The Chinese in Africa/Africans in China International Research Working Group
By Yoon Jung Park
Hosted by the Centre for Sociological Research, University of Johannesburg
As Chinese engagement in Africa continues apace, slowed ever so slightly by the recent economic downturn, media coverage and scholarly studies continue to focus primarily on the economic and political aspects of Chinese activities in Africa. Little still has been written about the people-to-people encounters that occur in tandem with the high-level diplomatic negotiations and both large and small private entrepreneurial transactions on the African continent.
Events in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Lesotho over the last few years indicate that the Chinese have become targets of increasing anti-Chinese sentiment, especially led by opposition political parties and civil society groups for different ends. In South Africa, perceptions that those who look Chinese carry on them large sums of cash appear to have resulted in a sort of racial profiling by South Africa’s criminal element as well as corrupt police and other government officials, exposing these individuals to robbery, blackmail, and personal violence. In spite of events and statistics being disclosed by researchers in the field, newspapers in Namibia, Zambia, and South Africa continue to under-report such political and social tensions while over-reporting the numbers of Chinese in these countries and focusing, quite critically at times, on China’s seemingly unequal engagement with African nations.
Simultaneously, African traders and other entrepreneurial business people have been making their way to China in increasing numbers over the last few years. They are bypassing Chinese traders acting as middlemen in Africa and going directly to wholesalers as well as producers/manufacturers in China. Over the years, some of these Africans have settled in Guangdong and other coastal provinces, and their numbers continue to grow. However, very little is also known about these transient and settler communities that are bridging the continents through exchange of goods and money, but also through dispersal of cultural knowledge.
The Chinese in Africa/Africans in China International Research Working Group was established in late 2007 following a public seminar on Chinese in Africa hosted by the Centre for Sociological Research at the University of Johannesburg. The aim was to bring together scholars working on various groups of Chinese in Africa based primarily in southern Africa, but also other parts of the continent, as well as scholars examining the even newer migrations of Africans into China; the initial research working group had about a dozen members. With some seed funding from the South African National Research Foundation (NRF), we were able to fund a number of studies focusing primarily on Chinese migration in southern Africa.
In August 2010 we hosted a small multi-disciplinary conference, with the remaining funds from the NRF, bringing together scholars who have engaged in empirical research on both Chinese migrants in African countries as well as well as Africans in China. Conference papers covered Chinese migrants in Angola, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic Congo, Equatorial Guinea Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. We also had papers focused on immigration to China, and specifically African migrants and asylum seekers in Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Participants to the conference and public seminar came from Cape Town, Harare, Hong Kong, Lausanne, Lisbon/Maputo, London, Madrid, Oslo, Oxford, Paris/Bamako, Pretoria, Reduit (Mauritius), Stockholm, as well as the host city, Johannesburg.
At the conclusion of the conference, the CA/AC Research Working Group expanded its membership to include not only the conference participants but also others currently doing research on Chinese in Africa and Africans in China; today the working group boasts nearly 50 participants. A selection of the conference papers will be published in a forthcoming issue of African & Asian Studies (Brill). Some of our researchers will also be participating in the next ISSCO conference to be hosted in Singapore, 7-9 May 2010. We hope to raise additional funds in 2010 to put up and maintain a proper website and hire at least one part-time staff member.
For further information about the Chinese in Africa/Africans in China (CA/AC) International Research Working Group, please contact Dr Yoon Jung Park, Coordinator/Convener, at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
[keywords: Chinese, Africa, racial profiling, migrants, working group]