n African Review of Economics and Finance - China's Second Continent. How a million migrants are building a new empire in Africa, Howard W. French. Alfred A. Knopf (Eds.) : book review

Volume 8, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 2042-1478
  • E-ISSN: 2410-4906


The provocative title and thesis of Howard French's book is ample evidence of the allure geopolitical narratives have in simplifying what would otherwise be a complex portrait of African-Chinese relations. Despite the title and his own attempt to live up to the title, French has actually written a rich and nuanced book. His long term experience in both China and around the African continent makes him among the better qualified of non-African journalists to cover the topic. His strongest contributions are the portraits he provides of the individual Chinese entrepreneurs whose experiences and relationships, as he argues in the introduction, have been neglected in discussions about Sino-African relationships. Thestories he collects from his year-long whirlwind tour of Africa portray hyper-entrepreneurs, some lacking prior international experience, and some knowing no language other than Chinese. Through a combination of what French identifies to be some parts skill and some parts luck, many (but not all) have managed to set themselves up in a range of industries from timber exploitation to manufacturing. These rags-to-riches stories are set within an atmosphere of "eating bitterness," wherein Chinese migrants strive by working in environments that many (but not all) expressly do not like, and do business with people towards whom they frequently express negative sentiments. French considers many of them to be China's "lost generation," those whose opportunities for education were disrupted by the Cultural Revolution, and who were unable to compete successfully in the post-reform economy. As French points out, "huge numbers of Chinese had not boarded the up escalator, or at least they did not feel they had," (240) and Africa presents itself as a second chance, a place of supposedly limitless opportunity. The pursuit of these opportunities is fragmented, rather than organized, and we find different Chinese actors working at cross-purposes.

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