Normally, I finish a book before I write a review, but with an hour left (according to my Kindle) and the digital library book overdue by a few weeks now, I’m obliged to write my thoughts and impressions down, which I already formed from the first few minutes of reading.
Let me begin by saying that this book isn’t. This isn’t a book dissecting China’s overall policy in Africa, nor is it a book measuring the Chinese migration effect. This is a collection of stories from each of the million migrants, and how they managed to survive and, perhaps, even thrive in what is probably the final frontier on Earth. And this is the point that Howard French, a tireless journalist, is trying to make: policy might be made by governments, but individuals are the catalysts for change, no matter how fast or slow it might be.
Even before China began testing a more proactive foreign policy, the country has always been mindful to secure the raw materials to fuel its continued growth. Inevitably, China has become deeply involved in the future of Africa, fully invested in its infrastructure and its governments. Naturally, with such favorable attitudes towards African investments, the Chinese have been immigrating to Africa since the 1990s to seek their fortune.
But the success of one Chinese businessperson doesn’t necessarily mean the success of fellow citizens around them. One strange aspect of the Chinese culture revolves around a person’s identification with the province they’re from rather than country. If 2 Americans ran into each other in Africa, it would seem like old friends greeting each other when, in reality, they’re strangers. With the Chinese, they have be from the same province, or at least a province with a good reputation (when in doubt, Beijing is always a good choice). There have been a few instances when a Chinese businessperson thinks he or she is the only Chinese person in a 100km radius, only to find a Chinese restaurant in the same town that they’ve never heard of. This lack of cultural synergy, however, leads to an interesting outcome, where the Chinese are literally living among the natives rather than creating gated communities.
This idea of living off the land leads to another surprising factor: the Chinese job demographic is wide and varied. Another cornerstone of Chinese culture is not being afraid of doing the hard work at whatever current benefit with the hopes of a future payoff. As I alluded to in my last paragraph, it isn’t just the import-export business or infrastructure business that is being conducted in Africa. There are restaurants, electronic stores (supplied with items made in China, of course), hotels, and so on.
I began reading this book expecting something completely different, but I was pleasantly surprised by the book’s message. While governments and large enterprises may have the large, obvious impacts in an area, it’s the people that shape it. Now, if only I had an hour to finish reading this book.