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Reading China What to Read on Africa-China Relations

Sino-African relations have waxed stronger in recent years, developing from political engagement in the 1960s to trade, economic relations, and technological exchanges today. There are currently more person-to-person contacts between Chinese and African people than at any point in history. As expected, China’s emergence as the top investor, business and development partner in Africa has garnered controversy globally.

More African countries attended the recently concluded Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in September than the 73rd UN General Assembly, showing how important Sino-African relations have become. For some observers, China represents hope for Africa’s industrialization and development, whereas, for others, China’s hunger for raw materials and debt diplomacy are the newest iteration of neo-colonialism. However, how much of these sentiments is rhetoric? Is there empirical evidence behind the hopes and fears? What are the implications of Sino-African relations?

The field of Sino-African studies is growing, and Sino-African scholars look to answer the foregoing questions on the complex nature of the relationship between Africa and China. The following texts from experts and emerging scholars in the field of China-Africa studies can help us understand the dynamics of Sino-African contact, whether it be through forums like FOCAC, in migrant communities in Guangzhou, or the operations of Chinese businesses in Tanzania, from an interdisciplinary and critical point of view.

TEOBALDO FILESI (TRANSLATED BY DAVID L. MORISON)
CHINA AND AFRICA IN THE MIDDLE AGES
LONDON: F CASS IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE CENTRAL ASIAN RESEARCH CENTRE, 1972 (AVAILABLE HERE)

Sino-African relations are often discussed as a contemporary phenomenon but relationships between China and Africa have existed for centuries, and during different Chinese dynasties. In China and Africa in the Middle Ages, Filesi gives an account of early Chinese engagements with Africa during the Ming, T’ang and Sung Dynasties. Filesi relies on the documented narratives of traders, sailors and travellers, as well as maps to understand early Chinese engagements with Africa. These primary sources provide a very detailed historical account of China’s early commercial and nautical interests and exploration of Africa. The Chinese government has referred to Filesi’s research as evidence that China’s policy towards Africa has never been driven by conquest or invasion but by trade and cultural exchange. By understanding Sino-African engagements in the past, we can see if and how this relationship has evolved.

DAVID SHINN AND JOSHUA EISENMAN
CHINA AND AFRICA: A CENTURY OF ENGAGEMENT
PENNSYLVANIA: UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA PRESS, 2012 (AVAILABLE HERE)

Shinn and Eisenmann’s China and Africa… provides an account of Sino-African relations between 1911 and 2011. In addition to discussing the roots of Chinese Policy in Africa, the authors also discuss China’s engagement with each of the 54 African countries individually and the wide range of factors that shape Sino-African relations, including investment, security, trade and culture.

ALABA OGUNSANWO
CHINA’S POLICY IN AFRICA 1958-71
LONDON: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1974 (AVAILABLE HERE)

While Filesi, Shinn and Eisenman offer insight into the history of Sino-African relations, Ogunsanwo offers one of the first insights into African perspectives on Sino-African diplomatic, economic, military and social relations. In China’s Policy in Africa…, Ogunsanwo focuses on the period between 1958 to 1971 and contextualizes China’s engagement with Africa in the Cold War. Ogunsanwo explores the power struggles between the United States, China and the Soviet Union and Africa’s position within those struggles. Ogunsanwo also discusses China’s successes and failures in specific African states, shaped by those power struggles, as well the internal drivers in both Africa and China.

BARRY SAUTMAN
“ANTI-BLACK RACISM IN POST-MAO CHINA”
THE CHINA QUARTERLY, VOL. 138 (1994) , PP. 413-437 (AVAILABLE HERE)

 In “Anti-Black Racism in Post-Mao China”, Sautman provides insight into the historical context of the perception and treatment of the African presence in China, by focusing on events between the late 1970s and the late 1980s. Sautman’s study on anti-black racism in China opens up the discussion on race and identity and how it impacts Sino-African relations. While China pushes a narrative of mutuality and common ground between China and Africa, Sautman questions whether these ideals reflected domestically in China and if not, why? Sautman studies clashes between Chinese and African students in China and seeks explanations for these conflicts using research from several Chinese cities. Focusing on Chinese and African students and intellectuals, this text attempts to understand post-Mao Chinese perceptions of race and identity.

KWEKU AMPIAH AND SANUSHA NAIDU (eds.)
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON? AFRICA AND CHINA
SOUTH AFRICA: UNIVERSITY OF KWAZULU-NATAL PRESS, 2008 (AVAILABLE HERE)

Like Ogunsanwo’s work, Ampiah and Naidu’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? reflects on African perspectives about Sino-African relations. This essay collection features 16 authors and 9 case studies that discuss the growing influence of China in Africa, and the geo-strategic dimensions of the China-Africa relationship. This book discusses China’s engagement in Sudan, the DRC, Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa, Nigeria and Gabon from a Pan-African perspective.

DEBORAH BRAUTIGAM
THE DRAGON’S GIFT: THE REAL STORY OF CHINA IN AFRICA
LONDON: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2009 (AVAILABLE HERE)

One of the controversies surrounding the discussion of Sino-African relations is China’s underlying intention in its engagement with Africa and whether it is neo-colonial in nature. China initiated relations with Africa and not the other way around. For this reason, there has been a lot of debate and speculation on China’s interest in fostering relations and investments in the continent. Brautigam’s The Dragon’s Gift was one of the first comprehensive studies on China’s contemporary investment and aid in Africa. Brautigam challenges myths and discusses the reasons why China is investing in African countries. She exposes the details of the ‘hows’, ‘whys’ and ‘how much’ of Chinese aid to Africa as a means of understanding China’s African foreign policy.

Daouda Cissé, Howard French, Solange Guo Chatelard et al (2013)
“THINK PIECES: MAKING SENSE OF THE CHINA-AFRICA RELATIONSHIP”
YALE UNIVERSITY. (AVAILABLE HERE)

 This collection of think pieces from the 2013 ‘Making Sense of the China-Africa Relationship: Theoretical Approaches and the Politics of Knowledge’ Conference held at Yale University, features experts and emerging scholars on different aspects of the Sino-African relationship. The think pieces focus on a range of issues including race and identity; Chinese oil investment in Africa; Chinese migrations to Africa; China’s impact on African textile and clothing industries; the securitization of Africa-China relations; and African agency in Sino-African relations.

HAISEN ZHANG AND DEBORAH BRAUTIGAM
“GREEN DREAMS: MYTH AND REALITY IN CHINA’S AGRICULTURAL INVESTMENT IN AFRICA”
THIRD WORLD QUARTERLY, VOL. 34, ISS. 09 (2013) PP. 1676-1696 (AVAILABLE HERE); AND
CHRISTOPHER ALDEN
“CHINA AND THE LONG MARCH INTO AFRICAN AGRICULTURE”
CASHIERS AGRICULTURES, VOL. 22, NO. 01 (2013) PP. 16-21 (AVAILABLE HERE)

Both articles tackle the impact of China on agriculture in Africa. Zhang and Brautigam study the evolution of and incentives behind Chinese engagement in Africa to highlight the myths and realities surrounding China and land acquisition in Africa. Alden discusses China’s food security dilemma, the expansion of the Chinese agro-industry in Africa and the resulting technical cooperation on African agricultural development. Both articles make a great foundation for understanding why and how China is engaging in African agricultural development.

 WENRAN JIANG
“FUELLING THE DRAGON: CHINA’S RISE AND ITS ENERGY AND RESOURCES EXTRACTION IN AFRICA”
THE CHINA QUARTERLY, VOL. 199 (2009) PP. 585-609 (AVAILABLE HERE); AND
LUKE PATEY
THE NEW KINGS OF CRUDE: CHINA, INDIA, AND THE GLOBAL STRUGGLE FOR OIL IN SUDAN AND SOUTH SUDAN
LONDON: HURST PUBLISHERS, 2014 (AVAILABLE HERE)

Energy and resource extraction are very important aspects of Sino-African relations. Both Jiang and Patey explore China’s role in the resource and energy extraction industries in Africa. Jiang studies China’s energy engagements in Africa by looking at domestic developments and how they influence China’s policy and business initiatives in Africa. Patey focuses on the impact of Sudan on the rise of Chinese and Indian economies, and the expansion of Chinese and Indian oil companies. Both Jiang and Patey bring unique perspectives into the discussion on energy and resource extraction in Africa. Jiang brings Chinese internal realities into the discussion as a way to contextualize China’s resource extraction activities, whereas Patey highlights the impacts and the roles of African states in the success or failure of China’s resource extraction endeavours.

CHRIS ALDEN, ABIODUN ALAO, ZHANG CHUNG AND LAURA BARBER (eds.)
CHINA AND AFRICA: BUILDING PEACE AND SECURITY COOPERATION ON THE CONTINENT
BASINGSTOKE, UK: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2018 (AVAILABLE HERE)

China and Africa… focuses on security cooperation between China and Africa, using case studies and analysis from both experts and emerging scholars. Alden et al analyse a wide range of issues surrounding security, from military diplomacy and China’s evolving approach to African peace and security ‘architecture’, to the Arms Trade Treaty, and lessons from Sudan, Liberia, Ethiopia and Mali. It is a very important body of work that contributes crucial insight to the link between development and security in contemporary Sino-African relations.

TU HUYNH AND YOON JUNG PARK
“”CHINESENESS” THROUGH UNEXPLORED LENSES: IDENTITY-MAKING IN CHINA-AFRICA ENGAGEMENTS IN THE 21ST CENTURY”
ASIAN AND PACIFIC MIGRATION JOURNAL, VOL. 27, NO. 01 (2018) PP. 03-08 (AVAILABLE HERE);
HOWARD FRENCH
CHINA’S SECOND CONTINENT: HOW A MILLION MIGRANTS ARE BUILDING A NEW EMPIRE IN AFRICA
NEW YORK: VINTAGE BOOKS, 2014 (AVAILABLE HERE); AND
GILES MOHAN AND MAY TAN-MULLINS
“CHINESE MIGRANTS IN AFRICA AS NEW AGENTS OF DEVELOPMENT? AN ANALYTICAL FRAMEWORK”
EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH, VOL. 21, NO. 4 (2009) PP. 588-605 (AVAILABLE HERE)

These texts focus on the impact of Chinese migrations to Africa on Sino-African relations, the image-making of ‘Chineseness’ and the China ‘brand’ in both Africa and China; how Chinese entrepreneurs are harnessing opportunities in areas others have overlooked; and, most importantly, the human face of day-to-day interactions between African and Chinese people in the process of infrastructural and commercial development. The texts give insight into labour and resource exploitation, the business of infrastructural development and also the person-to-person cultural exchanges that occur in these spaces.

ADAMS BODOMO AND GRACE MA
“WE ARE WHAT WE EAT: FOOD IN THE PROCESS OF COMMUNITY FORMATION AND IDENTITY SHAPING AMONG AFRICAN TRADERS IN GUANGZHOU AND YIWU”
AFRICAN DIASPORA, VOL. 05, NO. 01 (2012) PP. 03-26 (AVAILABLE HERE);
 MIN ZHOU, TAO XU AND SHABNAM SHENASI
“ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND INTERRACIAL DYNAMICS: A CASE STUDY OF SELF-EMPLOYED AFRICANS AND CHINESE IN GUANGZHOU, CHINA”
ETHNIC AND RACIAL STUDIES, VOL. 39, NO. 09 (2016) PP. 1566-1586 (AVAILABLE HERE);
LAVINIA LIN, KATHERINE BROWN, FAN YU, JINGQI YANG, JASON WANG, JOSHUA SCHROCK, ADAMS BODOMO, LIGANG YANG, BIN YANG, ERIC NEHL, JOSEPH TUCKER AND FRANK WONG
“HEALTH CARE EXPERIENCES AND PERCEIVED BARRIERS TO HEALTH CARE ACCESS: A QUALITATIVE STUDY AMONG AFRICAN MIGRANTS IN GUANGZHOU”
JOURNAL OF IMMIGRANT AND MINORITY HEALTH, VOL. 17, NO. 05 (2014) PP. 1509-1517 (AVAILABLE HERE); AND
ROBERTO CASTILLO
“LANDSCAPES OF ASPIRATION IN GUANGZHOU’S AFRICAN MUSIC SCENE: BEYOND THE TRADING NARRATIVE”
JOURNAL OF CURRENT CHINESE AFFAIRS, VOL. 44, NO. 04 (2015) PP. 83-115 (AVAILABLE HERE)

These works of research examine the unique aspects of the African migrant experience in China. Academic and media discourse on Sino-African relations often centre on big money and infrastructure. However, we can also learn from other aspects of people-to-people interactions. These articles open up discussions on African experiences in China relating to health, entertainment, food and self-employment. They provide valuable insight into the diverse narratives and experiences of Africans in China and help us realize that there is much more to Sino-African relations than big money.

GUOFU LIU
CHINESE IMMIGRATION LAW
SURREY: ASHGATE PUBLISHING LTD, 2011 (AVAILABLE HERE); AND 
SHANSHAN LAN
“STATE REGULATION OF UNDOCUMENTED AFRICAN MIGRANTS IN CHINA: A MULTI-SCALAR ANALYSIS”
JOURNAL OF AFRICAN AND ASIAN STUDIES, VOL. 50, NO. 03 (2015) PP. 289-305 (AVAILABLE HERE)

As more exchanges occur between China and Africa, knowledge of Chinese immigration law becomes more important. Guofu Liu’s work on Chinese immigration law is one of the first comprehensive studies on immigration law in China (a rapidly evolving area of law). Shanshan Lan discusses undocumented African migrations in light of the implementation of the anti-immigrant Guangdong Act and the inconsistencies between China’s pro-African stance internationally and anti-African immigrant sentiments at the local level.

DANIEL LARGE AND CHRIS ALDEN (eds.)
NEW DIRECTIONS IN AFRICA-CHINA STUDIES
ABINGDON, UK: ROUTLEDGE, 2018 (AVAILABLE HERE)

Finally, this book, which is comprehensive and multidisciplinary in its approach, looks at new aspects of Sino-African relations ranging from the role of the media, identity and race, African agency, dependency, a clash of values between China and Africa (on the trade of ivory), resource extraction, African security and neo-patrimonialism using case studies in Ivory Coast, Mauritius, Angola, Benin, Tanzania and Kenya.

The works of Ogunsanwo, Bodomo, Ampiah, Alao, Cissé and many others have infused China-Africa studies with African perspectives but there is still a need for more African-led research on Sino-African relations. Nevertheless, each text on this reading list offers insight into diverse perspectives and disciplines not only on the history behind Sino-African relations. Each text also explores how Sino-African relations have evolved over time under the pressure of different local, regional and international contexts and realities. An examination of how the relationship between Africa and China has changed over time reveals patterns or gaps in Sino-African engagements. It is after understanding these patterns and gaps, that we can begin to visualize a way forward for Africans in our engagement with China