This introduction frames a special two-part issue consisting of eleven essays and a visual dossier, which collectively investigate the conceptual, political, historical, and cultural relationships between China and the human. By juxtaposing China and the human as two discrete categories, this introduction—and the special issue it accompanies—do not assume either concept as a pre-established object of knowledge; China is considered as a method of inquiry in itself. This introductory essay provides a conceptual and historical map for examining both China and the human as a set of comparative and relational events in specific historical and geopolitical contexts by investigating Euro-American, Chinese, and transnational itineraries of the human. While it analyzes China's potential to undo the universalizing claims of Western idealized norms of the liberal human, the essay also refuses to re-essentialize Chinese otherness as an alternative. At the same time, it traces alternative cosmologies and discourses of Chinese humanism and anti-humanism, informed by Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, as well as other religious and political traditions. In addition, this introduction examines from various transnational perspectives Marxist and Maoist conceptualizations of the human that mark the advent of Chinese modernity. Finally, it considers the status of the human in contemporary China, defined increasingly as a bearer of universal political and economic rights under the shadow of neoliberalism. What humanity means in China today—and in the world—and what it will mean in the future are part of an ongoing struggle over the meaning of its past and the politics of its present.

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