Sunday, June 8, 2014

Africa and China relationships: Some observations

By Tasha Coleman

As of 2012, there were roughly one million Chinese living throughout the continent of Africa.[1] Some of these individuals and families are migrants while others were born in Africa.[2] Living in such close proximity fosters African-Chinese friendships and even marriages[3]. These sorts of interactions also occur in China: for example, I am an African-American woman living in China and I am currently dating a Chinese man. I have also met many African business owners and students here in Shanghai. Such interactions serve as a positive influence on the trust that Africans and Chinese have for each other.
Language is another important factor that determines the relationships of individual Africans in China. While English often fills this gap, some Africans and Chinese learn each other’s language.[4] I have personally encountered many African students that are fluent in Chinese, who speak so well they can attend university classes in Chinese.[5] I believe that when a foreigner speaks to a native person in the local language, it fosters good will between the two. I experience this on a regular basis when I speak in my subpar Mandarin. People feel that I respect their culture and show appreciation of my efforts. The goodwill generated by these sorts of efforts are particularly important in China, as personal relations have a stronger bearing on business than in the United States. In China, a level of personal comfort between the parties must be reached before business will proceed. Accordingly, business deals often begin with more social activities (i.e. dinner, small talk, etc.).[6]

In these are some of my limited observations that i hope to expand upon in later posts.


[1] Chinese in Africa, January 30, 2013,
[2] Chinese South Africans,
[3] News One for Black America, June 29, 2011,
[4]Business Daily, July 22, 2010,
[5] The Africa Report, February 27, 2013,
[6] International Business Times, February 16, 2012,


  1. Hi Tasha, I appreciate your posts, but I encourage you to delve deeper below the surface. While the "conflicts of language and culture" are significant, many of the anecdotal insights you are alluding to disregard a rich history of experience on the topics you are interested in. I encourage you to look at the long history of other cultural interactions with the Chinese that have been ongoing for decades, if not centuries (i.e. with Europe, North America, East and SE Asia, the Middle East, etc.). There are also many instances of exchange, language learning, shared and conflicted histories. There are countries where Chinese have been a significant segment of the population, settled for decades, adopted local lifestyles, etc, but this has not led to "idyllic, harmonious" coexistence in most instances. The history of the Chinese diaspora is long, varied and complex. The history of ethnic Han Chinese relations with other ethnic minorities inside China or neighboring nationalities over decades and centuries should point to the reality that China is not always and simply predisposed to "trying to build brotherly/sisterly" love. I encourage your further and deepening exploration of the topics you are looking at, but encourage you to look more deeply into the psychology, history, culture, reality that exists so as not to miss the forest from the trees. I admire China as I admire the complexity of most nations, and encourage a more rigorous (since objective may simply not be possible) exploration of your topics.

    1. p/s - It might be helpful to look into drawing on the experiences of race relations in the United States and the experiences of African Americans. While much progress has been made in the past century between racial and ethnic groups in the United States, things are far from ideal, despite decades of the kind of social exchanges that you point to in your comments. There are many individuals with decades of experience living and working in China (the most admirable of whom are very pro-China) who have shared many of their insights and experiences, but would also reveal that relations with Chinese and China are far more complex than you allude to.