What does being "Chinese" in Africa mean vis-a-vis other "foreign" identities in Africa? In order to understand emerging forms of "Chineseness" in Africa, it is important to examine how ordinary Africans and Chinese make comparisons. Focusing on coastal Tanzania, and based on seventeen months of ethnographic fieldwork in Dar es Salaam, I explore how different Tanzanians compare and contrast Wachina (Chinese) to other kinds of foreigners. While China-Africa discourses have been predominated by comparisons between China and “the West,” the experience of Chinese can also be compared to the experience of the Wahindi (South Asians) and other “middlemen” on the East African coast. I argue that the meaning of Chineseness in Tanzania varies depending on whether Chinese migrants are being compared to Wahindi, Waraabu (Arabs), or Wazungu (Whites). The meaning also depends on the specific contexts in which the titular “rise of China” is embodied by the presence of Chinese migrants or materialized by the presence of Chinese goods. I focus on the case of Chinese wholesale traders in the Kariakoo market of Dar es Salaam, who are analogous to other trading intermediaries who compete for control of the trade in manufactured goods from China to Africa, and resemble longer histories of communities whose positions have waxed and waned relative to other communities within trading hierarchies. What makes Chinese migrants distinct from other migrants depends on the effects the Chinese presence has for the social mobility of different Tanzanian traders. These effects, which reflect emerging structural interdependencies between Chinese and Tanzanian life projects in the global division of labor, alternatively position Chinese migrants as foreign to Tanzania’s moral economy or even potentially internal to Swahili identities themselves. I argue for shifting the discussion of global China in Africa to the specificities of global Africa’s relationship to the world, and to a relational view of the meanings of “China” and “Africa” as mutually constituted.
Derek Sheridan is an Assistant Research Fellow with the Institute of Ethnology at Academia Sinica. His research interests include China-Africa connections, migration and transnationalism, ethics, inequality, political economy, race, semiotics, knowledge production, global imaginaries, (global) China, and East Africa (Tanzania). His first project, Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurs and the Interpersonal Ethics of Global Inequality in Tanzania, is based on seventeen months of ethnographic fieldwork studying the everyday lives of migrant Chinese entrepreneurs in Tanzania. The book will examine how Chinese expatriates and ordinary Tanzanians negotiate a "South-South relationship" through the interpersonal ethics of social interactions. A second project concerns the circulation of martial arts culture between East Asia and Africa, and its influence on subjectivities and cultural production (including film) in Tanzania.