Imagined Networks: China, America and the Pacific 1960s

This paper will explore the imagined connections between Chinese students participating in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and radical African American and Chinese American groups that emerged during the 1960s. Despite numerous studies that have been published investigated the transnational dimensions of the global 1960s, most scholars have focused their analysis on connections in Europe or the Atlantic world, neglecting the Pacific as a milieu of radical contact.

This paper focuses more on imagined networks instead of actual contact among groups in China and the United States, investigating the ways in which each movement co-opted their Pacific counterpart into their own radical agenda. The result was often a misunderstanding of each respective movement, resulting in a triangular imagination between Chinese students, African Americans and Chinese Americans that rarely reflected reality. Race also played a factor in this imaginative process; radical groups in the United States believed Maoism was the key to racial justice and were often attracted to Mao’s Third World appeal, while also lauding the Cultural Revolution as the highest achievement of international Leftism. Chinese students, meanwhile, used racism in the United States as a means to demonstrate America’s continued imperialist tendencies. Each group therefore relied not only on internal semiotic codes and group ideologies based on the nation-state to compose their respective identities, but also on the imagination of international networks. The result was a vibrant imaginative process that traversed the Pacific, internationalized the Cultural Revolution, and increased the pitch and ferocity of the radicalism in the 1960s.