Ming Pao used to be known as one of the more independent (i.e. non-Peking-aligned) major Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong. Perhaps I have missed something, or maybe it’s just Ming Pao Weekly that is no longer blocked in the mainland, but this report is no different from the mainline of mainland journalism on the topic: anticolonial solidarity, pioneering Chinese entrepreneurs, hard-working and idealistic Chinese engineers, lagging-behind Africans, plus some “human interest.” There is unabashed celebration of the “new era” in Africa ushered in by the Chinese who are “changing the face” of the continent, turning it into a “New West,” and leaving the old colonialists, who had already given up on Africa, scramble to regain their positions (Westerners do not appear in the story as persons). There is a passage — meant to convey admiration for progress – on a project at the Bui Dam that Chinese workers completed in a year instead of three, “turning jungle into construction site and chasing away monkeys and hippos. … Thousands, tens of thousands of Chinese workers have come to Africa, and on each face a story of self-confidence is written.” Both the writing and the analysis are far poorer than one finds in top mainland publications such as Southern Weekend.
The author followed Ghanaian traders from Canton to Accra, where he visited a large Chinese consumer-goods market and a lot of Chinese shops and restaurants — a scene reminiscent of Eastern Europe but also, for him, of the “African neighbourhood” in Canton. He also interviewed Chinese engineers and construction workers from Hunan and Sichuan, restaurant owners from Guangdong, and a pastor from Hong Kong. The article implies that resentment against the number of Chinese workers is unreasonable: a Hunanese engineer tells the reporter that Chinese workers are three times as efficient as Africans, while conflicts are described as blown out of proportion by an unfriendly African press. In any case, the conflicts he mentions are not about working conditions or jobs: one incident involved a child fathered by a Chinese worker in a Ghanaian village, causing the local chief to prohibit local girls to go near Chinese workers; another was about dragnet fishing by Chinese fishermen leading to the depletion of fish. Still, the author notes that the Chinese government has “realised the need for a new image,” so companies are hiring more and more Africans for “physical labour and low-level technical tasks.” For example, a Chinese company that won a tender to build a road in Achimota employs 180 locals and only 24 Chinese.
A project manager at the Bui Dam told the reporter that profit was not the most important consideration for their project; rather, politics and diplomacy were — words often heard from managers of infrastructure projects.
The most interesting stories are those of entrepreneurs. One, Zou Xiaohua, has come to Africa after trying his luck in (probably Eastern or Southern) Europe; he found that “Europeans buy little and have high expectations, so that a little problem can lead to merchandise being mercilessly returned.” Africans, in contrast, like to buy new things often and want them cheap even if they break down soon, so that a person might buy two cellphones a year.
Descriptions of Africans as unpunctual, lazy, larcenous, and disgusting (eating fresh monkey faeces) are reproduced without analytical distance. These are combined with the imagery of African traders in Canton, who — hearing of the arrival of a reporter from Hong Kong, whom they say they trust not to be under government control — implore him to help them get visa extensions and complain about their lives in illegality. This is the only place in the article where a discursive distance is created between the reporter’s Hong Kong identity and that of “the Chinese,” but it is created by the Africans rather than the reporter himself. Images of Chinese workers and traders, which conform to the “new migrant” , even if the article ends with the soothing pictures of a happy Chinese-African couple.