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Seminar: Do Chinese abroad self-isolate? The case of Africa

By Yan Hairong, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Tue 13 Nov 2018
1:00 - 2:15 pm


Room 929, 9/F, The Jockey Club Tower, HKU

Chinese are often said to ‘self-segregate’ in Africa. Chinese ethnocentricity is typically offered as an explanation for the putative non-interaction. Meanwhile Chinese are not compared to other non-indigenous people in Africa, implying unique Chinese self isolation. Due to China’s semi-peripheral dynamics however, the contemporary Chinese presence in Africa cannot be generalized into a single category. Based on surveys, interviews, and documents, we examine the varied presence of Chinese in Africa, including residential patterns acquisition of local African languages, and socialization patterns, and draw distinctions between Chinese expatriates and Chinese migrants.

Factors affecting Chinese adaptation include local political environment, recentness of migration, language barriers, and corporate policies to mitigate crime and conflict. We argue that most Chinese in Africa are not self-isolated and not more isolated in Africa than are other Asian migrants and whites there. Claims of Chinese self-isolation reflect a longstanding, global Yellow Peril discourse that persists despite discrediting evidence.

Based at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, YAN Hairong’s intellectual interests include labor, gender, rurality, rural-urban relations, and collective and cooperative rural economy. Her earlier research focused on rural-to-urban migrant domestic workers in urban China. She thus examined the transformation in rural-urban relations, gender relations and class relations in China’s reform process.

She is the author of New Masters, New Servants: Migration, Development, and Women Workers in China (Duke University Press, 2008). She has been collaborating with Barry Sautman on China-Africa links and has co-authored East Mountain Tiger, West Mountain Tiger: China, Africa, the West and “Colonialism” (Maryland Monograph Series in Contemporary Asian Studies, no. 186) and, in Chinese, China in Africa: Discourse and Practices (Beijing: shehui kexue chubanshe, 2017). In recent years, she has become concerned with food sovereignty and agrarian change in China. She publishes in the Journal of Peasant Studies and the Journal of Agrarian Change and contributes to the food sovereignty network in China.

HKU Sociology

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