“Strange Bedfellows”: Gandhi and Chinese passive resistance 1906-11

Karen L. Harris


Over a century since Gandhi’s historic and personally decisive sojourn in colonial southern Africa, the vast corpus of literature in the Western world on the Mahatma has continued to expand unabated, while the “machines of Gandhi hagiography” are still said to “continue to churn out massive volumes in present-day India”. Indeed, this commemorative issue of the Journal of Natal and Zulu History is testimony to this legacy and ongoing fascination, and in particular commemorates a centenary of his global bequest of satyagraha (passive resistance) launched in southern Africa. While much of the literature produced on Gandhi continues to adhere to what Dilip Menon has called the “straight and narrow” or what Tanika Sarkar refers to as “icon making” , with a persistent veneration of the Mahatma, others have ventured to question, probe, reappraise and reassess a range of dimensions of the Gandhian epoch. One aspect that has increasingly come under scrutiny is Gandhi's relations with other non-Indian communities, particularly as regards his time in South Africa and the emergence of satyagraha. This ties in with a wider concern about the possible contradictions in his professed rejection of racism and his claim to universalism. It is in this context that his apparent failure to ally with any other ethnic grouping within South Africa is questioned. And it is to this aspect of the satyagraha movement that this article turns, with particular reference to Chinese resistance at the turn of the century.

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