Author Howard French focuses in this latest book China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa on individual Chinese entering Africa. In OZY he explains why: Its not the billionaires, but the relative poor coming to Africa.
French: This is the beginning of a historically important phenomenon: The creation of a massive diaspora of a trading and investment class of people of Chinese extraction. If you think about the economic history of the world in the last 500 years, big trading and investment diasporas — wherever they may be from — tend to have a huge impact on the subsequent political-socioeconomic [climate] of their destination countries…
OZY: Is there something different about the Chinese people who decide to come?
French: They come from very ordinary places in China, where cosmopolitanism is not their experience. To get out to Africa — which is psychologically as remote a place as you can get — means almost by definition you’re already dealing with a very special group of people.
These Chinese people, whether or not they knew what they were getting into (and usually they didn’t), had a very special kind of pluck about them, a very special willingness to get out of the mainstream of their own society and to search and explore the world, to take some risks.
OZY: So they come to Africa to escape something back at home?
French: We have this image of China getting rich, the number of billionaires. China is in fact a really tough place for most Chinese people. So it’s not such a stretch to imagine why 1 percent or 3 percent of the people of that country would say, “Hey, there’s got to be some better way. There’s got to be some place where things aren’t so tough or where there’s more readily available opportunity for me.”
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