When it comes to China and Africa, much of the framing is done according to out-dated myths. Author Howard French of China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa tries to dismantle some of those misguided relics from the past for the Washington Post.
There is no question that one must try to disaggregate more when dealing with this topic. One of my starting goals in undertaking this project was simply trying to unravel the mystery of how so many Chinese ended up in Africa in such a relatively short period of time. I learned very quickly that almost none of this could be explained in authoritarian, command economy terms, where the state, at some central level, drew up a master plan that said “By year X, we need to have a million Chinese in Africa,” and set about rounding them up for resettlement here and there. The working title I proposed for my book, in fact, was “Haphazard Empire,” and that is because I quickly learned that for all of the planning and ambition of the Chinese state, lots of things quickly began to unfold in these relationships that had little or nothing to do with any set scheme or blueprint. Personally, one of the richest veins in my reporting was to discover how vigorously Chinese from different parts of that country compete with each other and regard each other with suspicion, stereotypes and resentment, and beyond that I was surprised to learn just how common it is for Chinese on the ground in Africa to look askance at their own state.
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