While the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 cast a spotlight on the racial inequalities in the U.S., they also woke up a long-forgotten friendship between the Black Panther Party and the Chinese Communist Party.
Given China’s poor human rights record today, its support for the Black Power movement may seem opportunistic. But a closer look at the mid-20th-century unearths a common cause between Black activists and Chinese leaders on issues of racism.
Both Black Americans and the Chinese had suffered racial subjugation and saw commonality in coming together in the early 1900s.
Solidarity between Black militants and Chinese patriots reached its peak in 1944 during World War II, when the main Allied forces — China, the U.S., Great Britain and Soviet Russia gathered in Washington, D.C. to discuss the foundations of what would become the United Nations. China was the only Big Four member to propose that a racial equity clause be included in the new charter.
Here are some things you need to know about the partnership between the Black Panther Party And China’s Communist Party.
In 1911, when the Qing dynasty collapsed under repeated foreign incursions, Black activists in the U.S. saw commonalities in the experiences of Chinese people, who had also endured racial subjugation under Western imperialism. China’s resistance to colonial rule triggered a fear of a “yellow peril” to white Christendom similar to white anxieties about Black emancipation during Reconstruction.
The collaboration between China and the Black Panther Party happened way before the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power in 1949 and continued until 1978, when China abandoned much of the revolutionary ideology that had previously guided its foreign policy.
Under Chairman Mao Zedong, the party actively supported revolutionary causes beyond its borders. In the 1960s in particular, after the Sino-Soviet split, the party claimed China as the center of a world revolution.
In August 1963, Mao gave a speech denouncing systemic racism against Black people in the U.S. He cast U.S. racism as a result of imperialism, and said the duty of all enlightened revolutionaries around the world was to fight for the “complete emancipation” of Black people in America.
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Though Black Americans did not have their own nation state, the CCP saw it fitting to reach out directly to Black American internationalists who identified with their cause. Black U.S. leaders were a part of the CCP’s internationalist strategy. Leaders such as W.E.B Du Bois, Robert F. Williams, Vicki Garvin, Elaine Brown and Huey P. Newton were close allies of CCP.
On a trip to China in 1971, Black Panther leaders Elaine Brown and Huey Newton met with Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People’s Republic of China. Brown and Newton stood in front of the CCP’s Central Committee, petitioning it to “negotiate with… (then-U.S. president) Nixon for the freedom of the oppressed peoples of the world.”
The petition was formally accepted by Zhou. Newton later revealed that he was offered political asylum while in Beijing, but declined.