Up to 2 million Chinese citizens are currently residing on the African continent. By the beginning of the 21st century, the Chinese government had begun giving top priority worldwide to the extraction of raw materials in order to produce cheap goods for the world market in the Pearl River Delta’s “factory of the world”, as well at other places in China. The exploitation of Congolese coltan mines for millions of smartphones produced by a Taiwanese company in Shenzhen for a US-American company demonstrates how this globalised capitalism is linked across continents via container ships, airlines, data cables or standards. A lesser known fact is that between 100 000 to 500 000 African citizens are also residing in China as traders, service providers, government officials or students.
Globalisation is often defined as trade relations, as political power game, or as a cultural relationship primarily between the West and the Global South. In most cases, this is the result of colonial and imperial history and conditions, as well as the accompanying dominance of the Northern half of the globe over the Southern half. However, these circumstances are changing as the formerly colonised “developing nation” China is not only massively exploiting resources on the entire African continent, but also simultaneously investing in it.
National governments, business people, as well as individuals recognise alternatives to the sole fixation on the West: they can choose between different loan providers and weigh respective conditions; they receive products and services, which were not previously available; and they can also journey out into the world beyond “Fortress Europe” or a walled-in USA. Comparatively open visa politics, high profit margins, countless gaps in market coverage, as well as a growing network of affordable airlines, accommodation as well as services have – until recently – offered African “suitcase traders” good market entry conditions into China. Traders collect small amounts of capital, fly to Guangzhou, buy mobile phones to the amount of the 32 kilogram free baggage allowance, import these to domestic markets and make so much profit that on one of the next trips, they can load a container with additional cargo or build up a network of middlemen.
While the global class of the “bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country”, as Marx/Engels stated in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto, now it is not only transnational top managers who are moving along the economical axes of globalisation, but also small independently operating retailers, medium-sized producers, adventurers or (circular) migrants. And they are accompanied by new manifestations of “world knowledge” (Walter Mignolo). So when a Kenyan trader realises in Hong Kong, that the “traders are bringing the world to Africa”, this realisation is not limited only to the import of goods, but also extends to the new impressions and experiences, that travel with them.
Aside from the flow of goods and finances, there is also an expansive process of the people mobilising. Social scientist Gordon Mathews calls it “globalisation from below”, which “can be defined as the transnational flow of people and goods involving relatively small amount of capital and informal, often semi-legal or illegal transactions (….). This is business without lawyers and copyright, run through skeins of personal connections and wads of cash.” What Mathews describes here is an alternative for people, attempting to earn a living in the “globalisation from below”. It “exists because it solves problems the globalisation from above cannot, in providing employment and sufficient income to acquire goods trumped by the media“.
The project Chinafrika. under construction therefore places special emphasis on the mutual overlapping of Sino-African cultures: the ways in which life perspectives change due to new, international relationships and orientations; the ways in which objects and images of the “other” culture penetrate everyday life; and the ways in urban spaces are transformed by the new presence of people and habits. Are we currently experiencing a globalisation of globalisation?
“Chinafrika” is “under construction”, embedded in a radically neo-liberal market process, and simultaneously in search of a liberating “alter-modernity” (Walter Mignolo) beyond the Western models of modernism, post-modernism or anti-modernism. Chinafrika. under construction contemplates from a two-fold perspective both the massive scale of this geo-strategically planned reorganisation as well as the simultaneously, the finely nuanced capillary network of local and individual courses of action