Past Event

Book Talk for "The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics"

April 8, 2024
8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
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Time: April 8, 2024, 8PM-9PM (New York) | April 9, 2024, 8AM-9AM (Beijing)

Location: Zoom

Language: English

Columbia Global Centers | Beijing and Columbia University Asian Faculty Association (CUAFA) cordially invite you to an exclusive book talk event featuring Professor Mae M. Ngai and her acclaimed book, The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics, a groundbreaking exploration of the Chinese diaspora and its profound impact on global politics during the gold rush era.

The event will feature a presentation by Professor Ngai on the key themes and discoveries of her research, followed by an interactive live Q&A session where attendees will have the chance to engage with her on the book's insights and implications.

This special gathering is part of the Beijing Center's Understanding China in Comparative Perspective Series and also celebrates Professor Ngai's remarkable achievements, highlighted by her receiving the 2024 CUAFA Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award.


About the Book
The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics

In roughly five decades, between 1848 and 1899, more gold was removed from the earth than had been mined in the 3,000 preceding years, bringing untold wealth to individuals and nations. But friction between Chinese and white settlers on the goldfields of California, Australia, and South Africa catalyzed a global battle over “the Chinese Question”: would the United States and the British Empire outlaw Chinese immigration?

This distinguished history of the Chinese diaspora and global capitalism chronicles how a feverish alchemy of race and money brought Chinese people to the West and reshaped the nineteenth-century world. Drawing on ten years of research across five continents, prize-winning historian Mae Ngai narrates the story of the thousands of Chinese who left their homeland in pursuit of gold, and how they formed communities and organizations to help navigate their perilous new world. Out of their encounters with whites, and the emigrants’ assertion of autonomy and humanity, arose the pernicious western myth of the “coolie” laborer, a racist stereotype used to drive anti-Chinese sentiment.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the United States and the British Empire had answered “the Chinese Question” with laws that excluded Chinese people from immigration and citizenship. Ngai explains how this happened and argues that Chinese exclusion was not extraneous to the emergent global economy but an integral part of it. The Chinese Question masterfully links important themes in world history and economics, from Europe’s subjugation of China to the rise of the international gold standard and the invention of racist, anti-Chinese stereotypes that persist to this day.


About the Author
Mae M. Ngai

Mae M. Ngai is Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and Professor of History, and Codirector of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (2018-2023) at Columbia University. She received her PhD from Columbia in 1998 and taught at the University of Chicago before returning to Columbia in 2007. She is a U.S. legal and political historian interested in questions of immigration, citizenship, and nationalism. Ngai is author of the award-winning Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America )2004); The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America (2010); The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics (2021), which won the 2022 Bancroft Prize and was a finalist for the LA Times book prize in history and shortlisted for the Cundill Prize; and is editor of Corky Lee’s Asian America: Fifty Years of Photographic Justice (2024).

Ngai is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Antiquarian Society, and the Society of American Historians. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Radcliffe Fellow, and a Kluge Chair at the Library of Congress, and also has received fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the NY Public Library, and the Russell Sage Foundation, among others. She has written on immigration history and policy for the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic, and the Nation. Before becoming a historian she was a labor-union organizer and educator in New York City. She is now writing Nation of Immigrants: A Short History of an Idea.