汉奸 — notes on China’s gendered racism (and it lives just like gendered racism in the United States)

The bloggers at 乌有之乡 continue to push neo-Maoism to its logical extremes. Today, Feb 21, one of the hotter posts is 今日汉奸知多少. The keyword here is 汉奸, which can be translated as “traitor to one’s country”, but literally refers to “a person who betrays the Han people (背叛汉族的人).” Thus, the article title, which clumsily (albeit patriotically) alludes to Meng Haoran’s poem (春晓), might be literally translated as “Who Knows How Many Are Betraying the Han People Today? as well as figuratively as “Who Knows How Many Are Betraying China Today?”

The slippage between betraying the Han people and betraying the Chinese people is a key difference in contemporary critiques of what’s wrong with Mainland society, reminding us that racism continues to shape these debates. It bears mentioning that 汉奸 debates are eerily similar to White supremacist concerns with race traitors because yes, the talk gets just as ugly just as quickly and yes, the loudest voices in the debates are also men who embody an ideal racial type.

For example, Mu Chuan identifies those who are not only corrupt, but like Guo Jingyi whose corruption leads to the transfer of Chinese resources to foreign multinationals as being Han traitors. This seems rather straightforward enough. However, Mu Chuan also accuses intellectuals like Xiao Han (萧瀚), a lawyer and proponent of making Chinese legal system more democratic as being 汉奸. 

Xiao Han wrote a post 给不可能的孩子的信 (Letter to the Child that Can’t Be). In his classification of cultural race traitors, Mu Chuan takes particular exception to Xiao Han’s claim that:

Daddy is ashamed to be Chinese, as anyone who has read Daddy’s essays already knows. This isn’t a topic that needs to be avoided. I’ve already been cursed for it countless times, so it doesn’t matter if the number increases. Daddy thinks that China is a contemptible race. I’ve written about this in many essays and don’t want to repeat myself. But Daddy belongs to this race. Daddy doesn’t understand why so many people are proud of the fact that they are slaves. Daddy values facts and reason. At his age, he’s not easily intimidated by ridiculous propaganda or ridiculously baseless clan pride into denying the facts.


Here the racialized gender of the PRC becomes salient. Consider the meaning of 汉奸. The overlap between Han ethnicity and the Chinese state is one of the legacies of colonialism (anti-Western), the corruption of the late Qing (attributed to their being Manchurians and not Han), and the War against Japan (yes, anti-Japanese). It also means that pro-Tibet Han Chinese can be accused of being 汉奸 and ruthlessly harassed as in the Wang Qianyuan incident (藏独与汉奸). Of note, ethnic minorities can’t be 汉奸, but thus are always suspect of not being completely loyal to the nation.

What’s more, the expression 汉奸 is militantly masculinist in its associations — 汉 means “man” as in the line 不到长城非好汉 (Whoever doesn’t reach the Great Wall isn’t a true man) from Mao Zedong’s 1935 poem 清平乐。六盘山 (Mt Liupan, sung to the tune of Qing Ping Yue). The masculinity of the phrase becomes explicit when we remember that 奸 means to defile or rape as in 强奸 (forced defilement), begging the question, Does Mu Chuan think that Xiao Han is a race traitor because he won’t impregnate his wife?

In 1966, Yu Luoke (遇罗克) was put to death for the crime of noting that the feudal tradition of bloodline theory (血统论) informed Maoist designations of good and bad family backgrounds because it was held that social position and political stance was inherited. Especially during the Cultural Revolution, people with peasant blood would be promoted, while people with capitalist blood would not. In addition, people with bad backgrounds were the targets of brutal campaigns. Both Mu Chuan and Xiao Han would agree that Yu Luoke’s critique in 出生论 applies to the Princeling Party (see for example 文革“血统论”与太子党掌权) because Princelings have grabbed the most important positions in the Party, government, and military on the basis of their Red Blood.

Here’s my point, although Mu Chuan uses Han / race traitor to talk about what’s wrong with China and Xiao Han consistently uses the expression Person of China (中国人), nevertheless, they both speak to their audience through  racial or clan logic. Mu Chuan is explicitly racist. Xiao Han is more discrete, but nevertheless speaks as a father in a failed clan (氏族). Here the characters are again instructive — 氏 means “family name” and 族 means race. Thus, Chinese debates on how to create a more progressive society get once again snared in the lexicon of race and bloodlines, which in turn take popular form in questions of paternity. Now, tell me that phallacy [because I couldn’t the pun] doesn’t sound like what’s wrong with current US electorial debates, where your stand on the question of abortion becomes the mismeasure of your patriotism.

3 thoughts on “汉奸 — notes on China’s gendered racism (and it lives just like gendered racism in the United States)

  1. Pingback: China Rages as Hong Kong Democracy Figures Speak to U.S. Commission - Foreign Policy Blogs

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