Seminar: “Chinese traders in Africa – trapped in liminality”


 12:00 noon - 2:00pm
 USC, 8/F, Tin Ka Ping Building, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Dr. Karsten Giese



Chinese University of Hong Kong, Universities Service Centre for China Studies

French Centre for Research on Contemporary China




Chinese traders in Africa – trapped in liminality 

Various studies on Chinese migration to Africa have showed that the Chinese entrepreneurs are generally engaged in cut-throat competition among each other rather than ethnic networking, cooperation and local community building. It seems that they share a strong sense of temporariness, yet they encountered specific difficulties that discourage them from returning to China. Drawing on several waves of qualitative fieldwork in Ghana and Senegal, the speaker explores the migration trajectories particularly of Chinese traders through the analytical lens of liminality and rites de passage and argues that the social phenomena mentioned above can be explained if we understand the economic sojourns of Chinese to Africa as ritual journeys or secular pilgrimages.

Dr. Karsten Giese, Senior research Fellow at the GIGA Institute for Asian Studies, Hamburg, Germany, and editor of the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, has been studying Chinese migration and issues of socio-economic change in China since the late 1980s. Focusing on the social and economic interaction between Chinese entrepreneurial migrants and African actors in Africa as well as on Chinese-African encounters in China since 2010, he has been Principal Investigator of the research projects “Entrepreneurial Chinese migrants and petty African entrepreneurs: Local impacts of interaction in urban West Africa” (2011-13) and “West African traders as translators between Chinese and African urban modernities” (2013-17) funded by the German Research Foundation DFG.

Prof. Gordon Mathews, Chairperson/Professor of the Department of Anthropology at CUHK, is currently writing books about African traders in Guangzhou (an RGC grant enabled him to spend a year in Guangzhou in 2013-2014), about asylum seekers in Hong Kong and the global treatment of asylum seekers, and about the meanings of life after death in the United States, Japan, and China, and how these shape people’s lives before death. Over the past year, he has written papers on anthropology in East Asia, on happiness and neoliberalism in Japan, and on how to smuggle goods past customs in China.

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