Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Chinese Diaspora in Southern Africa

When I first started this blog in May 2005, I had just finished a class on Chinese emigration in modern times, taught by FAS Prof. Philip Kuhn. It was a very interesting class, and for the term paper I conducted my first content analysis (read about it here).

The focus of the class: What caused patterns of Chinese emigration, and the struggles and triumphs of Chinese immigrants in their new homes in Southeast Asia, North America, Europe, and even Latin America (Cuba and South America have overseas Chinese communities, believe or not).

One continent which was not discussed in the class or literature was Africa. I know that South Africa, owing to its close relationship with the Taiwanese government until the 1990s, had a fair number of Taiwanese immigrants, but I had never heard of any other sizable Chinese populations in Africa.

Until recently. Bob Hsiung, a close friend and bass player from my old band in Taiwan (Feiwu, 廢物樂隊) is now living in Lesotho, and filed this report about some Chinese friends who operate a shop way off in the bush:
He's been living in Lesotho for five years. This is his third store. All of his stores are staffed by his relatives who he brought over from China.

He said that local Masutu are not good businessmen and that the white and Indian foreigners were too greedy & marking up their prices too much. He said that Chinese people came here because they could make good money by just having reasonable profit margins.

At the store, (which is also their home) the four employees were whipping up a feast. We sat with the boss. He showed us his guns and put on a Chinese music video DVD. The dishes started coming and they were amazingly great – pigs intestine, deep fried fish(!), seafood noodles, pig's tongue soup…

The employees joined us and we sat and ate and drank and talked and sat and ate and drank. The boss put 4 employees up there in the mountain so that they wouldn’t be so lonely (3 guys,1 girl, from 16-39 in age, relations to each other not really clear). He showed up pictures of his two sons going to school back in China. One of them had photoshopped him into the picture. He hadn’t seen his wife in 7 years. (Since he had only been in Lesotho for 5 yrs, I’m not sure what the full story was, but by then we had had a whole lot of beer and it just kindof went by.) He didn’t know how long he’d stay in Lesotho. He said he definitely intended on going back to China, but didn’t really know when. ...

hey said that they normally just stretch dinner out all night because there’s nothing else to do there.
Chinese shopkeepers in the bush. I'm sure that this type of shop was not too out of the ordinary in Malaya, Burma, or Sarawak 80 years ago (except, of course, for the DVDs and photoshopped pictures).

I spoke with Bob on the phone the last time he was back home (he's from the Boston area) and he noted that a lot of the Chinese originally went to Lesotho to set up textiles factories, but this industry eventually faded (this relates to import/export trends in the global clothing market. The sudden factory closures in Lesotho devastated a lot of native people, says this article from an African newspaper, and this report from the BBC). Some of the Chinese employees later moved into other commercial activities, Bob told me, and it's not uncommon to see Chinese-run shops in urban areas and remote locations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Ian, you ought to tell your friends about yer blog instead of them having to follow a mysteriously link backwards from their own blog - ya big feiwu. Jia you on the thesis and hugs & kisses to Nicole & the kids -Bob