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W. E. B. Du Bois on Asia

W. E. B. Du Bois on Asia: Crossing the World Color Line

Bill V. Mullen
Cathryn Watson
Copyright Date: 2005
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    W. E. B. Du Bois on Asia
    Book Description:

    After Japan's defeat of Russia in the 1904 territorial war, W. E. B. Du Bois declared, "The Color Line in civilization has been crossed in modern times as it was in the great past. The awakening of the yellow races is certain. That the awakening of the brown and black races will follow in time, no unprejudiced student of history can doubt."

    Du Bois's lifelong certitude that Asia would play a central role in determining the fates of races, nations, and world systems of power has not until now been made fully available.W. E. B. Du Bois on Asiacaptures in unprecedented detail Du Bois's first-person experiences of and responses to Indian nationalism, the war between China and Japan, the life of Mahatma Gandhi, colonialism in Malaysia and Burma, and the promise of China's Communist Revolution. It also provides critical understanding of Du Bois's obsession with the eternal relationship between Asia and Africa dating from antiquity to the postcolonial era.

    The Du Bois of this collection emerges as a forerunner of postcolonialist thought, a lifelong internationalist, and the most important African American reader of Asia's place in the making of the modern world.

    Bill V. Mullen is professor of English at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is the author ofAfro-Orientalism and Popular Fronts: Chicago and African American Cultural Politics, 1935-1946. Cathryn Watson is a graduate research assistant at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-708-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: Crossing the World Color Line
    (pp. vii-xxviii)

    W. E. B. Du Bois’s lifelong interest in Asia and the vast body of writing he produced on it are both the least understood and the most neglected aspects of his storied intellectual career. From 1903, when he famously pronounced, inSouls of Black Folk, “The problem of the twentieth century will be the problem of the color line,” to his death in exile in Ghana in 1963, Du Bois consistently saw Asia as the fraternal twin to African—and African American—struggle for political freedom and cultural self-preservation. In 1914, on the eve of World War I, Du Bois...

  4. Part I. The Color Line Belts the World

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 1-6)

      Du Bois’s earliest writing on race was significantly imprinted by nineteenth-century raciological thinking. It was also rooted in notions of geography, culture and race. As Wilson Moses has demonstrated, nineteenth-century U.S. race theorists, most notably Edward Wilmont Blyden and Alexander Crummell, conceived of the Afro-Asiatic world of antiquity as a discrete cultural sphere outside of Europe.¹ For Blyden and Crummell, Egypt and North Africa comprised part of the greater ancient Orient. Black culture in antiquity was the distillation of nonwhite and non-European sources. These sources, the apex of a great black civilizational past, had been laid low by modernity, including...

    • India
      (pp. 7-8)

      To most Indians, the problem of American Negroes—of twelve million people swallowed in a great nation, as compared with the more than three hundred millions of India—may seem unimportant. It would be very easy for intelligent Indians to succumb to the widespread propaganda that these Negroes have neither the brains nor ability to take a decisive part in the modern world. On the other hand, American Negroes have long considered that their destiny lay with the American people; that their object was to become full American citizens and eventually lose themselves in the nation by continued intermingling of...

    • Asia in Africa
      (pp. 9-32)

      The connection between Asia and Africa has always been close. There was probably actual land connection in prehistoric times, and the black race appears in both continents in the earliest records, making it doubtful which continent is the point of origin. Certainly the Negroid people of Asia have played a leading part in her history. The blacks of Melanesia have scoured the seas, and Charles Taüber makes them inventors of one of the world’s first written languages: thus “this greatest of all human inventions was made by aborigines whose descendants today rank among the lowest, the proto-Australians.”¹

      The ethnic history...

    • The Color Line Belts the World
      (pp. 33-34)

      We have a way in America of wanting to be “rid” of Problems. It is not so much a desire to reach the best and largest solution as it is to clean the board and start a new game. For instance, most Americans are simply tired and impatient over our most sinister social problem, the Negro. They do not want to solve it, they do not want to understand it, they want simply to be done with it and hear the last of it. Of all possible attitudes this is the most dangerous, because it fails to realize the most...

    • The World Problem of the Color Line
      (pp. 35-36)

      The average American is apt to regard the Negro problem as parochial and temporary: parochial as being largely localized in the Southern United States and temporary as being a passing phase of the slavery problem. On this account he is rather impatient with it. He does not want to discuss or take action because he thinks it but to “leave it to the South” or because he likes to insist that the problem of slavery is closed chapter.

      If such men would look carefully around them however they would see that the Problem of the Color Line in America instead...

    • The Negro and Imperialism
      (pp. 37-47)

      The government of the United Nations according to the proposals made at Dumbarton Oaks will consist of five great powers comprising perhaps five hundred million white and yellow people who will rule the world through a Security Council and have military power to enforce their decision. However, the three hundred and fifty million yellow people represented by China may not for historic reasons be recognized as racial equals and because of present economic disruption may be largely in the power of white nations. The proposal for a racial-equality declaration among nations, once made by Japan before the League of Nations...

    • The American Negro and the Darker World
      (pp. 48-56)

      From the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, the Africans imported to America regarded themselves as temporary settlers destined to return eventually to Africa. Their increasing revolts against the slave system which culminated in the eighteenth century, showed a feeling of close kinship to the motherland and even well into the nineteenth century they called their organizations “African,” as witness the “African Unions” of New York and Newport, and The African Churches of Philadelphia and New York. In the West Indies and South America there was even closer indication of feelings of kinship with Africa and the East.

      The planters’ excuse...

  5. Part II. Darkwater Rising:: Japan and the Color of Imperialism

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 57-64)

      Between 1917 and 1935 Du Bois began a significant reconsideration of the relationship of Asia to the plight of both African Americans and western imperialism. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, what Du Bois later called, with enthusiasm, the Soviet “experiment,” altered Du Bois’s conception of political and racial geography. Whiteness and white nations no longer signified merely western bourgeoisie. The Soviet commitment to national liberation struggle in South Asia offered new hope that British colonialism might be overthrown. India’s satyagraha, or home rule, movement also captivated Du Bois during the 1920s. Lala Rai’s friendship, the work of Indian nationals...

    • The Union of Colour
      (pp. 65-67)

      I have read with interest and substantial agreement Mr. N. S. Subba Rao’s article in the May number ofThe Aryan Path. With most of it, I am in complete agreement, but there is one paragraph in which lurks, as it seems to me, all of the danger which I tried to point out in my original article. Mr. Subba Rao says:

      In the closing years of the nineteenth century, the success of Japan roused the Kaiser to call upon the nations of Europe through a famous cartoon, to unite themselves against the Yellow Peril, and it is just as...

    • The Clash of Colour: Indians and American Negroes
      (pp. 68-73)

      The great difficulty of bringing about understanding, sympathy and co-operation between the Negroes of America and the peoples of India lies in the almost utter lack of knowledge which these two groups of people have of each other.

      First of all, the Negroes, taught in American schools and reading books and articles by American writers, have almost no conception of the history of India. It practically has no place in our curriculum and references to that great past which every Indian knows bring no intelligent comprehension on the part of the Negroes in America.

      On the other hand, the knowledge...

    • Listen, Japan and China
      (pp. 74-74)

      Colossi of Asia and leaders of all colored mankind: for God’s sake stop fighting and get together. Compose your quarrels on any reasonable basis. Unite in self-defense and assume that leadership of distracted mankind to which your four hundred millions of people entitle you.

      Listen to a word from twelve little black millions who live in the midst of western culture and know it: the intervention of the League of Nations bodes ill for you and all colored folk. There are philanthropists and reformers in Europe and American genuinely interested in all mankind. But they do not rule, neither in...

    • Japan and Ethiopia
      (pp. 75-75)

      It is reported, upon how good authority we do now know, that Japan and Ethiopia have entered into an economic treaty by which Japan is to receive 16,000,000 acres for Japanese colonization and Ethiopia is to be repaid by Japanese ingenuity, trade and friendship. If this is true, we shall be extremely pleased. It would be a rapprochement between Asia and Africa which foreshadows closer union between yellow and black people. We have no illusions about the Japanese motives in this matter. They are going to Ethiopia for purposes of profit. At the same time the treatment of Ethiopia by...

    • Man Power
      (pp. 76-77)

      Three things attract white Europe to China: cheap women; cheap child-labor; cheap men. And these same three things, too, attract and build the power of Chinese and Japanese capitalists. Everywhere one sees men doing what machines do in Europe and America: pile-driving, pumping water, acting like beasts of burden, crowding in great masses begging to delve and dig and carry for a pittance. Labor is cheap—dirt cheap—and yet the Chinese babies pour into the world. It is fantastic.

      There are forces and counter-acting efforts. The Koumingtang is a government of one part like Communism in Russia, Hitlerism in...

    • What Japan Has Done
      (pp. 78-82)

      The accomplishment of Japan has been to realize the meaning of European aggression on the darker peoples, to discover the secret of the white man’s power, and then without revolutionary violence is change her whole civilization and attitude toward the world, so as to emerge in the twentieth century the equal in education, technique, health, industry and art of any nation on earth. It was a colossal task. It called for sacrifice of the noblest sort. It called for genius. It called for team work. All this involved cost. It cost freedom and meant severe discipline. It meant severe repression....

    • The Yellow Sea
      (pp. 83-87)

      My last day in Dairen was spent at Port Arthur, and in lecturing. I lectured at 4:30 to about three hundred persons on “Race Segregation,” touching the Negro, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican and southeast European problems. I spoke in English and an interpreter translated. At seven we had a round table and very frank and informing conference. Then in the morning I went down to the great harbor of Dairen. My friend handed me three colored streamers of farewell and, following the beautiful Japanese custom, I and a dozen others held one end while the friends ashore unwound the other ends...

    • China and Japan
      (pp. 88-90)

      I talked so long and said so much about China and Japan a few months ago that I have hesitated to return to the subject. But events have moved swiftly in the East, and we see the forerunners of that great change in the world’s center which is going eventually—not, of course, this decade or this century—but eventually to make Asia the center of the world again, which is its natural place.

      There were premonitions of the present war between China and Japan when I was in Asia last winter. And what we as American Negroes must understand...

    • The Color of Asia
      (pp. 91-98)

      All this, of course, made Mansart eager to visit Russia, that weird land around which all revolutionary hope and fear were swirling, and thence to pass on for a glance at Asia. He had had Russia in mind when he first began this trip, but he had been advised by friends and people whom he had met in America, England and France that perhaps such a trip would not be wise; that Russia was in turmoil and that no one knew just how things were coming out. So he had given up the idea. But he was going to Asia,...

    • A Chronicle of Race Relations [I]
      (pp. 99-110)

      The outcome of the present war is bound to have large effect upon the theory of races and the relations of the larger cultural groups of mankind. This is not inherently involved in the causes of war and its present development. These causes are based on industrial technique, world commerce, colonial imperialism and the severe and increasing competition of the European empires. But bound up with this today and a bitter emotional drive to action, is the racial theory of Adolph Hitler and the German Nationalist Socialist leaders.

      This race theory found its primary motive in Hitler’s youthful fixation against...

  6. Part III. World War II and the Anticolonial Turn

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 111-116)

      Du Bois’s analysis of World War II as a race war, a war of imperial rivalry and colonial subjection, became sharper, angrier, and deeper as the war moved on. So, too, deepened his conviction that events in Asia were central to the alignment and direction of the postwar world. This section opens with two essays written and published in 1942 and 1944, respectively, which demonstrate this movement in Du Bois’s thought. In 1942, Du Bois again used his “A Chronicle of Race Relations” column inPhylonto survey a range of perspectives on the war bound together by a common...

    • A Chronicle of Race Relations [II]
      (pp. 117-127)

      The declared objects of the present World War have changed in essential particulars since the last issue ofPhylon. It looked then as though this might become openly and declaredly a war for racial and cultural equality. Certain statements since then, tend to support this point of view. The greatest single pronouncement was that by Vice-President Henry A. Wallace, May 8, 1942, in which he said with great frankness

      This is a fight between a slave world and a free world. Just as the United States in 1862 could not remain half slave and half free, so in 1942 the...

    • Prospect of a World Without Racial Conflict
      (pp. 128-141)

      It is with great regret that I do not see after this war, or within any reasonable time, the possibility of a world without race conflict; and this is true despite the fact that race conflict is playing a fatal role in the modern world. The supertragedy of this war is the treatment of the Jews in Germany. There has been nothing comparable to this in modern history. Yet its technique and its reasoning have been based upon a race philosophy similar to that which has dominated both Great Britain and the United States in relation to colored people.


    • Nehru
      (pp. 142-144)

      One of the most significant books of the war is the autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru.¹ The book is significant not simply because, with great temperance and command of English, it tells the moving history of a life; but because both that life and the writing of the book are symbolic of the paradox and contradiction of the present world situation. Here is a man of Indian birth and Harrow and Cambridge education, who not only is writing his life in a British jail but has spent a large portion of his working days in such jails; and whose fault in...

    • The Freeing of India
      (pp. 145-153)

      The fifteenth of August deserves to be remembered as the greatest historical date of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This is saying a great deal, when we remember that in the nineteenth century, Napoleon was overthrown, democracy established in England, Negro slaves emancipated in the United States, the German Empire founded, the partition of Africa determined upon, the Russian Revolution carried through, and two world wars fought. Nevertheless, it is true that the fifteenth of August marks an event of even greater significance than any of these; for on that date four hundred million colored folk of Asia were loosed...

    • Gandhi and the American Negroes
      (pp. 154-157)

      Mohandas Gandhi was born nineteen months after my birth. As a school-boy in a small town in the north-eastern part of the United States, I knew little of Asia and the schools taught less. The one tenuous link which bound me to India was skin colour. That was important in America and even in my town, although little was said about it. But I was conscious of being the only brown face in my school and although my dark family had lived in this valley for two hundred years or more, I was early cognizant of a status different from...

    • The Colonial Groups in the Postwar World
      (pp. 158-168)

      In the lectures which I am planning to deliver in Haiti, I want to examine with you the prospective status of the colonial groups in the world after the conclusion of this war and in the organization of peace for the future. You will I am sure bear with my imperfect French in this intricate and difficult task.

      First of all I am deliberately using the word “colonial” in a much broader sense than is usually given it. A colony, strictly speaking, is a country which belongs to another country, forms a part of the mother country’s industrial organization, and...

  7. Part IV. The East Is Red:: Revolutions and Resolutions

    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 169-174)

      The most veiled and contentious aspect of Du Bois’s career is without question his support for Communism. Du Bois’s decision to join the Communist Party of the United States in 1963, encouraged by his wife Shirley Graham, a member before he was, culminated more than seventy years of support for the ideals of socialism. Yet most significantly for this book, Du Bois’s choice to turn Communist pledged specific allegiance to the leadership of Maoist China and other Asian independence struggles which, to Du Bois’s mind, gave the world the most advanced working model of what a colored people’s revolution could...

    • Indonesia
      (pp. 175-177)

      Once I was walking along the streets of the Hague in Holland. I was a young student on my way to Germany and I wanted to see everything and know all about it. I wanted direction to some place, I forget which, and seeing a man near me I asked him. He was an officer in uniform; he looked at me and stiffened a bit, and before giving me any directions he said slowly, in carefully mustered English: “Do you not usually raise your hat when you address an officer?” I told him, “No, I do not.” I might have...

    • Burma
      (pp. 178-180)

      In my New England home, no meal was complete without potatoes. They were called “Irish Potatoes,” and they became an integral part of our food because of Irish immigrants. In Ireland potatoes could grow when little else could and poor peasants lived almost wholly on them; without the potatoes there was no life. So when the potato famine came in 1845 the Irish in droves migrated to America and brought us the potato habit, although perhaps we had some of it before. As potatoes are in New England, so rice is to the South, and especially to Asia and the...

    • Malaya
      (pp. 181-183)

      Not all American Negroes have the thrill which I had when I heard of the fall of Singapore to Japanese arms. I knew that the world had passed a milestone. Singapore was the magnificent playground, brothel and whore-house for the white man in the East. As Kipling remarked jauntily: “There were no ten commandments” in Singapore. The white man was master of the yellow and the world about him. It was a magnificent city of a million people. Eighty steamship lines sent thirty thousand ships a year. There were great banks, modern office buildings and stately government palaces. There were...

    • Will the Great Gandhi Live Again?
      (pp. 184-186)

      The greatest philosopher of our era pointed out the inherent contradictions in many of our universal beliefs; and he sought eventual reconciliation of these paradoxes. We realize this today. Our newly inaugurated President asks the largest expenditure for war in human history made by a nation, and proclaims this as a step toward peace! We have larger endowments devoted to peace activity than any other nation on earth, and less activity for abolishing war.

      As I look back on my own attitude toward war during the last seventy years, I see repeated contradiction. In my youth, nourished as I was...

    • Our Visit to China
      (pp. 187-189)

      I am an American in the sense that I was born in the United States where my forebears have lived for two centuries. We have worked and voted there, paid taxes and served in the armed forces. We have made some contribution to American culture. On the other hand, I am in the fifth generation, an African. In the eighteenth century, a Dutch trader seized my great-great grandfather on the coast of West Africa, transported him to New Amsterdam which is now the state of New York, and sold him as a slave. He gained his freedom by fighting in...

    • The Vast Miracle of China Today: A Report on a Ten-Week Visit to the People’s Republic of China
      (pp. 190-195)

      I have traveled widely on this earth since my first trip to Europe sixty-seven years ago. Save South America and India, I have seen most of the civilized world and much of its backward regions. Many leading nations I have visited repeatedly. But I have never seen a nation which so amazed and touched me as China in 1959.

      I have seen more impressive buildings but no more pleasing architecture; I have seen greater display of wealth, and more massive power; I have seen better equipped railways and boats and vastly more showy automobiles; but I have never seen a...

    • China and Africa
      (pp. 196-201)

      By courtesy of the government of the 680 million people of the Chinese Republic, I am permitted on my ninety-first birthday to speak to the people of China and Africa and through them to the world. Hail, then, and farewell, dwelling places of the yellow and black races. Hail human kind!

      I speak with no authority: no assumption of age nor rank; I hold no position, I have no wealth. One thing alone I own and that is my own soul. Ownership of that I have even while in my own country for near a century I have been nothing...

  8. A Partial Chronology of Asia in the Career of W. E. B. Du Bois
    (pp. 202-202)
  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 203-204)
  10. Index
    (pp. 205-216)