Black Hand [黑手]/ Red List [红名单]: China, Law and the Foreigner; Mutual Engagements on a Global Scale

18 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2019

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law

Date Written: September 8, 2019


This essay considers the cultural and discursive tropes, their political and social effects, that have marked the way in which comprehensible mutual engagement between China and foreigner have been constructed. These forms of engagement with the “foreign” has ancient discursive roots in China. It suggests the character of the mutual engagement between China and foreigners (especially foreigners viewed as representatives of equal or dangerous powers) as a form of cultural discourse that reflects an oscillation between caution and utility for which a set of definitive cultural tropes of the foreigner have been constructed with the participation of those foreigners who have embraced or at least utilized these discursive tropes. After an Introduction, Part 2 examines the model through the lens of a 1911 essay authored by Edward Capen, an American protestant missionary. Capen’s report suggests the seven archetypes of the foreigner around which engagement is constructed: (1) the missionary; (2) the expert; (3) the sycophant; (4) the colonizer; (5) the expatriate; (6) the entrepreneur; and (7) the company person (or salaryman). Part 3 then suggests internal and external lessons that might be drawn. Internal lessons are first centered on the challenges for those designated to receive and transpose such knowledge — Chinese scholars who serve as the internal intermediaries for foreign knowledge. The second relates to the mechanics for managing acceptable and dangerous knowledge for intermediaries and for the masses. The external lessons will be more difficult — these center on the consequences of replication of the patterns of Chinese engagement with foreigners when China itself becomes the foreigner. The dangers of the inverse replication of these archetypes is already lurking in China’s Belt and Road Initiative relations. But one might acquire a more definitive sense of those challenges in the Chinese “Black Hand” campaign in Hong Kong in 2019.

Keywords: china, reform and opening up, socialist modernization, capacity building, great firewall

JEL Classification: B24, H11, H41, I23, I25, I28, K33, K39, K42, O19, O29, P21, P26,

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá, Black Hand [黑手]/ Red List [红名单]: China, Law and the Foreigner; Mutual Engagements on a Global Scale (September 8, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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