“Ghost people” do not “save”

Recently, I came across an article entitled “‘Ghost People’: Localising the Chinese Self in an African Context” that appeared in Asian Studies Review (2006, vol.30, no. 3). I thought it somehow could be a useful read.

This article takes “Chineseness” as an unchallenged notion and argues that Chineseness in South Africa tends to either disappear (people become “ghosts” or “bananas” — yellow outside; white inside) or to manifest in terms of provincial atavism (?). All the same,  the Chinese in South Africa have never really felt a sense of belonging.

Although I think this account on what it means to be Chinese in S. Africa is a bit too simplistic, some sections of this article have provided a nice general sketch on Chinese lives in S. Africa, from the first generation migrants to the recent influx of PRC newcomers. Also the part on “China-S. Africa Relations” has provided interesting information on the kind of political and economic strategy that China adopts in Africa,

One thing that makes me wonder, after reading this article, is the linkage between Chinese become “ghost people” in Africa, and the yellow man’s burden (to invest?) vs. the white man’s burden (to save?)

As The Guardian’s foreign correspondent Rory Carrol put it: “Where Tony Blair, Bono and relief organisations see Africa as a moral cause, something to be saved, the Chinese see a business opportunity” (Mail & Guardian, 7 April 2006). Again, Zhou Yuxiao is succinct: “We do not use the term ‘save’. That’s patronising. We are here to invest” (Mail & Guardian, 7 April 2006).  (p.260)

Can I make this big leap by saying that Chineseness “disappear” has something to do with the fact that the yellow man does not “save” like the white man does (as “whiteness” seldom disappears…)?

This then makes me think about Third Tone Devil’s recent post on western donors’ pressure on Congo over $9bn (or $6bn?) Chinese investment:

The IMF has talked about making governments ineligible for debt relief and concessionary loans if they also accept commercial loans (which typically come from China), as that threatens to create new indebtedness.

So it seems that the IMF and perhaps other donors want to “save” poor countries out of  “new  indebtedness” by threatening to not give them debt relief?

Anyway, just my scattered thoughts all over the place…


One Response to “Ghost people” do not “save”

  1. Indeed, it has been argued that China, unlike the West, does not want to “save”. But then, of course, the direction of this Western “soteriological” impulse has shifted quite dramatically: 100 years ago, to save meant to develop (and to teach, and to baptize, and to inoculate), whereas now it means largely to conserve (and to sustain, and to empower). This latter-day soteriology is inevitably conflicted. But the Chinese discourse of development, though admittedly without the overtly salvatory posturing, is not all that different from the earlier kind of Western soteriology. The Guardian may be right that there are much fewer save-the-native types among individual Chinese entrepreneurs in Africa, but the public discourse of China’s development export is no less moral than the Western one, albeit in a different way.

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