Empire of the sums

The mass immigration of Chinese people into Africa is almost entirely driven by money rather than ideology: The Economist (China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa. By Howard French.Knopf; 304 pages; $27.95 and £22.50.)

“NI HAO” and “chi ku” may be the two commonest phrases in this riveting worm’s-eye account of the Chinese in Africa. They mean, respectively, “hello” and “eat bitter”. The first is relentlessly used by Howard French, a veteran American reporter with a Ghanaian wife who has been based in both Africa and China for the New York Times and speaks Chinese, enabling him to converse with an array of Chinese people in Africa, from rugged bricklayers in Zambia and brothel madams in Liberia, to engineers in Mali and farmers in Mozambique. The second phrase is used by many of Africa’s new Chinese diaspora to denote their ability to live rough in remote and inhospitable places and to work staggeringly hard, qualities that the continent’s previous roaming visitors, principally from Britain, France and America, seem to have lost, at least in Chinese and African eyes.

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