1949 edition of the People’s Daily, the paper quoted Du Bois’s declaration that Black – Americans engage in “the worldwide struggle between reaction and democracy” ( People’s Daily, 1949).

He then began to write about the CCP’s commitment to anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism, and began to exchange with Chinese scholars.  His years of work and commitment to the CCP culminated to a 1959 visit to China, where Du Bois met with Zhou En Lai, Ding Xi Lin, Chen Yi and Mao Zedong. While there, he spoke at Peking University. In his famous speech, he praised China and drew connections between the black experience and China’s struggle against the imperialism. He stated:

“Come to China, Africa, and look around you…China is flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood. China is colored, and knows to what the colored skin in this modern world subjects its owner…in my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a nigger.”

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Du Bois Speaking at Peking University (1959)

Dubois was well received, in kind, and his efforts and arrival were praised in the Guangming Daily (the national Chinese language newspaper). The excerpt read:

“A leader of the African Americans and leader of the American peace movement. His efforts for the cause of peace made a great impact on American imperialism and the reactionaries that supported the Cold War, and he, therefore, incurred the hatred of the ruling group in the U.S.” (Guangming Daily Feb 1959).

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W.E.B Du Bois and Mao Zedong (1959)

 

Du Bois’ 1959 visit to China would be his last. W.E.B. Du Bois died on August 27,1963. Upon his death, he was honored in China by around 10,000 people who stood in mourning. Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong remembered W.E.B. Du Bois as a friend of China.

 

Additional Reading:  

W.E.B Du Bois and Shirely Graham Du Bois In China

W.E.B. Du Bois And World Revolution: An Interview With Bill V. Mullen

The Souls of Black Folk

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