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Before Belt and Road: The Historical Development of Solidarity Politics in China’s Inter-Asia and Afro-Asia Cultural Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century

Since the early 1950s, the People’s Republic of China has engaged in cultural diplomacy as a strategy to foster international alliances and advance cooperation with foreign countries both within and outside formal diplomatic relations. During the Cold War, such exchange was a crucial avenue for the cultivation of solidarity politics between China and other Asian nations, as well as countries in Africa and Latin America through the Non-Alignment Movement and the related concept of the Third World. Using international dance exchange as a focus of analysis, this study traces the historical development of China’s cultural diplomacy strategies, particularly those within Asia and between Asia and Africa. The study considers how this longer history can inform contemporary understandings of China’s cultural engagements within Asia and Africa, particularly in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative and its related cultural discourses of the New Silk Road. Using a comparative approach that considers the current moment in relation to earlier policies and practices, this study seeks to understand the long-term logic of China’s formulation and projection of cultural imaginaries of inter-Asia and Afro-Asia cooperation in the performing arts. It also seeks to contextualize and evaluate controversial practices of cross-ethnic and cross-racial performance, which have a longstanding and persistent presence in this tradition of inter-Asia and Afro-Asia cultural diplomacy in modern and contemporary China.

Emily Wilcox

Emily Wilcox

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Emily Wilcox is Associate Professor of Chinese Studies in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at William & Mary. Wilcox is a leading scholar of 20th and 21st-century Chinese dance and performance, with broader specializations in PRC history, gender and ethnicity in modern and contemporary China, transnational Chinese diaspora studies, and inter-Asia cultural diplomacy. Wilcox's first book, Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy (University of California Press, 2018) was the recipient of grants from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council and won the 2019 de la Torre Bueno Prize© from the Dance Studies Association. Wilcox is co-editor of Corporeal Politics: Dancing East Asia (University of Michigan Press, 2020), which examines dance and politics in Greater China, Japan, and North and South Korea. She is co-creator of the Pioneers of Chinese Dance Digital Archive and lead faculty collaborator of the University of Michigan Asia LibraryChinese Dance Collection. In 2017, Wilcox co-curated the public-facing exhibition “Chinese Dance: National Movements in a Revolutionary Age, 1945-1965.”