Chinese in Africa Conferences Uncategorized

2nd online mini-symposium CAAC2021: Contemporary Chinese Mobilities in East/Southern Africa

The geographies of transnational mobility in China-Africa relations register much more than human movement alone. Non-human and non-material things such as ideas/knowledge, values, and aspirations can move, impact on locales, and transform as a result of the movement of people. Chinese mobilities in Africa encapsulate a diverse and complex range of practices. To better understand the diversity, and the impact, of Chinese mobilities in Africa, and the possibilities for the future, the Organising Committee of the 6th Chinese in Africa / Africans in China Research Network Conference invites you to join our 2nd online mini-symposium titled ‘Contemporary Chinese Mobilities in East/Southern Africa’ this Feb 26, 2021.

Join Cheryl Mei-ting Schmitz, from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Maggi Leung, from the Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning at Utrecht University, and Ding Fei, from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona University, who will participate as discussants, for a fascinating conversation on the implications of Chinese presence in Africa past, present and future.

This event is hosted by the Chinese in Africa / Africans in China Research Network Conference Organising Committee in collaboration with the Centre for Cultural Research and Development at Lingnan University, Hong Kong.

Mini-symposium: Chinese Mobilities in Africa – CAAC 2021

Cheryl Mei-ting SCHMITZ

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin


Department of Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Utrecht University

Ding FEI

School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University


Cheryl Mei-ting SCHMITZ

Title: Make a New Friend, Build a New Road: Opportunity, Mistrust, and Reliability in Chinese-Angolan Collaborations

Abstract: In debates about African debt and agency in relation to China, Angola has figured prominently, often cited as China’s largest trading partner on the continent, and recipient of more Chinese loans than any African country. Less attention has been paid, however, to how Angolan individuals may act as gatekeepers to obstruct or facilitate Chinese business in the country, and how Chinese entrepreneurs try to negotiate advantageous positions within such “collaborations.”

Drawing from fieldwork conducted in 2013–2014 with a Chinese state-owned construction firm in Luanda, this talk examines how Chinese businesses attempted to expand in the aftermath of a booming period of Angolan postwar reconstruction. Chinese entrepreneurs found that business could only be done with the help of local mediators promising to open otherwise inaccessible portals to political expediency. They shared with their would-be collaborators an image of Angola as a land of vast extractive opportunities, available only to those who could gain access through crucial personal connections. Highly aware of the opacity and potential deceptiveness of their “friends,” in part because they engaged in dissimulative practices themselves, Chinese businesspeople evaluated their Angolan counterparts less in terms of sincerity than efficacy.

The shared understandings and practices that emerge through the transactions analyzed in this paper challenge images of Africans and Chinese as either antagonistic classes or cultural “Others.” Instead, my ethnographic examples would indicate a situation in which Chinese and Angolan actors become entangled in relations of both mutual benefit and reciprocal exploitation.

Bio: Cheryl Mei-ting Schmitz conducted ethnographic fieldwork among Chinese migrants and their Angolan partners while working as a Chinese-Portuguese intern translator for a Chinese state-owned construction firm based in Luanda. As a Research Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, she is currently exploring the development of African Studies in China, as part of the Lise Meitner Research Group “China in the Global System of Science.”

Affiliation: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin


Title: Medical diplomacy before and after COVID-19: Chinese engagements in Zambia*

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought Chinese growing presence in the global medical field to the world’s attention. The practice of Chinese ‘mask diplomacy’ can be considered as the latest manifestation of China’s rising (soft) power in the Global South, but also in parts of Europe. Chinese medical aid to African countries is, however, not a new phenomenon. The scale and scope of these ‘medical diplomacy’ engagements have expanded significantly in the last two decades. There is no shortage of reports on the important role played by the Chinese state as a new alternative for medical development in Africa. China’s medical aid is visualized by abundant figures such as the amount of money donated and invested, hospitals built, numbers of Chinese professionals deployed, African practitioners trained and patients treated etc.. However, little is known about the lived experiences behind these numbers. Drawing on academic debates surrounding knowledge mobility, this paper presents the embodied experiences of Chinese-Zambian medical co-operation. Based on our qualitative research in Zambia, we analyse the factors and processes of knowledge (im)mobilities and (co)creation. We identify a number of important prisms that affect the exchange of knowledge between the Chinese and Zambian teams in the hospital where we conducted our fieldwork. Our paper will also provide some thoughts on the implications of COVID-19 pandemic on Chinese ‘medical diplomacy’ in Zambia [co-authored by Peter Schumacher].

Bio: Maggi W.H. Leung is Associate Professor at the Department of Human Geography and Planning at Utrecht University. Her research focuses on the geography and impact of migration and other forms of mobility (esp. academic and professional mobility), internationalisation of education and related outcomes in knowledge mobilty and capacity development. She has published on these topics in a range of geography and social science journals. She is one of the editors of Geoforum and the Handbook of Translocal Development and Global Mobilities (Edward Elgar, 2021).

Affiliation: Department of Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Utrecht University

Ding FEI

Title: Displacement and Socio-Economic (In)Mobility of Chinese Expatriates in Africa

Abstract: This article investigates the transnational experiences of Chinese expatriates in Africa, drawing upon survey, semi-structured interviews, and sketch mapping with Chinese expatriates working in different sectors in Ethiopia. I argue their transnational movement are shaped by inter-state diplomatic ties, overseas ventures of Chinese companies, and the individual aspirations for better livelihoods in China. Specifically, expatriation is marketed by official rhetoric of South-South skills transfer at the state level and sustained by management activities and discursive constructions of certain employee characteristics (e.g. suzhi) as strategies for differentiation at the firm level. The emergence of a transnational social order of stratification among expatriates indicates that Chinese in Africa are neither a homogenous group nor free-floating cosmopolitan elites with power and resources at their disposal. Instead, most expatriates are simultaneously domestic and international migrants moving between places within and beyond China. They are subject to varying degrees of empowerment, displacement, estrangement, and socio-economic (in)mobility at migratory nodes, which informs their future migration decisions.

Bio: Ding Fei is a development and economic geographer. Her research focuses on the relationship among state, capital and human agency in the uneven process of China’s globalization, and its implications on industrial transformation and local capacity building in the “Global South”. Fei’s empirical research examines the variegated construction of local work regimes by globalized Chinese state and private capitals in Ethiopia, with case studies of Chinese companies operating in multiple sectors of overseas investment. Fei earned her doctoral degree from the Department of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota, and is currently a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the Arizona State University, and an early career fellow at the American Council of Learned Societies.

Affiliation: School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University

Moderator: Roberto Castillo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong.

Mini-symposium: ContemporaryChinese Mobilities in East/Southern Africa

Date: Fri Feb 262021

Time: 9:30am (GMT-5 New York); 3:30pm (GMT+1 Lagos); 10:30pm (GMT+8 Beijing)

Zoom link:
Meeting ID: 974 2895 5078
Passcode: 56540543

Register here:

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