WHEREwould a million migrants go to in their quest for economic opportunity, religious freedoms, clean air, and a better future for their children? The answer: Somewhere in Africa. Surprised? Not if you are a working-class, small-town Chinese, experiencing the stresses of frenetic economic growth at home while missing out on the affluence concentrated in the glittering cities of coastal China.
Journalist-author Howard Frenchâ€™s new bookÂ Chinaâ€™s Second ContinentÂ is noteworthy for its illuminating, and even surprising, insights about the huge and growing Chinese diaspora in Africa. For example, not all Chinese movement into Africa is because of state-sponsored investments to secure resources in exchange for building infrastructure. In the very beginning, we meet Hao who ends up in Mozambique entirely on his own initiative and schemes to acquire fertile land through his sonsâ€™ sexual exploits. Hao boasts:
The mothers are Mozambicans, but the land will be within our family. Do you get it?
Part reportage, part travelogue, Frenchâ€™s latest journey across the continent is ultimately a story of human interest, as he meticulously interviews and documents the everyday stories of new Chinese settlers in Africa and their encounters with local Africans. These are important stories not least because the ongoing Chinese-African encounter is one of epic proportions. A million migrants is a conservative estimate, believes French, and exact numbers remain elusive. Still, consider the facts we do know: The worldâ€™s most populous country and its fastest growing large economy, is exporting itsâ€™ people to a new land, also home to some of the worldâ€™s fastest growing economies and with a population expected to grow to almost 2.5 billion within the next 25 years.
To Frenchâ€™s credit, he resists that very American (and very tiresome) instinct which tells us what all this might mean for the US and its interests in the region. Instead, as the formerNew York TimesÂ bureau chief in Shanghai and West and Central Africa, French uses his knowledge of both Africa and China to give every story a vivid backdrop. And we begin to see how ordinary people are becoming architects of an important new international relationship in which the West plays no part. Frenchâ€™s fluency in Mandarin and deep ties to West Africa â€“he mentions attending his mother-in-lawâ€™s funeral in Ghana at one point in the book â€“ position him well to explore the nuances of Chinese-African interactions.
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