The Chinese restaurant owner in Nairobi with a ´No Africans´ policy raised many questions, got arrested and focused the attention on the between one and two million Chinese in Africa. Author Howard French of China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa explains in PRI some of their reasons.
“These are people from all walks of life, but mostly people from working classes to the lower middle classes of China,” says Howard French, author of the book, “China’s Second Continent.”
For the most part, French says these newcomers are, “people who have very little previous knowledge of, and certainly no previous experience of, Africa. And they come to Africa bringing a lot of … baggage of prejudice and stereotypes about the African continent.”
Chinese people living and working in Africa have a whole range of attitudes about the people and place, French points out. But there is also a sense of entitlement among many Chinese business people who have come to Africa.
“There’s a special irony here,” French says. China’s sense of its own history has placed great emphasis on the impact of Western imperialism on the Chinese motherland. It may be apocryphal, French says, but there is a well-known image from the era of high European colonial influence in China that began in the mid-19th century and lasted roughly a century. The image that has been played up in Chinese propaganda is that of a sign reading, ‘No Chinese or dogs allowed.’
“So, now you have the Chinese arriving in an African setting replicating to some extent the same sort of behavior, the same sort of attitudes,” French says.
For many Chinese business people, French says the allure of Africa is still strong. “There’s a whole lore in China, where Africa has attained this image of this El Dorado: a place [that] with very little experience and little capital, you can start up your own companies, you can attain land, you can engage very profitably in trade, you can strike it rich quickly.”
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