African decolonization and the rise of China are two of the most significant developments of the 20th and 21st centuries, transforming international society and remaking the global political and economic landscapes. Sinologists and Africanists have made considerable inroads into understanding these twin phenomena—as well as their attendant challenges and possibilities—as subjects of inquiry in their own right. But it was not until recently that scholars have begun to investigate these crucial processes as deeply interwoven. As Africa and China continue to move towards each other at warp speed in geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic arenas, this conference aims to explore the longer arc of the increasingly axial Africa-China relationship.
Our goal is to gaze beyond national and regional confines to engage with the plurality of political and economic networks, discourses, tensions, transnational flows, and imaginaries that have characterized Africa’s relationship with China. Although we recognize that the history of Africa-China relations dates back to the first millennium AD, our starting point is the 1955 Afro-Asian conference in Bandung when the seeds of Afro-Asian solidarity were sown. In the years that followed, China contributed to national liberation movements and modernization projects in Africa, while many African states drew inspiration from the Chinese model of development and Maoist ideology to articulate their own socialist philosophies. In the last decade, China—whose search for natural resources has strengthened extractive linkages with Africa—has emerged as Africa’s main trading partner and bilateral creditor, manifesting in the proliferation of special economic zones dominated by Chinese corporations and infrastructures. While supporters of these initiatives regard Chinese development assistance as a viable alternative to Western financial institutions, critics by contrast view China as another neocolonial power. Today, more than one million Chinese citizens live in Africa as migrant workers, investors, and shopkeepers. Often nestled in gated communities with minimal contact with their host societies, they arouse racial anxieties among the local population about China’s presence in Africa. In the same vein, thousands of African traders and entrepreneurs have transformed areas of transit and temporary shelter into permanent homes in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Dubbed “chocolate cities” by the Chinese media, these enclaves represent the various scales and transnational dimensions of China-Africa encounters.
“After Bandung: Africa and China in a New Era” will bring together scholars across fields and disciplines to (re)examine the history, legacies and potential future trajectory of the Sino-Africa relationship. It seeks to understand the evolution of China-Africa encounters in the contexts of great-power competition during and beyond the Cold War, decolonization, and globalization. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, acute food and energy insecurity in Africa, changing norms within the Communist Party of China, mass protests in both regions, and deteriorating U.S.-China relations, we are especially interested in scholarship that sheds light on the historical roots of these contemporary challenges and developments.
This conference is convened by Benedito Machava, Assistant Professor of History and Director of the Africa Security Program at Yale University, and Vivien Chang, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs.