Promise Li is an activist and writer from Hong Kong and Los Angeles. He engages in local and transnational political work with grassroots organisations such as Lausan Collective, Internationalism from Below, and Chinatown Community for Equitable Development.

From the ‘Chinese National Character’ Debates of Yesterday to the Anti-China Foreign Policy of Today

Retracing the basic contours of the debates about the ‘Chinese national character’, this essay considers the harkening back to the ‘national character’ discourse of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by many liberal Sinophone dissident scholars in the 1980s and Hong Kong cultural critics in the 2000s as a reaction against decades of class discourse in China. This revival of cultural essentialism has since provided a key ideological register for dissidents, especially those on the frontlines of shaping anti-China foreign policy in the West today, thus limiting the horizon for alternative imaginaries of democratic politics.

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