The Centre for Chinese Studies (CCS) at Stellenbosch University recently put up this Guest Column by Su Junxia of Humboldt University and Daniel Krahl at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. It is part of a series highlighting the diversity of Chinese people in Africa. This particular piece is looking at the following:
China’s relationship with Africa is often reported on as a story of big investors ranging from state owned enterprises to entrepreneurs. However, the Chinese coming to Africa are increasingly diverse. In the first of a five part series, the authors look at the phenomenon of Chinese Muslims coming to Africa. Muslims in China are normally seen as disadvantaged. African countries with strong Muslim communities seem to offer a rare advantage to them over their non-Muslim compatriots. Cairo often serves as the gate of entry for Chinese Muslims into Africa, and the key is the Arabic language. (Emphasis mine)The article begins by describing Fatima, a
... a young Muslim, or Hui, woman from Gansu Province and is distinguished from other female Chinese immigrants in Cairo by wearing the Muslim Hijab. She has been studying Arabic for the last two years at the language school of Al-Azhar University, in Cairo’s Abbasiya district. Abbasiya is one of the two areas in Cairo that could come closest to being a so called ‘Chinatown’. Most of the Chinese here are Muslim, predominantly from China’s north-west, studying Arabic at the world’s most famous Islamic university. Here you find the best examples of food from China’s north-western provinces, especially the typical noodles from the city of Lanzhou. (Emphasis mine)It goes on to detail some of the general experiences of a Chinese population that, by dint of religion, is consciously looks outward to foreign lands if not always accepting foreign ways:
Many Chinese Muslims express their appreciation for living surrounded by their own religion for the first time. They do however often complain that Egyptian Muslims appear more conservative on the surface, but that they do not take their religion as seriously as Muslims in China. Even if there is a religious bond, most Hui are as convinced that they will return to China at a certain point, as basically all their non-Muslim compatriots in Africa. Even those who study religion in Al Azhar often do this to work as Imams in China after their return. However, having mastered the language also offers them opportunities in the wider north-African region.
One example of this is Mark; he finished his studies in Cairo and went to Khartoum where he started to work in a furniture company. Now he oversees a dozen local workers. He enjoys Sudanese society, particularly the piety, which he thinks both Egyptian and Chinese mainstream societies lack. Nevertheless, he still thinks that the main advantage of his cultural affinity to the region is commercial and that north-Africa is just a stepping stone for a career back home.
Regardless of their religion, Chinese find integration into Egyptian society difficult. Fatima says that nearly all of her friends in Cairo are Chinese. When asked about Egyptian friends, she says she has almost no contact with them and does not like to deal with them. Like many Chinese (and Egyptian women), she complains about the ill treatment of women in Egypt and agrees with the view of many other Chinese in Cairo, who often describe the locals’ behaviour as ‘uncivilised’... (Emphasis mine)The piece was quite fascinating and should be read in full. I look forward to seeing what Krahl and Su produce for the future!