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Mandarin Brazil


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Contents and AbstractsIntroduction: Circumoceanic Memory: Chinese Racialization in Brazilian Perspective chapter abstract

This chapter lays out the book's main theoretical framework, circumoceanic memory, and discusses the book's methodology for compiling an archive of Chinese racialization. It contextualizes Chinese racialization within the history of slavery's racial regimes. Drawing on critical race and cultural memory studies, it explores how Chinese racialization overlaps with other processes of racialization such as whiteness and blackness. It disentangles racial and eugenic ideology from liberal ideology to examine how discussions about race, free labor, and liberty became coterminous in defining Brazilian national identity as an aspect of an emerging global, racialized national consciousness.

1Brazil's Oriental Past and Future chapter abstract

This chapter investigates the Portuguese conceptual framework regarding China and shows how these perceptions changed during Brazil's colonial period in relation to the trade in Oriental material goods and Asian labor. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the Portuguese empire established a global trade route that linked the economies and cultures of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. This chapter examines multilateral economic and political interests as well as mutual acts of cultural appropriation such as those that occurred in the trade in porcelain, export porcelain, and chinoiserie decor. It explores how the trade in foreign luxury items circulated images and motifs about Asia and Europe to Asian and European consumers alike. This chapter argues that the global trade in foreign luxury goods that also trafficked in human labor played a critical role in shaping racialized ideas about exploitable and disposable labor.

2Emancipation to Immigration chapter abstract

This chapter analyzes the developments that led Chinese laborers to Brazil, through analyzing documents written by late Qing dynasty diplomats and officials who traveled to Brazil to open up Chinese immigration routes. Qing officials used a word for immigration that had a synonymous meaning with colonization (yizhi). Brazil, to them, presented a viable option for both due to its vast territory and inclusive citizenship laws. The chapter discusses late Qing officials' concerns in opening immigration and trade routes between China and Brazil in relation to Brazilian abolitionists' preoccupations with emancipation, national independence, and the new nation's desire to whiten its racial makeup. This chapter also explores the cultural work that illustrations about Qing dynasty officials served, including caricatures of mandarins that appeared in abolitionist print journals.

3Performing Yellowface and Chinese Labor chapter abstract

This chapter examines fin-de-siecle Rio de Janeiro vaudeville and the carnivalesque constructions of yellowface performance. Arthur Azevedo, arguably the most renowned playwright in Brazilian theatrical history, declared that theater was not purely about entertainment; it was also a critical site to deliberate citizenship and nation. Azevedo used the genre of vaudeville to turn Rio de Janeiro into a topsy-turvy world where race, gender, and sexuality were in flux. This chapter maps instances in which the fictional portrayals of mandarins transposed the visits of late Qing officials. These plays used satire as a form of political contestation aimed at divesting from Chinese immigration, which the playwrights portrayed as a new mode of labor colonization. The stage conveyed fears about the perceived threat that Chinese labor would usher in a new era of unfree "yellow" labor and thus impede the road to racial whitening, modernity, abolition, and national independence.

4The Chinese Question in Brazil chapter abstract

This chapter brings together a series of wandering and fragmentary depictions of Chinese laborers in the writings of Machado de Assis and Eca de Queiroz. The vast majority of these chronicles have not been published or translated into English or studied within the context of abolition and Chinese immigration. This chapter provides a comparative reading of these chronicles and essays, paying particular attention to the authors' references to late Qing dynasty officials and Chinese migrants, in order to discuss how Brazilian authors angled literary production to enter into the global Chinese question debate. The authors' writings allow us to observe how shifting perceptions of race influenced new modes of Chinese racialization in Brazil.

5Between Diplomacy and Fiction chapter abstract

This chapter brings together a set of diplomatic and fictional writings by the author/diplomats Eca de Queiroz, Aluisio Azevedo, and Luis Guimaraes Filho. While these authors are celebrated for their contributions to Luso-Brazilian letters, they also all served as diplomats for Portugal or Brazil and participated in debates on Chinese and Japanese immigration. I discuss the constitutive role that their diplomatic poetics played in shaping immigration policy and international relations between Brazil, China, and Japan.

6The Yellow Peril in Brazilian Popular Music chapter abstract

Brazilian popular music production functions as a specific regime of representation and declaration, thereby sharing social, political, and economic realities and playing a critical role in staging new imaginaries of citizenship. Twentieth-century constructions of Chineseness in Brazilian popular music reformulated the pseudoscience of eugenics through creating ideas about "constructive" or "degenerative" miscegenation. Songs about racial mixing with the Chinese were always tied to larger concerns about Brazil's geopolitical alliances during World War II or economic alignments. Lyrics and melodies about the Chinese negotiated ideas about Brazilian national identity and mestico nationalism wherein we can observe how music production that depicted Chinese sexuality and gender in relation to the figure of the mulata are bound to a Brazilian collective memory of slavery and sexual violence, even if the origins of that past are disremembered in national memory.

Conclusion: Imaginative Geographies of Brazil and China chapter abstract

This chapter ties together the main themes of the book regarding Sino-Portuguese trade, the African slave trade, Chinese (Asiatic labor), and Brazilian racial democracy in a twentieth-century context. It analyzes how sociologist Gilberto Freyre (1900-1987) appropriated the imperialist spatial-conceptual framework of the Orient to advance the Brazilian national myth of racial democracy as a way of contesting white supremacist ideology spreading around the world in places like the United States, Europe, and South Africa. Finally, it addresses the topic of the Chinese in Brazil today and concludes with contemporary news stories about the continuing forms of unfree and enslaved Chinese labor in Brazil to show the existence of ongoing modes of Chinese racialization that recapitulate old ideas and cliches in new settings.

About the Author

Ana Paulina Lee is Assistant Professor of Luso-Brazilian Studies at Columbia University.


"Mandarin Brazilis an important contribution to the historiography of postcolonial Brazil that demonstrates the crucial role of representations of the Chinese in the construction of Brazil's national myth of racial democracy. More broadly, Paulina Lee's work is an important piece of the larger scholarship on the circumoceanic memory of exploitative labor and processes of cultural construction of the racial Other."--Thais R. S. de Sant' Ana, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
"Mandarin Brazil is a thought-provoking work of scholarship relevant to a variety of fields: Brazilian history and culture, Asian American studies, migration history, the history of Portuguese imperialism, post-colonial studies, Lusophone literatures, and others....For historians, this work also sheds light on the stimulating possibilities of often-overlooked primary sources, such as songs, in transnational and global history studies." -- Helena Lopes
"A richly textured and meticulously researched study of Chinese racialization in Brazil. Lee elegantly weaves together the 'minor' fragments of Chinese cultural representation to analyze the shifting meanings of Chinese personhood in Brazil against the broader context of global race-making that arose with European colonial expansion and that continued in nation-building projects. A must-read for anyone studying Brazil, Latin America, Chinese diaspora, and Asians in the Americas." -- Lok Siu
"Mandarin Brazil makes major contributions to understanding the politics of Asians and Asianness in the Americas." -- Heidi Tinsman
"I enthusiastically recommend Lee's book as a contribution to Brazilian, Asian, Latin American, Asian American, and Race and Ethnic Studies. Those interested in Performance Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies would also benefit from reading Lee's work. Its careful interweaving of history, politics, and literature from Asia, Europe, and Latin America, which spans five centuries, is meticulously researched and richly conveyed to its readers."--Zelideth Maria Rivas, Transmodernity
"The interpretative force of Ana Paulina Lee's study of aspects of Chineseness and circumoceanic memory, with a spatial focus on Brazil, is a solid and relevant incentive for exponential growth of research that can strengthen Brazil-China relations. Although there are no consistent historical ties that bring the two countries together, and both are still largely unknown to each other, there are still traces (reconstructed, resignified, and reinvented in time) of old representations and old circumoceanic memories that need to be reckoned with." -- Marcelo Mac Cord
"Lee's work is pathbreaking. Mandarin Brazil is required reading for interdisciplinary scholars of Asian migrations in the Americas as well as scholars of Brazilian and Latin American history, and its evocative source base will make the book an attractive option for undergraduate courses in Latin American history, Spanish and Portuguese, and ethnic studies."--Fredy Gonzalez, H-Net
"Mandarin Brazil is an excellent example of the New Latin American Ethnic Studies that has developed over the last decade. Lee's book demonstrates that ideas about immigrants are critical to the formation of Brazilian national identity and that Chinese racialization cannot be separated from broader social, economic, and cultural relations that emerged from a heritage of slavery and an elite desire for 'whiteness.'" -- Jeffrey Lesser
"Mandarin Brazil is an edifying work...Bridging the historical and culture gap between Brazil and Asia, the book weaves together a melange of complex racial and ethnic identities that were instrumental to the development of modern Brazil....[A] great addition to the growing historiography of the Asian-Latino Studies." -- Jian Gao

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