The Discourse of Race in Modern China (London: Hurst; Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992) was Frank Dikötter's first book. It rapidly became a classic in the field, showing for the first time on the basis of detailed evidence how and why the idea of 'race' became so widespread outside of Europe and America in the late nineteenth and twentieth century in the specific case of China. Partly reprinted in leading textbooks, including the Oxford Reader's Racism, the Oxford Reader's Ethnicity, Blackwell's Companion to Ethnic and Racial Studies, Routledge's Nationalism: A Reader, the book argued that racism should be understood as a global phenomenon in the modern world shared by widely different social groups rather than as European pathology only.

The Discourse of Race was one of the first to capitalise on the opening of libraries in China in the late 1980s, and the book was grounded on a whole range of materials that few historians realised had survived the ravages of war and revolution, from ponderous medical textbooks to popular self-help manuals.

A second edition, entirely revised with a new chapter covering the period from 1949 to this day, was published by Oxford University Press in 2015. 

Published in Chinese in 1999 by Jiangsu renmin chubanshe.