The subject of China-Africa relations presents a possibility to rethink the territorial parameters of African research. Specifically, it might assist shift consideration away from the Atlantic world because the dominant focus of connections between Africa and the broader world.
The issue is that present scholarship and public opinion have typically drifted into previous frameworks and colonial motifs.
To take one instance, China’s ambitions have continuously been construed as a part of a brand new ‘Scramble for Africa’ with African international locations falling sufferer as soon as extra to an outdoor international energy. One other instance is the uncritical use of the Orientalist stereotype of ‘dragon’ to symbolise China and its perceived aggressiveness.
I discover these problems with framing, narration and evaluation in a current article. I argue that these approaches have created problematic misrepresentations which have resulted in several components of the continent’s lengthy historical past with China being ignored.
Extra particularly, the Chilly Battle was a strong interval of Afro-Asian networking and solidarity towards Western neo-colonialism. Older nonetheless are native histories of Chinese language immigrant communities on the continent in international locations like South Africa. These experiences should be higher built-in into our understandings of China-Africa relations within the current.
The makes use of of historical past
Historical past generally is a helpful reference for understanding what is occurring at present. However merely rehashing imperial narratives as a guiding framework can obscure native views and different histories.
Within the case of China-Africa relations, the repackaging of previous paradigms can conceal a extra layered set of foundations and archives.
One instance of this extra advanced historical past is that of the Chilly Battle. Throughout this era China grew to become a supporter and ally of African liberation actions and postcolonial states. Diplomatic conferences just like the 1955 Asian-African Convention in Bandung, Indonesia, set the stage for these relationships. The convention triggered an extended historical past of transnational interactions throughout the latter half of the 20 th century, reaching excessive factors with Premier Zhou Enlai’s tour of ten African international locations in 1963 and 1964.
The perfect recognized instance of China’s affect throughout this era was the recognition of Maoism, which gained traction as a revolutionary and improvement ideology. With its emphasis on the peasantry as a vanguard for political and financial change, Maoism resonated with African activists and intellectuals. They noticed themselves as confronting the same set of circumstances throughout the continent. Julius Nyerere’s Maoist-influenced Tanzanian state and ujamaa program demonstrated how Chinese language approaches to improvement might encourage African financial tasks.
But additionally it is necessary to recognise the long-standing presence of Chinese language communities on the continent. Chinese language immigration to southern and jap Africa started over a century in the past. South African journalist Ufrieda Ho has addressed this historical past in her memoir, Paper Sons and Daughters. Her multi-generational account describes her household’s expertise in South Africa earlier than, throughout and after apartheid, capturing each the presence and marginality of Chinese language South Africans, who’ve been ignored of mainstream historic narratives. These social histories have additionally largely been absent from discussions of China-Africa relations.
A brand new strategy
The invisibility of those native histories is partly on account of prevailing tutorial definitions of ‘African’ identification. This identification stays deeply racialised with ‘Africanness’ and ‘Blackness’ seen as synonymous.
Nevertheless, the issue with any such race-territory correspondence turns into clear when ‘European’ identification, for instance, is at all times assumed to be ‘white’. Certainly, this logic betrays a lingering colonial worldview and taxonomy that fastened race and place collectively.
A extra expansive, decolonized understanding of ‘African’ identification might treatment these engrained habits of notion. Quite a few communities which have deep histories on the continent, whether or not Chinese language South Africans, Indian communities in East and southern Africa, or Lebanese communities in West Africa, level to different racial and cultural methods of being ‘African’.
Particular to China and Africa at present, this rethinking of ‘Africanness’ can present a manner of repositioning China-African relations past the diplomatic rhetoric of commerce and improvement to emphasise as an alternative native histories of African-Chinese language communities that lengthy precede our international current.
Returning to the Chilly Battle, the concept of ‘Afro-Asianism’, which first surfaced throughout the mid-Nineteen Fifties because of the Bandung convention, gives one other usable previous that may contribute to this new orientation.
Afro-Asianism was sustained in several methods by the Afro-Asian Folks’s Solidarity Organisation based in Cairo in 1957, the Afro-Asian Writers Affiliation established in Tashkent in 1958, and the Non-Aligned Motion that began in Belgrade in 1961. As an ideology, it promoted self-determination and the ethical beliefs of liberation struggles, together with racial and gender equality, human rights, and financial justice.
Reviving this concept might open the door to a brand new type solidarity towards the exploitation and abuses witnessed on each side of the ‘China-Africa’ equation. These issues will be seen in land agreements by African governments that don’t profit pre-existing residents. It will also be seen in anti-Black racism in China.
A refurbished ethos of Afro-Asianism might present an antidote to such issues and foster new types of group and internationalism. Moreover, redefining African identification to incorporate the historic presence of Chinese language communities might encourage and maintain extra significant understandings of transnational connections over an extended time period.
To rethink how we have a look at Africa’s relationship with China requires that we transfer past historic cliches, with African international locations at all times falling sufferer to exterior powers. Thankfully, there are a number of histories of substantive networking and cosmopolitan conviviality between Africa and China to make this risk occur.
Christopher J. Lee doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.