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The surprisingly modern origins of ‘xenophobia’

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Almost since its inception, colonialism assumed that the people Europeans encountered in their travels were barbarians because of their cultural differences, which justified not only occupation but also moral outrage and harsh treatment when the natives did not meet the colonizers with open arms. As early as 1873, a French Catholic missionary warned of a possible “xénophobie” directed against the pope’s decision to expand missionary activities in China. By the late 19th century, European powers had begun to invade and carve up East Asia. When the Chinese sought to expel foreign and missionary elements during the Boxer Rebellion, eight colonial nations united in their outrage to violently suppress the uprising. In the press, xenophobia “no longer applied to some rare medical illness or a broad rivalry between Western nations,” Makari writes. “It now served as an explanation of the fearsome trouble Western globalists might encounter in the East, where an irrational, violent hatred of all outsiders might take hold as exemplified by spirit-worshipping, rampaging Boxers.”

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