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Integration of Newcomers into Local Communities: An Analysis of New Chinese Immigrants in Zimbabwe

Xiaolei Shen Introduction

Since 2000, owing to the deepening of the relationship between China and African countries, especially the rapid development of the economic and trade relationships between them, Africa has become a major destination for new immigrants from mainland China. In the mid-1990s there were only 130,000 people of Chinese descent living in Africa (Li 2000). By 2012 the number had shot up to about 1.1 million (Li 2013).

Along with the continuous increases in population, new Chinese immigrants have contributed greatly to the economic development of African countries. However, at the same time, they face daunting challenges in their interactions with Africans and in their integration into local communities. During my fieldwork in Zimbabwe, my Chinese respondents told me that their relationships with Zimbabweans were not very good, and some said that they were worse than they were a decade earlier.1 My Zimbabwean respondents told me the same story: many were dissatisfied with their

X. Shen (*)

Institute ofWest-Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, China

© The Author(s) 2017

M. Zhou (ed.), Contemporary Chinese Diasporas, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-5595-9_4

relationships with new Chinese immigrants, and some reported that “more than 60 per cent of these Chinese are not good men.” The failure of integration into local communities not only constrains new Chinese immigrants’ sustainable economic development in African countries but also has a negative impact on the overall image of the Chinese in Africa and on the relationship between China and Africa.

One would assume that it would be easier for new Chinese immigrants to integrate into local communities in Zimbabwe today than in the past. First, since China and Zimbabwe established diplomatic relations in 1980, the political trust between the two nations has deepened, the scale of trade and investment has grown, and, especially after Zimbabwe was sanctioned by Western countries in 2002, China became the major target of its “Looking East” policy and “its only major international supporter” in some people’s eyes (Eisenman 2005). Second, Chinese enterprises have made a great contribution to Zimbabwe’s economic recovery and development, and they have created a large number of jobs that can help Zimbabwe reduce its high unemployment.2 Third, even in the period of hyperinflation, when large numbers ofEuropean and Indian immigrants left Zimbabwe, between 2003 and 2009, new Chinese immigrants remained, and their wholesale and retail businesses became almost the only source of economic support to meet the basic needs of Zimbabweans.3

So what about the community formation of new Chinese immigrants? What are the main constraints that prevent them from integrating? How do they perceive Zimbabweans and how do Zimbabweans perceive them, and what are the results of these mutual perceptions? What have they done to promote their social integration with Zimbabweans? This chapter seeks to answer these questions. But, first, let us look back at the situation before 1980 and introduce the general trend of new Chinese immigrants in Zimbabwe.

 
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