Hao Shengli in Mozambique is one of the characters author Howard French introduces in his latest book China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa. At NPR Howard French explains his migration story.
FRENCH: Hao was interesting because, unlike most of the people I profile, he was not a working-class person. He had started up several businesses in China that had done reasonably well. He had some savings. He set off to the Middle East – tried to do business there. He failed. He comes back to China. And he goes to a trade fair and meets some people in Guangzhou who tell him that there’s all kinds of opportunity in Africa. And so he then begins to fixate on Africa. And he ends up in Mozambique on the theory that, as a Portuguese speaking country, they’ll be very few Chinese people there. He spoke no Portuguese, but he figured, at least, he wouldn’t have any cutthroat Chinese competitors. And so he goes to Mozambique. He doesn’t do well in the capital. He discovers, to his disgust, that there are a lot of Chinese people there, in fact. And so he sets off for the countryside. And he ends up finagling his way into buying a very nice piece of irrigated, very rich farmland. And he gets into these relationships with the local people. And their relationship becomes ever more testy, and so he’s worrying. Even though he’s got a long-term lease, he’s wondering if the villagers won’t find a way to contest it, or the local government will take it back from him. And he settles upon a scheme, which absolutely astounded me, of bringing his teenage sons from China to settle there with him – and to have children by local women, in whose names he could place the property and control it indirectly through these people, who, as Mozambican citizens, would legally have the right to own land forever. And so that’s the scene that I stumble upon in this rural place.
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