Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Translation Tuesday: Is China’s ideological influence in Africa good?

Translator: Zander Rounds
Published on: 11/21/2014

Author: Tang Xiaoyang
Source: Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy
Original event: 

The following Mandarin-language exchange between Tang Xiaoyang, a scholar of Africa-China economic relations, and an African audience member, occurred during the question and answer segment of "China-Africa Economic Cooperation in a Global Context," which hosted by the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. Substantively, Tang’s response to this question about China’s ideological influence in Africa is quite interesting. Note, for instance, that while the audience member frames his question in terms of the role of China as an influential external actor, Tang responds by shifting the focus entirely to the critical role of locals in “accepting” different ways of thinking. Also interesting are the strong liberal undertones of his advice for how nations should respond to globalization.
--- Zander Rounds (Translator)

Audience member:
Speaking as an African person, previously we had African ideas and then, due to the issue of colonialism, Western ideas came over and influenced us. Now, Chinese people are doing a lot for us, and as they do they also bring Chinese ideas. For example, when a Chinese leader says “its like this” then its just “like this” [meaning, he or she is not questioned]. Africa already has problems with democracy. And as a result of a number of important factors, our development has lagged behind. 
Do you think China’s ideological influence on Africa is positive? What are the benefits and harms that Chinese ways of thinking present for Africa’s development?
Tang Xiaoyang:
Do Chinese ways of thinking have a positive or negative influence in Africa? In fact, I think the ways of thinking that can actually be accepted are all those that Africans [already] can understand; and as such, the ways of thinking that produce results are all actually African’s own ways of thinking.

I just think, if a Chinese person goes off and attempts to teach some method [of thinking]—if [he] attempts to use China, for example, by using the Confucius Institutes to teach some abstract theories or literature—then African people will not necessarily be able to accept it. There may be many Africans that are unable to accept it. In actuality, those ways of thinking that do in fact have an impact are all those that Africans can understand and accept. Those are the ways of thinking that will have an influence.

For example, Africa may [consider] the way that China does business. Some African employees, through engaging with Chinese people, may discover that their way of doing business is also very good and potentially beneficial. Therefore, whether or not this [way of doing things] is accepted, frequently has to do with an individual making a personal judgment: he [or she] might think: this will benefit me, so I will accept it.

Therefore, of course, if we are to ask, is this type of acceptance good for a society? Now that is a different question. You mentioned that right now you have accepted many Western ways of thinking —including some that individual people might think are good. For example, an individual that now can wear clothes that are a little more fashionable or has realized better material circumstances might think that [Western influence] is a good thing. But the entire society or the local tradition will not necessarily accept these things. Other people or other ways might not think that these things are good at all.

This is also present in China’s influence on a local [environment]. For example, maybe Chinese people say: “You should be frugal.” Some Africans may say, “good”; others may think, “why do we need to do work as if one’s life depends on it like a Chinese person? This is not the our own way of life.” This also includes Chinese people’s increasing emphasis on individual economic self-reliance. Some people might think this is good and accept this; others might think Africa still needs a kind of communal, sharing-based, societal style. 
This is to say, different people will have different ideas about [foreign] influences. Precisely which road will these diverging ideas ultimately lead Africa to walk along? Mostly, African society and locals will decide this. The different people of Africa need different ways to connect and engage in discussion so as to realize the potential conflicts to transformation, and then address these conflicts in a rational manner.

Another major trend that needs to be taken into account is globalization. In the wake of globalization, it doesn't matter if it's Europe, China, India or another country’s influence, every region of the world will encounter all sorts of ideas. Therefore, within the context globalization, how can a tolerant attitude [be maintained] in order to incorporate increasingly diverse influences? This is not just something that Africa should do, but also China and all other countries as well.

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