The Prospect of Harmony and the Decolonial View of the World

An Interview with Walter Mignolo, William H Wannamaker Professor and Director, Center for Global Studies and the Humanities, Duke University, conducted by Weihua He. Critical Legal Thinking, June 12, 2014

Knowledge is always situated. As a young scholar from China working on western theories, I always felt frustrated with the eurocentrism embedded within them. The frustration comes first because they are not addressing the problems lingering in my mind; and second at the moment I realized that I had the wrong expectations: why should theories developed to deal with European issues and problems address issues and problems in China? During my yearlong stay at Duke University as a visiting graduate student from 2008 to 2009, I attended Professor Walter Mignolo’s seminar. Participating in class discussion, talking with Professor Mignolo, reading the materials assigned, and delivering class presentations with other students, I was ushered into the exciting world of decolonial thinking. It offered to me a totally new perspective to theorize the world from, that is, the perspective of third-world countries. I found these works rather illuminating in laying bare the contemporary world order from the perspective of the coloniality of power in this globalized age.

However, works by decolonial thinkers are not well known in China, which is undoubtedly another manifestation of eurocentrism in the field of knowledge in my country. After I returned to China, Professor Mignolo also visited China several times and gave talks at various Chinese universities. In order to help Chinese scholars have a better and more complete idea about these valuable intellectual assets of decolonial thinkers, I approached Professor Mignolo and proposed to do an interview with him so as to introduce decolonial theory into Chinese academia in a more systematic way. Professor Mignolo, who is very much concerned with the question of knowledge in countries like China, was pleased with the idea. Thus, we began to exchange emails concerning issues we considered relevant to address, the format of the interview as well as the possible impact of this interview in China. In order to make this interview more significant theoretically, I also invited my colleague Haiyan Xie to contribute some questions, since she was pursuing research on Chinese modernity. In the Spring of 2012 Walter Mignolo and I met in Shanghai, walked and talked during two days, enjoyed some of the many delightful teas in front of the Huangpu river, visited Lu Xun’s Memorial Hall, and the section of Chinese painting in the Museum of Contemporary Art, and in the process we gave the last touch to the interview.

After its completion, the interview was soon accepted by Marxism and Reality, an important journal owned by Central Compilation & Translation Bureau in China. And it was the longest article carried in that issue, for journals in China usually do not publish long articles. The Chinese version was well received and very soon Social Sciences Weekly — a newspaper based in Shanghai — also published a shortened version of this interview. With these initial efforts, we hope that more works by decolonial scholars can be introduced into China to enhance more substantial dialogues between decolonial and Chinese scholars in relevant areas. What follows is a shortened version of a 22000-word interview.

Click here to read the Interview