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China-Africa | ... in the spirit of service


Connections between China and Africa

For some time I have been interested in links between the world's most populous country and the second-largest continent. That goes back to the 1980s, including the years I was Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa (more on that at the end, below).

Writing and networking

Although I haven't published on this topic, I did present a paper on soybeans and their use in Africa at the 8th Symposium on Chinese Dietary Culture (Sichuan University, Chengdu, China in October 2003, which was later published in DuBois, Tan, and Mintz's The World of Soy (University of Illinois Press, 2008).

I have written several blog posts on Beyond Niamey that discuss African studies in China or connections between African languages and Chinese (Mandarin):

Currently I participate in the Chinese in Africa/Africans in China list of the Chinese in Africa / Africans in China Research Network. Some posts to the H-Africa and Chinese lists reflect interest in China-Africa topics. In 2006-7 I experimented with a list on China-Africa news, called FeiZhou-AsSiin, but ultimately did not have the time to continue that.

In April 2005 I had the chance to give a guest lecture at the Peking University Center for African Studies on agricultural development and environmental issues in the Sahel (this was mentioned in a post on my "Beyond Niamey" blog).

Personal background

My interest in Africa-China topics grew at first under the shadow of interest in Africa-Japan connections - Japan having been in the late '70s and early '80s the subject of attention for lessons its development might have for other parts of the world.

As I recall, however, China was subtly ubiquitous in West Africa, even in the early '80s - from small products in markets, to occasional agricultural and machine tools, to medical aid. One area I worked in as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo (Amou-Oblo) had had a Taiwanese rice project during the 1960s, before Togo switched recognition from ROC to PRC, and there were still traces of it.

Three things stand out the early evolution of my interest in China in Africa:

  1. Reading while in Togo (c.1981), a book on this topic by a cousin, John K. Cooley, entitled East Wind Over Africa Red China's African Offensive (1965). Although clearly a Cold-War era production, it discussed a number of specific projects in various parts of Africa.
  2. Speaking Bambara with the Chinese owner of a small take-out place in Segou, Mali in 1985. This was a very brief exchange, but gave me new perspectives both on African languages and on integration of (at least some) Chinese in Africa.
  3. Living in Pita, Guinea (1986-7), not far from an early Chinese project in post-independence Africa, the Kinkon dam and hydroelectric station. (This was one of the projects mentioned in John Cooley's book.)
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