Racial Reconstruction

9781479868001: Hardback
Release Date: 23rd October 2015

9781479817962: Paperback
Release Date: 23rd October 2015

9781479899043: PDF
Release Date: 23rd October 2015

13 black and white illustrations

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 304

Series America and the Long 19th Century

NYU Press

Racial Reconstruction

Black Inclusion, Chinese Exclusion, and the Fictions of Citizenship

Hardback / £74.00
Paperback / £22.99
PDF / £26.00

The end of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade triggered wide-scale labor shortages across the U.S. and Caribbean. Planters looked to China as a source for labor replenishment, importing indentured laborers in what became known as “coolieism.” From heated Senate floor debates to Supreme Court test cases brought by Chinese activists, public anxieties over major shifts in the U.S. industrial landscape and class relations became displaced onto the figure of the Chinese labor immigrant who struggled for inclusion at a time when black freedmen were fighting to redefine citizenship.

Racial Reconstruction demonstrates that U.S. racial formations should be studied in different registers and through comparative and transpacific approaches. It draws on political cartoons, immigration case files, plantation diaries, and sensationalized invasion fiction to explore the radical reconstruction of U.S. citizenship, race and labor relations, and imperial geopolitics that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, America’s first racialized immigration ban. By charting the complex circulation of people, property, and print from the Pacific Rim to the Black Atlantic, Racial Reconstruction sheds new light on comparative racialization in America, and illuminates how slavery and Reconstruction influenced the histories of Chinese immigration to the West.

Edlie L. Wong is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland and author of Neither Fugitive Nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel (NYU Press, 2009) and co-editor of George Lippard’s The Killers.

Offering illuminating analyses of the paranoid fantasies of Asian invasion in travelogues, political cartoons, and sensational fiction that proliferated during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Edlie L. Wong deftly probes the way in which these narratives shaped the racial formations and understandings of free and unfree labor in the American imaginary. Exploring the impact of Exclusion Laws both in the U.S. and China against the backdrop of popular culture in both nations, Racial Reconstruction provides incredibly rich insights into the global repercussions of these policies. A stellar book.

Shelley Fisher Fishkin,author of Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee

This book will be of interest to African Americanist and Asian Americanist scholars and graduate students and, indeed, to all scholars of nineteenth and early twentieth-century US literature and history, but it will be especially useful to people interested in adapting their nineteenth-century US literature courses to reflect more transnational, multilingual perspectives.


Racial Reconstructionclarifies the stakes of citizenship in the US racial state, offering important insights into current debates about immigration and the shifting contours of the US labor force. It is a model for the kind of deeply historicized work necessary to elucidate the shifting contours of race in the twenty-first century.

American Literature

Racial Reconstructionis an engaging study that further illustrates how race is a comparative phenomenon in the United States, and is a useful read for those interested in how comparative racialization of African Americans and Chinese Americans permeated American literary culture.

American Nineteenth Century History

With impressive archival research,Racial Reconstructiontraces the fascinating transnational history of U.S. racial formation in the aftermath of abolition and reconstruction. Exploring the legal discourse around Asian exclusion in relation to African American inclusion, Edlie L. Wong pushes our thinking and offers new insights about how Americans decide who does and does not belong as a citizen in the United States.

Gretchen Murphy,author of Shadowing the White Man’s Burden: U.S. Imperialism and the Problem of the Color Line

The juxtaposition of these policies provides for intriguing analysis. It clearly shows that US history is never simply linear, as when steps toward freedom for some coincide with oppression of others. The topic is fascinating.