Friday, September 23, 2011

This Time For Africa

One sea change we have noticed on the streets of Beijing over the past several years is the dramatic increase in the number of people from Africa who are living and working in China's capital city.

During our year-long residence in Beijing, from 2008 to 2009, it was unusual for us to see a person of color. The expat community in Beijing mainly consisted of (besides people from other Asian countries like South Korea) Europeans, Australians, Canadians, and of course...Russians! (Note the lack of emphasis on Americans. Sure, there are plenty of Americans in China, but anecdotally it seems that we are not as present in everyday life as people from these other countries. At least not as present as we ought to be, in my view. Get over there, people!)

This lack of color began to fade when we returned to Beijing during the summer of 2009. On occasion, we bumped into Africans in the vicinity of our apartment, crossing the tian qiao over Zhongguancun Lu, shopping in the marketplace underneath Tianzuo Guoji. We also noticed groups of Africans walking across the campus of the agricultural university adjacent to our high-rise building. These groups were reminiscent of the class of visiting African government officials I had been asked to teach the year before during my posting at Peking University. (I really enjoyed my guest American teaching research African civil servants!)

Our on-the-ground observations are, of course, one small window into what is a much larger story. As China continues it economic and political emergence around the world, it is increasingly looking to Africa as a place for natural resources such as oil. In one effort to foster closer ties, Chinese universities are increasingly opening their doors to African students. Chinese workers are in turn traveling to Africa to work on things like infrastructure projects.

In fact, the father of Julie's closest Chinese friend in Beijing is any day now going to be getting on a plane, flying to Africa, and working over there for a couple of months. This is a man, it is important to note, who has probably never flown before. I can't imagine he has ever been out of the country. His wife lives in a public toilet facility that it is her job to keep clean. Every fall, the children have to return home to their village, far, far away (fourteen hours by train), to attend school, going half the year or more without seeing their mother. I imagine for a migrant family like this that is so torn apart, the wages of a project in Africa must be well worth the additional separation. So off to Africa Pan Ting's father will go. One small cog in a much larger wheel that is turning faster and faster, right in front of our very eyes...



At 10:43 AM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

This just in...An "anti-China" candidate has just won the Zambian presidential election...


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