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Chinese Migration and China's Foreign Policy in Africa



Since the end of the 1990s, Africa has seen an increasing number of migrants of Chinese origin. It is possible to differentiate between three types of Chinese migration: a temporary labor migration flow linked to public building works and infrastructure projects undertaken by big Chinese enterprises; an entrepreneurial migration flow made up of merchants native to mainland China some of whom coming from the different diaspora communities; a proletarian transit migration flow consisting of people trying to sell their labor in western countries while waiting in Africa for opportunities to enter those countries. Over the same period, the foreign relations between China and Africa have expanded. There are roughly three elements in Chinese policy toward the continent: to gain access to natural resources such as oil and minerals, to widen China's export market and to strengthen China's diplomatic support for different international organizations. The objectives are to ensure the economic growth of the PRC and widen its political influence. This article aims to put in perspective the recent developments in Chinese migration and the orientations of China's foreign policy in Africa, and to re-address the question of relations between China and the Chinese overseas.
Chinese Migration and Chinas
Foreign Policy in Africa 1
Since the end of the 1990s, Africa has seen an increasing number of
migrants of Chinese origin. It is possible to differentiate between three types of
Chinese migration: a temporary labor migration fl ow linked to public building
works and infrastructure projects undertaken by big Chinese enterprises; an
entrepreneurial migration ow made up of merchants native to mainland
China some of whom coming from the different diaspora communities; a
proletarian transit migration fl ow consisting of people trying to sell their
labor in western countries while waiting in Africa for opportunities to enter
those countries. Over the same period, the foreign relations between China
and Africa have expanded. There are roughly three elements in Chinese
policy toward the continent: to gain access to natural resources such as oil
and minerals, to widen Chinas export market and to strengthen Chinas
diplomatic support for different international organizations. The objectives are
to ensure the economic growth of the PRC and widen its political infl uence.
This article aims to put in perspective the recent developments in Chinese
migration and the orientations of Chinas foreign policy in Africa, and to
re-address the question of relations between China and the Chinese overseas.
SINCE THE END OF THE 1990S, NORTH AFRICAN and sub-Saharan records
have indicated the presence of a growing number of migrants of Chinese origin.
However, information on this subject is sparse and very few studies have been
devoted to this phenomenon,2
except in relation to those countries where the
presence of the Chinese diaspora has been sizable and long-established such as
in South Africa, Reunion, Madagascar and Mauritius.
There are some thorough empirical studies on the subject. Sylvie Bredeloup
and Brigitte Bertoncello (2006) have written about the Chinese merchants in
Senegal and Cape Verde, Heidi Østbø Haugen and Jørgen Carling (2005) have
Emmanuel Ma Mung is Research Director at CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research),
Paris. His email address is
also worked on Cape Verde, and Gregor Dobler (2005) has done research on
a frontier town in Namibia. Elisabeth Hsu (2007) has produced a thorough
study of the Chinese communities in Zanzibar, and Elame Esoh (2005) has
provided some interesting information on Chinese immigration in Cameroon.
The interesting analysis by Deborah Braütigam (2003) on Chinese business
networks should also be mentioned. Nevertheless, given the new characteristics
of these migratory movements and the paucity of information we have on the
subject, it is difficult to get a global picture. I shall as far as possible use various
sources of information to supplement the research mentioned above.3
To obtain a clear idea of Chinese migration to Africa, the question should
be seen in an overall political and economic migratory context, and discussed
taking into account the historical dimension. As the development of Chinese
migration to Africa raises many questions about its relations with the foreign
policy of the PRC and its relations with the Chinese diaspora, the question
of Chinese migration thus also addresses the relations between China and the
Chinese diaspora.
The Global Migratory Context
The global migratory context is characterized by the growing migratory pressure
in the sending countries and tightening immigration policies in the receiving
countries. This situation is tragically exemplified by African migrants who take
enormous risks to travel to Europe in dilapidated boats (pateras). In recent years,
several thousands have drowned in their voyages between Morocco and Spain,
in the straits of Gibraltar, and between Senegal and Mauritania and the Canary
Islands. The majority of these migrants are north or sub-Saharan Africans, but
local newspapers have reported several cases of Chinese people being arrested
in such pateras by the Spanish border patrols.4
In this situation, Chinese migration flows are reoriented to countries where the
entry and sojourning rules are less strict, as in the case of the African countries.
For example, in the case of the migrants intending to go to the western countries
to work for the local enterprises,5
a lot of them wait in Africa or Eastern
European countries seeking a passage to Western Europe or the Latin American
countries, with a view to getting to the United States or Canada eventually.
In the last decade, migratory issues have become an important concern in
international relations. This is particularly true for the European Union (EU).
Each economic agreement between the EU and North African countries6
a clause specifying that the migration of the latter’s nationals has to be controlled
and even stopped.7
Moreover, these North African countries are expected to
expel migrants from other countries who arrive in their territories in the hope
of entering Europe. In recent years, thousands of sub-Saharan Africans have
been expelled from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.
Revival of Chinese Migration and the Opening Up of the PRC
In the last two decades, there have been changes in the numbers and destinations
of the Chinese leaving China. Historically oriented toward Southeast Asia, the
Chinese diaspora was long established in that region, and the movements of
the Chinese between the Southeast Asian countries were common. During the
1970s and 1980s, these Southeast Asian countries also provided western countries
with large numbers of ethnic Chinese migrants.8
But since the beginning of
the liberalization of Chinese emigration laws in 1985, the volumes of migration
flows to North America, Australasia and Europe have increased significantly and
western countries have become important destinations (Skeldon 2004). However,
the most important factor influencing current Chinese migration is the opening
up of the PRC and the liberalization of control over emigration.
Renewal of Migration from Mainland China
Ronald Skeldon (1996) estimates that 300–400 thousand migrants per year left
China in the 1990s. These figures are certain to be higher today. There is much
diversity in the social compositions and geographic origins of the migrants.
“Classic” labor migration is still important, while other types of migrants are
(a) Students and highly skilled migrants.
In 2001, 146,000 Chinese left to study overseas, an increase of 71.8 percent
over the previous year.9
According to the Chinese Ministry of Education,
the cumulative number of those who went abroad to study between 1985
and 2004 was 815,000 (Wang, Wong, and Sun 2006).
(b) Tourists (4 to 5 million per year).
(c) Short-term labor migrants working for Chinese firms abroad, the number
being 597,000 in 2004 (Xiang 2006).
Another phenomenon to which I shall return is a rise in the emigration of
small entrepreneurs investing in the clothing sector or the import of Chinese
products (clothes, shoes, minor electronic material, fancy goods etc.). Hundreds of
such businesses have been established recently in the French, Italian and Spanish
metropolises — in Paris, notably in the 11th arrondissement, Le Sentier and the
wholesale hub of Aubervilliers. This has also taken place in Central European
countries (such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania) and in Africa (in
places like Casablanca, Dakar, Johannesburg etc.). China, the “workshop of the
world,” thus also exports its products through these migrant entrepreneurs.
Southern Chinese provinces – Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang — are still
the main source of migrants as evident from the large numbers of clandestine
migrants going to Europe from these areas (Gao 2004; Gao and Poisson 2005).
But since the 1990s, migrants have been arriving from new places of origin
such as great urban areas like Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, but above all,
the Dongbei region comprising the north-east provinces of Heilongjiang and
Liaoning, and Hubei in central China. One characteristic of this migration flow
is the increasing number of female migrants (Cattelain et al. 2005; Gao 2004;
Gao and Poisson 2005; Guerassimoff 2006; Levy 2005; Lieber 2006).
The Opening of China and PRC Policy in Africa
Li Anshan (2006) notes that “the change in [Chinas] African policy is closely
linked with the transformation of China’s grand strategy. Since the early 1980s,
China’s foreign policy, more specifically its African policy, has been decided by
its strategy of development. It has thus undergone a triple transformation: a
switch from ideological emphasis to ideological neutrality, from unitary form to
multiple channels in bilateral exchanges, and from single aid to win-win strategy
in the field of co-operation.”10
A more utilitarian reading of Chinese foreign policy is that, briefly, this
policy organizes itself along two axes: ensuring the economic growth of China
and widening China’s political influence by combining three elements:
(a) Securing access to natural resources (oil, minerals etc.);
(b) Widening the export market;
(c) Strengthening China’s diplomatic support for different international
It should be noted that in 2005, the PRC became the primary supplier of
textiles, electronic equipments etc. to Africa, ahead of France and Germany. At
the same time, the PRC is Africas second biggest customer — after the United
States — buying oil, minerals, wood etc. (Le Monde, 10 June 2006). The policy
of strengthening diplomatic support is well illustrated by Chinas backing of
the election of Dr. Margaret Chan of Hong Kong, a Special Administrative
Region in the PRC, as Director General of the World Health Organisation in
November 2006.
In sum, the global migratory situation, the economic development of the
PRC and Chinas changing foreign policy together make up the context in which
Chinese migration to Africa has taken place.
New Chinese Migration in Africa
Continental Africa11
is the part of the world where the Chinese diaspora is the
least established, the notable exception being South Africa where there has been
a long history of Chinese immigration.12
Until recently in several countries, the
Chinese presence has consisted of small commercial communities. At the same
time, one notes significant but temporary immigration within the framework
of cooperation between the PRC and Third World countries. Between the
1960s and the beginning of the 1980s, 150,000 Chinese technical assistants
were dispatched to Africa to implement projects in agriculture and to develop
transport infrastructure, such as roads and railroads (Perret 2007). South Africa
is the country accommodating the highest number of immigrants of Chinese
origin: between 100,000 and 300,000.13
The other country with a substantial
Chinese presence is Nigeria with 50,000 (Le Monde, 30 June 2007). The rest
of the African states have seen only modest Chinese immigration. Taking various
sources into consideration, the number of people of Chinese origin (ethnic
Chinese) in continental Africa may be between 270,000 and 520,000 including
70,000 to 80,000 contractual migrants. It is possible to distinguish between
three different types of migrants:
– Temporary migrants linked to public works, building of infrastructures etc.
originating from mainland China;
– Entrepreneurs (generally merchants) originating either from mainland China
or from different Chinese diaspora communities;
People in transit seeking opportunities to settle in Europe or North America.
Temporary Labor Migrants
It is estimated that there are 70014
or 80015
Chinese companies in Africa. They
are at present set up in 49 countries, i.e. nearly all of the 54 African states. They
are involved in the exploitation of raw materials (oil, ores, wood etc.) and the
construction of infrastructures for that purpose. In addition, they are engaged
in large scale projects involving the building of equipments in public works and
telecommunications (such as mobile telephones in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and
Nigeria) and the distribution of electricity.
The companies employ approximately 80,000 Chinese workers.16
The Chinese
authorities and companies, of which 90 percent are government enterprises,
provide the framework for this contractual and temporary migration flow. The
large public building projects are carried out within the framework of international
calls to tender, or through direct agreements made between China and the
countries concerned. The Chinese companies import the labor, the executive staff
and materials necessary for the work. At the end of the contract the majority
of the personnel return to China. There are, however, instances where some of
the company employees have decided to remain in the country (Algeria, Mali,
Tanzania, for example). They have established themselves as small entrepreneurs
in the building trade (for example, in Algeria), restaurant owners or tradesmen,
thus joining the commercial networks established by the diaspora. There are
various reports in local newspapers describing the conditions of life and work
as very hard, but the wages (US$20 a day) are double or triple those which
workers are paid in China. The reports also refer to the social conflict resulting
from protests against the delay in the payment of wages in Algeria and Sudan,
for example.
Such a situation is reminiscent of certain earlier Chinese migratory patterns.
Promoted and organized by the Chinese authorities, this migration project
dovetails with the migration policy of the years 1950–70, which was carried
out within the framework of the PRC’s anti-imperialist policy of co-operation
and solidarity with the Third World (Snow 1988; Li 2006). It has an obvious
economic objective, but there is also a marked political element. In addition,
as a migration flow involving temporary and contractual labor, it resembles the
organized migration projects encouraged by the western powers which started
in the middle of the 19th century. The latter were carried out for the purpose
of colonial land utilization following the abolition of slavery (indentured labor).
The current situation though is rather different, being organized by China for
different economic and political objectives. Besides, the living and working
conditions of the labor force, difficult as they are, are not comparable with those
of the coolies. Lastly, there is another aspect connecting this strand of migration
to historical migratory patterns: some of the workers remain on the spot and
establish themselves as tradesmen. This is similar to the way in which in the
past, Chinese workers settled in various parts of the world notably Southeast
Asia, Latin America, North America and the sugar islands. Below are some
examples of large public building projects with Chinese investments:
Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo: Cobalt and copper exploitation;
Mozambique: Coal and oil infrastructures, sports stadium;
Zimbabwe: Road infrastructures, coal and ferrochrome exploration, production
and distribution of electricity, mobile telephone network;
Republic of Central Africa: Participation in uranium and oil exploration, cement
factory project, sports stadium;
Ethiopia: Manufacture of drugs, oil exploration, construction of motorways and
a hydro-electric power station;
Gabon: Building of National Assembly, Senate, City of Information, hospitals,
palace for the president, railway and road infrastructures for the
exploitation of wood, manganese, niobium. Exploration of iron deposits,
prospecting for and exploration of oil;
Mali: Congressional Palace, road infrastructures, treatment plant for cotton;
Sudan: Hydro-electric power plants, power stations and, especially, construc-
tion of a 1,300 km-long oil pipeline for the evacuation of oil via the
port of Marsaal-Bashair on the Red Sea. Amounting to US$650 million,
this contract, which mobilized 1,800 Chinese and 1,600 Sudanese,
represents one of the largest and most contentious Chinese investments
in Africa;
Senegal: Health facilities, sports stadiums, cultural infrastructure;
Algeria: Eighteen building companies for the construction of residences, flats
etc., extension of the Algiers airport, construction of petroleum refinery,
dams and the east-west motorway.
Entrepreneurial Migrants
Commercial migration to Africa makes up part of a more global movement. Since
the last decade, this strand of Chinese migration has developed very quickly
worldwide, mirroring the intense development in the production of consumer
goods in China.
These days, one can find Chinese tradesmen in all parts of the world: Western
Europe mainly France, Italy, Spain (Ma 2002), Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands,
United Kingdom etc.; Central and Oriental Europe mainly Romania, Bulgaria,
Hungary, Czech Republic etc. (Nyiri 2003); and North America, Latin America
and Africa.
Generally, this commercial migration flow leads quickly to the opening of large
centers that supply the retailers who may be Chinese or native. In different parts
of Paris there are numerous immigrant entrepreneurs from Zhejiang Province.
Hundreds of them are now located in a large wholesale area near Paris. In
September 2006, a new 25,000-square-meter Chinese wholesale center opened
with 170 shops. Likewise in Naples (Italy), similar wholesale centers such as the
Cinamercato draw hundreds of Chinese merchants (Schmoll 2004).
One observes the same kind of enterprise in Africa whereby one of the most
important Chinese wholesale centers is located in Johannesburg. The wholesale
market of “China City” brings together several hundred tradesmen, supplying
other tradesmen arriving from all over the country and adjoining countries like
Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola and even Nigeria and Ghana. There are other
Chinese shopping complexes in Johannesburg viz. Asia City, Hong Kong City,
Crowne Square, Gold Reef Emporia, Dragon City and the African Trade Centre,
as was reported in Mail & Guardian, 26 January 2006. Together with China
City, they form a “regional shopping hub.” In Casablanca (Morocco), the market
at Derb Omar houses several hundred Chinese wholesale tradesmen. The local
population and tradesmen have nicknamed this traditional Moroccan market,
“Chinatown.” It fulfils the same functions as China City, but on a smaller scale.
In Accra, Ghana’s capital, a block of shops was opened in the popular Makola
Market in 2006 with the name of Chinese Wholesale Market (Colombant 2006).
In Cameroon in the 1990s, the first Chinese stores opened in Yaounde, followed
by Douala. Subsequently, several kinds of wholesale and retail centers appeared
(Esoh 2005). In Senegal, there are no real wholesale markets, but the Chinese
tradesmen tend to be located in the same district of Dakar. They often operate
simultaneously as wholesalers and retailers (Bredeloup and Bertoncello 2006).
Apart from these wholesale tradesmen one also finds many retailers who
are generally established in the main cities. Some have also settled in cities of
intermediate sizes or in small towns. This is the case for Oshikango, a small
town on the Namibian-Angolan border, which can be viewed as an end point
of Chinese trade networks, and which has been well analyzed by Gregor Dobler
(2005). In Senegal, certain tradesmen have planned to settle in Ziguinchor, Saint
Louis and Thiès (Bredeloup and Bertoncello 2006).
The case of Cameroon is interesting: there are approximately 200 Chinese
businesses — mainly shops but also several restaurants. A large Chinese-owned
shopping and leisure center was opened in 2006. The majority of Chinese
immigrants in Cameroon have arrived in the last five or ten years. They say
they came to Cameroon because they have relatives who have been established
there for several decades. This is worth noting because it suggests that the recent
migration is founded on already-established migratory networks. One also notes
the presence of Chinese peddling on the streets the sort of fritters traditionally
sold by Cameroonian women. So, these street vendors compete with small-scale
local saleswomen. They are thus very different from the Chinese shopkeepers
and it is likely that they are waiting to re-migrate to Europe.
From the few studies on Chinese tradesmen in Africa and information
gathered from newspapers and magazines or given by observers such as scholars
and students, one can establish that such entrepreneurial migration is essentially
commercial in nature. The majority of the entrepreneurs have entered the country
as tradesmen and many of them were already engaged in commercial activities
before their departure (Bredeloup and Bertoncello 2006). They arrive with the
capital necessary for the initial investment of setting up the commercial premises
and purchasing the stock. It is rare for an immigrant to arrive as a laborer and
then establish himself as a tradesman after several years. One does come across
such examples in Algeria and some sub-Saharan countries, but these are in
general immigrants working on large public building projects who find at the
end of their contracts that they have the opportunity to establish themselves in
the building industry, the restaurant business or in trade.
The geographic origins of the entrepreneurial migrants are becoming more
diverse. The majority of them come from the traditional departure regions
(Guangdong, Fujian and, to a lesser extent, Zhejiang) but some originate in the
provinces of Henan, Hunan, Jilin, Liaoning, as well as cities like Shanghai and
Beijing. There are also tradesmen who come from Chinese overseas communities
in France, Italy and Spain, for example.
The activities of these tradesmen consist of distributing products exclusively
manufactured in and imported from China. These range from basic consumer
goods such as clothes, textiles, footwear, simple electronic items, mattresses and
bicycles (very popular in countries where most of the population do not have the
means of buying a car, whereas a bicycle costs US$50–70 in Morocco) to more
sophisticated electronic products, household appliances, and the two-wheeled
motor bike so popular in certain countries.17
Another characteristic of these
traders is that they are supplied directly by the producers in China. This reduces
the number of intermediaries and hence the cost of importing the products, as
is reflected in the selling price.
To round off this section, mention should be made of a French connection
for some Chinese entrepreneurs who migrated to northern and western Africa.
As former French colonies, countries in this region are generally French-speaking.
In the past few years, some entrepreneurs have come from Wenzhou (Zhejiang
Province) and some Chinese who lived for a long time in France have also
arrived. Such is the case of L. who had been taken to France when he was
two. At 25, he was a wholesaler in textiles in Paris. In 2005, he established an
enterprise in Casablanca importing textiles from China. Now he is negotiating
with the Moroccan authorities to import cars from China. There is a similar
case in Togo. M. came to France as a student in 1990–91. He learnt French at
the university and worked as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant. During this time
he established good connections with an enterprise in Wenzhou involved in the
sale of motor bikes. In the early 2000s, he went to Togo to start an enterprise
importing Chinese motor bikes; he is now the main importer of these products
in Togo. These are interesting cases of diasporic functioning: tradesmen of the
diaspora use their linguistic skills and social resources (networks) to establish
themselves in French speaking countries. Bredeloup and Bertoncello (2006: 215)
report that some merchants in Dakar had worked in France, Italy or Spain before
they arrived in Africa.
Proletarian Transit Migrants
This group consists of people seeking to sell their labor abroad, notably in
countries with developed economies. They are representatives of a veritably
“classic” labor migration which is becoming significant in Europe. In France,
for example, they make up the largest inflow of ethnic Chinese regardless of
the mode of entry (as asylum seekers, illegal immigrants etc.). This labor force
finds its way into the workshops of the clothing industry, small businesses
in the food industry and restaurants. Some Chinese women are employed as
servants by middle-class Chinese families (Cattelain et al. 2005; Levy 2005).
These proletarian migrants to Europe enter within the functional framework
of a transnational ethnic labor market. The hardening of immigration policies,
however, has made entry into these countries much more difficult. Since work-
seeking immigration to Europe ended in the 1970s, taking the direct route to
Europe has been risky and very costly. On the other hand, immigration paths
to sub-Saharan Africa are much more open and hence much cheaper.18
thus settle temporarily in those countries and await opportunities to leave for
Europe, giving this strand of migration its transit character.
Little is known about these migrants in transit and there are no published
studies to my knowledge. Other sources of information, such as local newspapers
and periodicals, concern themselves mainly with the tradesmen and the temporary
migrants involved in large public building projects.19
The geographic origins
of these migrants are varied and correspond to those already mentioned (see
section on global migratory context). Their legal position in these countries is
precarious. They generally enter a country legally as tourists or businessmen/
businesswomen, but exceed the authorized duration of their stay (of three to six
months, depending on the country). They thus risk expulsion if the authorities
of these countries check up on them.
In order to satisfy the authorities, some declare themselves as tradesmen or
members of the staff of a company owned by a compatriot (Chinese). Their living
conditions are difficult taking into account the problem of finding employment
on the spot. Some become workers or assistant salesmen for established Chinese
tradesmen. Some work as street vendors, delivery men for their compatriots, or
as fritter-sellers, as in Cameroon. It seems that some of these migrants in transit
are able to establish themselves legally as tradesmen or small entrepreneurs in
the areas of building and mechanical repair.
Historical Continuity of Chinese Migratory Forms
The three forms of migration to Africa discussed above can be linked in a
historical context to Chinese migration to various parts of the world in the
20th century, or earlier.
As has been pointed out, the temporary labor migration associated with the
large public building works is a continuation in a renewed form of the migration
that took place in the years between 1950 and 1970. It is a by-product of
Chinese foreign policy aimed at providing assistance for and securing an alliance
with the Third World countries. Although the conditions are quite different,
this form of migration is reminiscent of certain elements of the indentured labor
The commercial/entrepreneurial migration is a present-day version of a very
old Chinese migratory form: that which saw Chinese merchants becoming
established in Southeast Asia (Wang 1992b; Kuhn 2006). In the late 19th
century, the Chinese government saw these Chinese as a “great commercial asset
abroad” (Wang 1998: 18).
The proletarian transit migration and its counterpart in the 19th century are
both movements of laborers looking for employment abroad. They are always
accompanied closely, or at a distance, by commercial migration. Their characteristic
of being “in transit” is due only to the strict immigration policies of the western
countries. As I have frequently reported (Ma 2000; 2002; 2005), most of the
labor force work for Chinese overseas enterprises. Chinese migrants in various
parts of the world have gradually given rise to an economic network made up
of companies generally of small size and linked together in the areas of supply,
finance and labor. These economic arrangements in individual countries are often
linked together on a transnational scale. This form of economic organization
has a notable effect on contemporary migration because it creates a demand
for labor emanating from the enterprises rather than a demand emanating from
the general labor market in the host countries. Most of the migrants work in
enterprises owned by their compatriots, which mainly employ workers of Chinese
origin. The blossoming of these companies has brought about an immigrant work
force which contributes to the development of the companies, which in turn
reinforces the demand for labor. Economic networks are thus strongly integrated
with migratory networks. There exists a transnational ethnic labor market which
gives rise to a form of diaspora organization specific to the Chinese overseas. It
certainly appears that in Africa too these migrants in transit work for enterprises
owned by their compatriots.
The different types of contemporary Chinese migration to Africa therefore do
not basically differ from those of historical migrations — temporary contractual,
entrepreneurial and proletarian. They can thus be seen as the repeat of historical
migration patterns in the age of globalization.
Foreign Policy and Migration: Relations between the PRC
and the Diaspora
Migration policy constitutes an increasingly important aspect of international
relations.20 This should be considered as an emerging area of enquiry in the
field of migratory studies.21
It is a question particularly heeded by the receiving
countries, which are concerned with the control and restriction of migratory
movements as an important component of their foreign policy. On the other
hand, relations between migration and the foreign policies of the sending
countries are seldom explored. Accordingly, it is necessary to put into proper
perspective Chinese migratory trends and the orientation of Chinese foreign
policy in Africa.
As has been emphasized above, there are three elements in Chinese foreign
policy: to secure access to natural resources (oil and mineral in particular), to
expand China’s export market and to increase China’s diplomatic support for
various international organizations. The underlying objective was to ensure the
economic growth and widen the political influence of the PRC. What can be
discerned in the relationship between this policy and the various strands of
Chinese migration?
While the effects of migration on China’s search for diplomatic support are
difficult to evaluate, it would appear that the migration related to large public
building projects tie in directly with Chinese policy of securing the supply of
raw materials. This is because most of this work is related to the construction
of the infrastructure for the exploitation and transport of raw materials intended
for China. As for commercial migration, this plays an active role in widening
China’s export market since the commercial enterprises are mainly involved in
the distribution of goods produced by Chinese industry to the receiving countries.
The purposes of migration to Africa and Chinese foreign policy would thus
appear to neatly overlap. Can one then say that insofar as the former acts as
an instrument of the latter, the migration flows are therefore tools which China
deploys to serve its current interests? This assertion would seem to negate a third
actor viz. the diaspora. For the diaspora, the different flows of migration act as
a determinant because they bring about a dual effect. On the one hand, they
reinforce the diaspora. On the other hand, they strengthen the physical and
symbolic bonds between the diaspora and China. It is thus necessary to fully
understand the contemporary migration in order to place it within the more
general framework of relations between China and the diaspora.
New Attitude of the PRC toward the Chinese Diaspora
Relations between China and the Chinese overseas have been the topic of
numerous publications. Wang Gungwu’s works which show the importance of
these links and their multiple dimensions (Wang 2004; 1992a; 1993) are key
sources. Recently, Philip Kuhn (2006) has underlined the close connection
between the history of modern China and the history of Chinese emigration.
On the economic level, this relationship is well illustrated by the important role
the Chinese diaspora has played in the development of the PRC. This has come
about in various ways, notably through financial investments (Ma 2000; 2001).
In 2001, Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) reached US$47 billion, 63 percent
of which coming from the diaspora (Dorléans 2002). According to Wu Jianmin,
former ambassador of the PRC to France, in 2004, FDI reached US$60 billion,
60 percent of which originating from the Chinese diaspora (Wu 2006). In
recent years, PRC policy toward the Chinese overseas has changed in at least
two directions. One concerns the PRC’s perceptions of its relations with the
diaspora, the other aims to facilitate the return of highly-skilled Chinese.
Xiang Biao (2006: 29) notes that a new development in policy has blurred
the boundary between the returned Chinese and the diaspora. While maintaining
a policy in favor of the eventual return of the overseas Chinese, the government
is also encouraging temporary and even virtual return. In 2001, the government
proposed using the formula, “serve the country from abroad” (weiguo fuwu),
to replace the old slogan, “return and serve the country” (huiguo fuwu) (Xiang
2006: 32).
The traditional distinction between huaqiao (Chinese nationals residing outside
China) and huaren (ethnic Chinese with non-Chinese nationalities) has faded
in relevance. Increasingly, a distinction is being drawn between the diaspora
perceived by the authorities as migrants who left China prior to 1949, and the
“new migrants,” i.e. persons who have migrated since 1980 (Xiang 2006: 30).
In other words, the quality and length of establishment abroad — in term of
settlement in the receiving countries — is seen as more important than national
Xiang Biao (2006: 26) also points out that closer links between the Chinese
overseas established in various countries, as well as those between the Chinese
overseas and the PRC, are encouraged. One example is the plan, “Developing
Motherland and Benefiting Overseas Chinese/Assisting Overseas Chinese
(xingguo li qiao-zhu qiao) which pursues two goals: “The first component aims to
promote interaction between traditional Chinese overseas and ‘new migrants’ on
a global scale. Activities of this component include pairing up between Chinese
associations in North America and those in Southeast Asia to facilitate their
collaboration. The plan also seeks to promote web sites of Chinese associations
and plans to hold web-based business and technology fairs among Chinese all over
the world. The second component of the programme is to enhance connections
between Chinese communities overseas and China (Xiang 2006: 26).
The encouragment of connections between Chinese communities abroad
and China may be seen as an attempt to intensify control over the diaspora.
On the other hand, the enhancement of interaction between ethnic Chinese
communities in different parts of the world contributes toward the strengthening
of their diasporic functioning. It would also contribute to the development of
the diaspora as a distinctive entity constructing its autonomy in relation to
China and the different countries where it is established. Thus it is a kind of
de facto acknowledgment of the diaspora as an autonomous entity.
The Haigui Issue: Return of the Highly-Skilled
The Chinese government and different regional authorities have implemented
a number of plans to attract highly-skilled returnees. The aim is “to grant
returned Chinese students privileges in their work, living conditions, children’s
education to encourage young entrepreneurs to establish high-tech enterprises
in entrepreneurial parks (Wang, Wong, and Sun 2006: 298–99). Since the mid-
1990s, Shanghai, Beijing, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Fujian and Shandong, to name
but a few, have offered numerous incentives to skilled returnees such as high
salaries, beneficial tax rates, special business loans, and subsidies for housing
and childrens education (Xiang 2006: 28).
The haigui exemplifies Chinas new policy toward the Chinese diaspora. The
term haigui is defined by Wang, Wong, and Sun (2006: 296–97) as Chinese
mainlanders who have gone abroad for various reasons and come back, having
stayed overseas for various lengths of time. Returned Chinese students make up
the majority of haigui. From 1985 to 2004, about 815,000 Chinese emigrated to
study, of whom 198,000 have returned. The availability of opportunities in the
professions in China has been the most important factor in the decision-making
of the Chinese returnees, while patriotic reasons play only a limited role.
There have been other measures directed at the diaspora, such as the special
projects to attract overseas Chinese professionals and skilled workers to work in
China even on a short-term basis with the necessary support provided by the
authorities (Xiang 2006: 28).
Reinforcement of Autonomy or Growing Dependence of the Diaspora?
The overlap between the new Chinese migration to Africa and the foreign
policy of the PRC marks a new phase in the relations between China and the
Chinese diaspora. This is another illustration of how China has impacted the
“behaviour pattern of the Chinese diaspora,” as has been studied by Wang
Gungwu (1993) over a long period. This behavior pattern “is sensitised to the
ebb and flow of Chinese political struggles and to their effects on foreign and
economic policies” (Wang 1993: 938). As is pointed out in Wang, Wong, and
Sun (2006), “Wang Gungwu has identified a cycle in the relationship between
the CG (Chinese Government) and the CO (Chinese Overseas) demonstrating
the way the two have interacted during alternating periods of strength and
weakness in the Chinese polity.” This cycle is made up of four stages. The first
stage was during the strong period of the Qing dynasty (1680–1840), the second
during the weak period of the Qing period (1840–1949), the third during the
Mao era (1949–76) and the fourth beginning in 1978.
As is observed in Wang, Wong, and Sun, the haigui phenomenon falls within
the fourth phase of this cycle of the CG-CO relationship during the period of
reform beginning at the end of the 1970s when “the CG turn[ed] again to the
recognition of the CO who responded actively, first in the form of investment
and then in the return migration to China of Chinese professionals” (Wang,
Wong, and Sun 2006: 306).
It is within this general framework, characterized by the CG’s opening up to
the CO, that the new Chinese migration to Africa must be placed. We can then
see that the PRC articulates three elements in its foreign policy of reinforcing
China’s economic growth and widening its diplomatic influence:
– a “pro-migratory” policy which ties in directly with foreign policy objectives
as exemplified by investment in large building projects (in line with the
conclusion of bilateral trade agreements and the Chinese authorities’ propagation
of commercial opportunities abroad);
a “pro-CO” policy encouraging investment and the return of high-skilled
– a “pro-diaspora” policy, giving Chinese communities abroad the incentive to
bond with each other and to serve the country from outside (weiguo fuwu)
rather than returning to serve the country (huiguo fuwu). This “pro-diaspora
dimension is probably the new element in the long history of CG-CO
Will this new phase lead to greater autonomy for the diaspora, or increased
dependence? There is now the hitherto unheard-of situation in which the “pro-
migratory” policy feeds the diaspora with a new influx of migrants, the “pro-
diaspora” policy facilitates the functioning of the diaspora, and the “pro-CO”
policy brings the diaspora closer to China. This would suggest that the two
entities, China and the Chinese diaspora, are mutually reinforcing each other.
The de facto recognition by the Chinese authorities of the diaspora as an
autonomous entity having a life of its own shows that they do not regard the
latter as a sort of “China outside China.” More pragmatically, China views it
as a privileged partner — the most privileged — in serving the interests of
China. This will enhance the standing of the diaspora; it is now seen less as an
extension of China than as a transnational social-economic entity.
Concluding Remarks
The phenomenon of Chinese migration to Africa has raised interesting questions
about its relations with Chinas foreign policy. Research into this topic has
opened up further questions in at least two directions. First, to what extent
are the various strands of contemporary migration the actualization of old
migratory forms in the age of globalization? The second is less a question than
an epistemological remark. The analysis of the relations between China and
the Chinese diaspora, essential as it is, will undoubtedly suffer if it does not
sufficiently take into consideration a third element viz. those countries in which
the diaspora is established. This is because the Chinese diaspora does not only
relate to China, but also interacts with the society where it has settled. It is thus
necessary to move from the analysis of dyadic relations (China–diaspora) to one
of triadic relations (China–diaspora–host countries). Indeed, the analysis needs
to be extended, as one cannot understand the relations of the diaspora with
the receiving countries without including China in the equation. One might
even say that the relations of China with other countries in the world cannot
be understood without taking the diaspora into account.
1 The ideas developed in this article were initially presented at the 5th conference of
ISSCO (Africa Regional Conference) at Pretoria, 4–6 Dec. 2006, in a paper entitled
“Diversity in Diaspora: the Chinese Overseas.” Another version was presented at the 6th
ISSCO Conference at Beijing, 21–23 Sept. 2007, in a paper entitled “Recent Trends in
the Relations between Chinese Abroad and their Ancestral Homeland.”
2 I was able to gather more information on this subject at the ISSCO Conference in
3 One could also include other works on Africa such as P. Snow’s earlier book, The Star
Raft : China’s Encounter with Africa (1987), and the more recent work by Du Pisani
even though they do not touch on the new Chinese migrants to Africa. I have inserted
references to Snow in sections where China-Africa relations are mentioned.
4 People from India and Bangladesh have been arrested in the same conditions.
5 The majority of the Chinese migrants work in enterprises owned by ethnic Chinese
(Carchedi and Ferri 1998; Ma 1998; Ma and Simon 1990).
6 This has been in progress since 1995 in the “Process of Barcelona,” a program of co-
operation between the European Union and south Mediterranean countries, and in the
“Forum MEDOC dialogue 5+5” (France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain and Algeria, Libya,
Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia).
7 A similar kind of agreement was signed between the USA and Mexico in 2004.
8 It occurred sometimes in tragic circumstances as refugees migrate from Vietnam, Cambodia
and Laos. Between three and four million refugees are estimated to have left this region a
large part of whom — between one half and two thirds — are people of Chinese origin
(Ma 2000).
9 People’s Daily (12 Feb. 2002), quoted by Xiang Biao (2006).
10 On the history of China-Africa relations, see especially Snow (1988).
11 Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion are not considered here.
12 For the historic dimension of this presence, see Accone (2006); Harris and Ryan (1998);
Li and Harris (2006); Park (2005); Yap and Man (1996).
13 According to the Chinese Embassy, there are 100,000 Chinese immigrants including
80,000 legal immigrants (Mail & Guardian, 6 Jan. 2006). According to another source
quoted by Accone (2006), the figure is estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000.
Harris (2007), and Li Ying (2007) think the figure is about 200,000 and Sautman (2006)
puts it between 100,000 and 300,000.
14 President of the Association of Chinese Contractors Abroad in Libération, 15 May 2006,
and Channel 4, 4 July 2005.
15 P.A. Braud in Le Monde, 10/11 Dec. 2006.
16 71,372 in 2003, according to Xiang Biao (2006).
17 In Nigeria, a Chinese motorcycle costs 14 of the price of a Japanese motorcycle: US$180
cf US$450.
18 Immigration into North Africa is more difficult because of the agreements reached between
the European Union and southern Mediterranean countries on the control of clandestine
migrations (see section on global migratory context).
19 The lines which follow are drawn from discussions with various observers residing in
these countries.
20 See section on global migratory context.
21 This issue was addressed at an international conference organized by the University of
Montreal: Diasporas, Transnationalism and Foreign Policy (9 Feb. 2007). See also Anderson
(2005) and Niessen (1999).
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... Although data from the UN Population Division (United Nations, 2015) allow us to gauge the number of Chinese-born population overseas, many scholars have questioned the reliability of migration statistics of the receiving countries (Ma, 2002;Mohan and Tan-Mullins, 2016). Not only official data collection systems are questionable, undocumented migrants are also difficult to account for in the state surveillance system (Mung, 2008). The challenges of poor data quality and lack of accurate migration statistics are foreseen also in the OBOR countries. ...
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... The first two decades of the new millennium have witnessed a wider spread of Chinese capital and population across the globe following the 2013 introduction of the Belt and Road Initiative by Chinese President Xi Jinping. 12 While North America, Europe and Oceania have continued to be popular destinations for Chinese emigrants (Thunø and Li, 2020), developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Central Asia have also started to attract an influx of Chinese investors, entrepreneurs, traders, language teachers and students who have become the new blood of the ever-expanding Chinese diasporas (Ma Mung, 2008;Muttarak, 2017;Li and Shi, 2020). ...
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... Dumping also devalues labour. Workers imported from China hire themselves out at much lower labour standards than are locally permitted (Mung, 2008). With the increasing attempt to import Chinese labour (see, e.g. ...
Labour migration is, perhaps, the most widely discussed economic issue today. Yet, its underpinning theory and its empirical tests have remained largely Western-centric. In turn, the causes, effects, and policy options for the substantial, but widely neglected, Afro-Chinese labour migration, are poorly understood. By systematising existing data, this article shows that Afro-Chinese labour migration experience is far more complex than what neoclassical economics suggests. Driven, or, at least moulded, not so much by the migrant as a rational utility-maximising individual but by holistic processes of ‘circular, combined and cumulation causation’, Afro-Chinese migration, and Afro-Chinese relations, more generally, have contributed to economic growth, but at the cost of much socio-spatial displacement, and socio-ecological degradation. Added to these social costs is widespread labour exploitation. So, the insidious attempts by the state, business enterprise, corporate finance, and capital to consider migration as a ‘spatial fix’ for economic growth are questionable. Seeking to wall out migrants, embarking on widespread surveillance, pursuing migrant scape-goating, and framing migration as a Malthusian problem are, however, not a panacea. The social costs of migration need to be directly redressed, among others, by redesigning the institutions that shape the conditions of labour. Doing so would require leaving behind neoclassical economics theories of migration and exposing their vested interests. Social economics theories and theorising that more comprehensively address the labour migration problematique and strongly emphasise the coupling of migration, economic, and social policy can usefully be considered as alternatives.
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Este artigo apresenta reflexões acerca dos recentes contatos religiosos entre chineses no Baixo Congo e membros de uma modalidade de sociedade secreta entre os Maniangas. O texto está pautado em uma etnografia que inclui relatos e histórias orais, inclusive dos Bacongos imigrantes em Lisboa, Portugal. Como num caderno de campo, teço considerações a respeito dos relatos sobre reavivamento de mortos, tráfico de órgãos e uma possível reconfiguração religiosa a partir destes encontros, em um diálogo constante com a literatura pertinente. O texto aporta uma nova forma de vislumbrar as relações sino-africanas, para além da perspectiva estritamente econômica.
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The influx of Chinese nationals is noticeable almost everywhere on the African continent to the extent that they are - a little too hastily - described as new "invaders". It is reported that 130,000 Chinese nationals are living in Africa. These recent arrivals in West Africa need to be explained. After recalling developments in Sino-African relations, this article traces the journey of Chinese entrepreneurs in Senegal and Cape Verde, assesses the modalities of their settlement in Dakar and Praia, and discusses the reactions to their arrival among local business people and consumers. The influx of Chinese nationals is noticeable almost everywhere on the African continent to the extent that they are - a little too hastily - described as new "invaders". It is reported that 130,000 Chinese nationals are living in Africa. These recent arrivals in West Africa need to be explained. After recalling developments in Sino-African relations, this article traces the journey of Chinese entrepreneurs in Senegal and Cape Verde, assesses the modalities of their settlement in Dakar and Praia, and discusses the reactions to their arrival among local business people and consumers.
In Italy, research on immigration has focused chiefly on general issues, while individual communities of immigrants have been relatively neglected. In most cases, the country of origin has been considered as just one facet of the overall phenomenon rather than as an essential element in the explanation of the differences in settlement strategies of different immigrant groups. This generalist approach reflects in some ways the relative invisibility of immigrants in Italy until fairly recently, as well as the imperatives of policy-making regarding immigration, such as quantification and registration.
Introduction As China-Africa trade relations are intensifying so are critical African voices that question the "real" nature of China's trade engagement opposing China's official discourse, which intends to present an alternative to the West. Trade unions and business associations are increasingly calling for governmental intervention to limit and regulate the scope of China's dumping strategies, particularly with regard to textiles. Africa appears as the real loser in the global textile struggle, a view frequently portrayed in African and Western media reports, and illustrated in the drastic lay-offs of textile workers and the closing of manufacturing units throughout sub-Saharan Africa. While the textile sector has been a major interest of media investigation, entrepôt states and their trade communities have sparked less attention. Drawing on recent ethnographic research in Togo, a significant hub for West African trade, this paper will focus on two interrelated aspects. First, it will examine the role of local traders in shaping these China textile trade relationships -Chinese textile networks of so-called African prints – then, it will analyze the varying reactions of Togolese textile traders to the recent appearance and intensification of Chinese-produced copies of African prints.
Journal of Chinese Overseas 2.2 (2006) 163-172 In offering tribute to Professor Liu Kwang-Ching I am joining his many old students who remember his expert guidance as they entered John Fairbank's imperial city of Chinese studies. When I first knew K.C. in 1958, he was assisting JKF in Harvard's introductory course on Modern Chinese History. K.C. taught by example: integrity in using sources, straightforwardness in writing, and dedication to encouraging students. Later, as K.C.'s assistant in a summer-school course, I watched a rare scholar-teacher at work; and have been trying vainly to emulate him ever since. Liu Laoshi, feichang ganxie! Today I shall grapple with an intractably large subject, the emigration of Chinese into the wider world in modern times. This is sometimes expressed as "China's expansion overseas" (Zhongguo haiwai fazhan), which sounds a bit menacing. But in fact it had almost nothing to do with any Chinese state, whether empire or nation. The emigrants, as Wang Gungwu has pointed out, started as "merchants without empires" (merchants including all the skilled artisans who built the colonialists' cities in Southeast Asia). Though without empires of their own, those merchants did have, so to speak, "borrowed empires" — those of the European colonialists, where they went about their business and, in close collaboration with them, opened China to the world and the world to China. My title suggests a deep interconnection between modern Chinese history and the history of Chinese emigration. To justify this idea in a mere 50 minutes, let me offer three simplifying perspectives. Four eras comprise the modern history of Chinese emigration (like all good periodization schemes, this one has fuzzy and overlapping boundaries): the early colonial age (16th to mid-19th century); the age of mass migration (mid-19th century to around 1930); the age of the Asian revolution (late 19th to late 20thcentury); and the age of global integration (late 20th century onward). China's "modern" emigration began with the arrival of Europeans in Southeast Asia in the early 1500s. Those Europeans invariably found small colonies of Chinese merchants wherever they established their fortified trading headquarters: Portuguese in Malacca (1511), Spanish in Manila (1570), Dutch in Batavia (now Jakarta, 1619) and British in Penang and Singapore (1786 and 1819). Under European patronage, Chinese merchants became the dominant middleman group in the colonies. A similar process occurred in mainland Southeast Asia (which remained uncolonized until the mid-1800s): e.g., Bangkok-period Siam, where by the late 1700s Chinese had become essential to the fiscal administration of the royal court (which itself was of part-Chinese ancestry). On the China side, the modern period can be said to have begun when the Ming court lifted its ban on private maritime trade (1567) and thereby opened the way for merchants to sojourn overseas in greater numbers — though emigration itself remained illegal. Instrumental in this turning point was a semi-private, semi-official "maritime lobby," of which more shortly. During the early colonial age, Chinese filled many roles needed by the Europeans, including middlemen in the China trade, tax farmers (that is, franchised tax collectors) for the colonial administrations, and middlemen trading with the native populations. One of their big contributions to China was to forward silver from the New World via Manila, where Spanish galleons from Acapulco...