Move over Obama

Hot on the heels of some discussion of racial attitudes in Asia, “China has called up its first black athlete”: Ding Hui, whose mother in Chinese and whose father is from South Africa, has “joined the national volleyball team”: Just as Americans think they have ‘ended race’ by reinforcing racial classification so strongly that a kid with parents from Kenya and Kansas raised in Manoa and Indonesia gets labelled as ‘black’ (and elected as president), so too the head coach of the National Youth Volleyball team, Zhou Jian’an, says “We pick players for their ability and to meet the needs of the team as a whole… He’s no different from the other players. They are all Chinese.” The head coach of his league volleyball team also notes: “He’s also a great singer and dancer.” The Telegraph reports that “On Chinese internet forums, he has been lauded for the ‘whiteness’ of his teeth and the ‘athleticism of his genes’.”

All of which is to say that inverting the moral valuation of different forms of racial classification is not the same thing as dismantling the system of classification itself.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

3 thoughts on “Move over Obama

  1. I wonder, too, how much the coach’s words reflect the official position of the Chinese state. I’m reminded of the offical Mexican position, that “we are all Mestizos” — which is used to minimize the claims of ethnic autonomy and self-determination of indigenous people in Chiapas and Oaxaca, for example.

  2. Officially, all of the 56 recognized ethnicities in China are equal and all are seen as Chinese, but not Han Chinese.

    Ethnic autonomy is also official recongnized by the national government within the autonomus regions, cities and counties. Self-determination is right out though.

    As with everything in China, this official recognition might mean nothing at the provincial or lower levels of government.

  3. Reminds me of a conversation I had in China once.
    “I like Jews, Jews are really smart. Don’t you think so?”
    “I don’t really think you can say that.”
    “Why, do you think Jews are stupid?”

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