Historian Andrew Liu on COVID origins: Orientalism and the “Asiatic racial form”


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This week on Sinica, Kaiser chats with Villanova University historian Andrew Liu. Andy published an excellent essay in n+1 magazine in April that captured how the eclipse of the “wet-market” theory of COVID origins and its replacement by the “lab-leak” theory illustrates how an old racial form — “Orientalism,” which sees countries of Asia as backward, dirty, and barbarous — gave way to what’s been termed an “Asiatic” racial form, which reflects anxiety over Asians as hyperproductive, robotic, and technologically advanced.

3:05 – Andy’s n+1 essay on the lab leak theory and the two racial forms

6:26 – A primer on Edward Said’s Orientalism and why it’s a poor fit for Asia today

10:41 – The “Asiatic racial form” and the notionally “positive” Asian stereotypes

13:58 – How Orientalism and the Asiatic racial form interact today and historically

23:50 – Conspiracies on China, and what’s wrong with the Asiatic form

27:51 – Japan’s rise as a parallel

30:57 – How to talk about Chinese attitudes toward tech without invoking Asiatic stereotypes

37:27 – Race, culture, and global capitalism

A full transcript of this podcast is available on SupChina.com.


Andy: Stay True: a memoir by the New Yorker writer Hua Hsu and donating to abortion providers in states affected by the end of Roe v. Wade:, like Abortion Care for Tennessee, abortioncaretn.org

Kaiser: The Danish political drama  Borgen on Netflix