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In Session: Critical Race in Asian Studies I: Taxonomies of Power
2: Rescuing the China-born: Child Welfare and Defining Whiteness on the China Coast
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
This paper considers how treaty-port childhoods in the early twentieth century became a locus for elite discussions about the whiteness of foreign communities. The ‘China-born’ children of European settlers and sojourners, especially those who were ambiguously raced, were considered to be at risk of becoming deracinated, de-raced, and déclassé because of their upbringing in the China coast’s littoral and cosmopolitan milieu. As such, their welfare and political status was a frequent subject of correspondence between charities, British consuls, the Shanghai Municipal Council, schools, and settler children and their families. These discussions help to elucidate the variegated constructions of whiteness in the wider British empire and their specific textures on the imperial periphery.
The familiar tropes of the colonial child at risk and endangered whiteness took on treaty-port hues. In particular, the multi-imperial nature of colonialism and the existence of a large stateless population of ‘foreign’ children, many of whom were members of multi-generational settler families, inflected the articulation of race. While institutions such as the SMC sometimes found it politically expedient to encourage a unifying Shanghailander identity, which cut across racial and national divides, child welfare activities identified specific children whose whiteness was under threat due to their closeness to Chinese caregivers. Lastly, this paper considers how children and young people themselves shaped and sometimes challenged treaty-port constructions of race in their petitions for school admission and British nationality.