Rebecca E. Karl is Associate Professor of History at New York University. She is the author of
The Economic as Lived Experience: Semicolonialism and China
This essay explores the concept of the semicolonial as a form of the locally lived global history of capitalism as a socioeconomic and cultural formation. By contrasting the 1930s and the 1990s versions of the concept—where the 1930s poses the problem in a global imperialist context and the 1990s poses it in a national cultural one—the essay investigates the ways in which culturalism is smuggled back into the center of historical inquiry in the guise of economic empiricism. Juxtaposing Wang Yanan’s and his contemporaries’ expositions of semicolonialism in the 1930s and 1940s to the emergence in the 1980s and 1990s of a historiographical re-examination of semicolonialism and semifeudalism as a form of revolutionary repudiation, the essay continues the intranational comparative interventions begun earlier in the volume.