Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reading: China and Africa

NOTE: I have personally met both Ambassador Shinn and Joshua Eisenman and, on top of that, find them to be wonderful people. I also know that they spent six years researching this monograph. All of these are, unfortunately, going to color my review of their work.

If you are interested in Sino-African relations, perhaps you have wondered if there is any definitive text to not only give an overview of the relationship but also the historical background. There are actually many excellent works that do either or both. However, Shinn and Eisenman's China and Africa: A Century of Engagement gives

In short, you should drop whatever you are doing and find a way to get this book (Click here to learn how to get a 20% discount on ordering the book online.

I have yet to draw up the materials for a more complete review (which should be done by the end of the week), but here are a few things that caught my eye:

  • This is the best-researched Sino-Africa text I have ever read. Usually, when I read an article or book on the subject, I am pretty familiar with the English language sources whenever I scan the footnotes or endnotes. That is not to say that people do shoddy research, quite the contrary, as some of the sources can be hard to get. However,  a good amount of research has been done on the subject (one of the benefits of the Cold War is that the U.S. and Europe would pay for all sorts of normally esoteric research, which Sino-African relations might qualify as) and been mined for information. In the case of Shinn and Eisenman's research though, I had never encountered a good half of their citations before, which is fairly unusual. Their use of declassified U.S. cables I found particularly useful. I am not looking forward to carrying the mountain of sources they cited just to keep up with them.
  • This has the best historical overview of Sino-African relations I have ever read. Case in point, they mention Republican China's relations with the African continent. Having spent months gathering material on pre-1949 Chinese relations with Africa, I know how hard it can be to find this information. Kudos to them.
  • They pull off the country-by-country analysis. When I first met both authors and they mentioned that they were trying to look at Sino-Africa relations country by country, I was stunned. It would take a large team of dedicated scholars years to pull off such a feat. Somehow, they did it. Starting on chapter 8, they look at individual countries in different regions of Africa. Though each description is seldom more than a page, it is quite informative and packed with endnotes for future study. If you want to know a brief overview of country X's dealings with China and where to look further, this book is invaluable.
  • Their analysis of Sino-African relations is nuanced and balanced. In fact, they actually do a great job of identifying which scholars fall in the "optimist" and "pessimist" camp. This is the sort of sober, neutral analysis (if such a thing is possible) that is sometimes missing from the overall discussion.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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