W.E.B. Du Bois: An Encyclopedia

By Gerald Horne; Mary Young | Go to book overview

C

CHINA

Du Bois became fascinated with China and its culture. Having made two trips to China, first in 1936 and again in 1959, he was also able to contrast pre-Communist and post-Communist China. His first visit was coupled with a trip within the Soviet Union. Having expressed very positive comments about the Soviet Union, Du Bois compared China unfavorably to its northern neighbor. While in Shanghai in 1936, he was struck by the large number of foreigners residing in the city. Although commenting on the beauty found there, he was disturbed by the numbers of foreign soldiers patrolling the streets of Shanghai. He was appalled at the way native Chinese were treated in the city and compared their treatment to the discrimination suffered by blacks in Mississippi.

Returning to China for his second visit in 1959 and in defiance of a U.S. State Department prohibition (China was now ruled by Mao Zedong and his Communist regime), he regarded the People's Republic of China as a miracle. Spending approximately eight weeks in the country, he traveled extensively and visited Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Canton, among many other places and cities. He observed rural areas, various smaller villages, and communes. As Du Bois writes in his Autobiography, he had “never seen a nation which so amazed and touched me as China in 1959.” Having read Chinese history in preparation for this trip, Du Bois was appalled at the horrible conditions that the average Chinese had endured for over 2,000 years. He concluded that the slavery African Americans had been subjected to was not as awful as conditions endured by the Chinese. This 1959 journey to China coincided with his ninety-first birthday. Obviously touched by the fact that his birthday was declared a Chinese national holiday, he could not help but point out that the United States ignored the memory of his birthday.

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