In the last 19th Century, when China was its Qing dynasty – the last
dynasty of China before it transformed into a modern nation-state – the
idea of “Yellow Peril” became hegemonic globally. During this time, the
Western imperial powers and the Empire of Japan wanted to make China a
colony. The discourse of Yellow Peril justified this colonial desire
perfectly. From the Orient in the Far East that kept luring the Western
conquerors and travelers to go on their quests to the wick Yellow Peril,
China’s image in the imperialists’ eyes transfigured from being
civilized and cultured to being stagnant in progress. Chinese were seen
as child-like, mad, monkey-like lesser men. They were understood as
superstitious and having no knowledge about modern science. They are
also portrayed as ontologically submissive and obedient, who need the
Chinese Emperor’s guidance. (Then why not following the guidance of the
Western imperial powers, the authorities of “the world”?) With the
global migration of the indentured laborer as new legal slavery after
the abolition of African slavery, which is also called the coolie
migration, Chinese were described as cheap, dirty parasites
contaminating the modern societies. “Yellow Peril” is without a doubt a
term of racialization and dehumanization.
Along with the territorial occupation and economic control, coloniality is necessarily carried out with the colonization of the mind that makes the colonized believe that they are really less human, less civilized, less evolved, less modernized, with the standards of “human”, “civilization”, “evolution”, “modern” all limitedly and overrepresentedly defined. Similar to the mimicry experience of Fanon and Cassius, Chinese took on the path of building modern Chinese citizens who are also qualified as modern global citizens. In order to join the global society, modern Chinese citizens also needed a modern state of China as their national representative.
This path of modernization caused Chinese a very serious trauma. With the arrival of the Cold War, China split into two: Nationalist China on Taiwan, which is known as the Republic of China, and Communist China on the mainland, which is known as People’s Republic of China, the “official” China in today’s global society. These two China held on two different trajectories of modernization. While the Republic of China was in complicity with the imperial United States in importing the capitalist system, which became one of US military bases, Communist China was in complicit with the Soviet Russian in the name of seeking the solidarity of global working-class revolutionaries and the Third-World newly-independent decolonized states. The competition of two Chinas has been erasing the voices and lives of difference. Both sides accused those people who do not modernize “in the correct way.” While capitalist China murdered many people who were labeled as communists, the communist China “corrected”, “re-educated”, and imprisoned many people who were bourgeois class or elites.
The traumatic experiences of modernization have been haunting Chinese in the mainland and overseas. It is very often to see this trauma being represented, whether implicitly or explicitly, in Chinese literature and films. For The Three-Body Problem, a science fiction published very recently, the trauma of modernization has not yet left. This trauma that accompanied China’s modern history leads to a series of reflections in The Three-Body Problem: What does it mean to be human? As Chinese have been resisting the power of the overrepresented Man, they did many things that are definitely no less cruel than the overrepresented Man. In this sense, are they still qualified to be human? Does it mean that human beings are universally bad? If human beings are universally vicious and selfish, can they still save themselves, or should they be saved by an apocalyptic, dystopian destroyer external to the human society? What kind of human beings should be saved, while others are destroyed? What about the plants, animals, and other non-human things? How would they survive? …… While the questions like these can be raised for much more, what we are sure for now is that The Three-Body Problem is written from the perspective of a colonized/racialized/dehumanized subject who wants to become human. Thus, when these questions are raised, the terms such as “human race”, “nature”, and “science” are always already automatically in quotation marks. “Science fiction” as a literary genre is so as well with the ironic fact that The Three-Body Problem is a story told by the yellow peril that does not have the human ability to handle science.
It is a good moment for us to rethink the linear thinking of the time that I mentioned in one of the lectures before. I will deepen the explanation of this thinking with history I briefly told above. The linear thinking of time is a fictional colonial construction that justifies modernity and coloniality in the name of scientific, biological truth.
Premodern —————-> Modern —————-> Post-modern/Globalization —————-> Future/Post-human
(animal, Black as the missing link) —> (the overrepresented Men) ——> (the overrepresented Man+ the mimicking man) —————> (alien, machine, cyborg, AI)
With the linear thinking of the time, human beings were evaluated on the same scale. The human subjects are only different in the sense of time that only allows evolution and degeneration. The difference between worldviews and relationalities are invisiblized. The linear thinking of time leads to the logic of development and dependency. During the Cold-War, the world was categorized into the First, Second, and Third world. (And a new term, the Fourth world, came into form in last two decades to denote the global indigeneity.) After the end of the Cold-War, the world was re-categorized into Global North and Global South. Some thinkers categorize the world into the cores and peripheries. All these categorizations are aware of the problem of the linear thinking of time but cannot successfully undo it. The developmentalist vision rejects the co-existence and co-evalness of difference, even though it sometimes decorate itself with the depoliticized multiculturalism and cultural diversity. The only logic is to catch up in the sense of time. You are either more modernized and therefore more human or backward and less human. We can see that The Three-Body Problem cannot easily get away with the developmentalist thought because of the traumas of revolutions. How do we complicate our reading of this novel with a critical yet coalitional and sympathetic vision?