AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 382

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Session 382: Global Flows with Chinese Characteristics: Migration, Mobilities and Identities in "the Chinese Century”

Organizer: Yoon Jung Park, Independent Scholar, South Africa

Chair: Karsten Giese, German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Germany

As China “rises” and as relations with its neighbors and other trading partners shift, China is clearly having an impact on migration and identity formation in various ways and on various scales. This panel proposes to examine China's status as a sending, recipient and transit country for human, commercial, financial and cultural flows, with a focus on migration to and from China. It analyzes, in particular, Chinese “forms” of migration and development assistance; the impact of Chinese engagement with trade, aid and development, particularly in Africa; as well as shifting forms of “Chineseness” and inter-ethnic relations in response to China’s rising global influence. The panel examines linkages between China and Africa, China and SE Asia, and China and Russia. This panel is part of a series of three interrelated panels on China’s position within the international political economy, Chinese migration, and Sino-African relations organized by the Chinese in Africa/Africans in China Research Working Group and the South African Institute of International Affairs China in Africa Program. It is also linked to the “Changing China” multi-session series sponsored by the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs.

Brothers of a Different Kind: The Politics of Differentiating and Integrating Chinese New Immigrants in Singapore
Hong Liu, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

The past two decades have witnessed a rapid and continuous inflow into Singapore of new immigrants from the PRC, who are now reportedly numbered more than 300,000 (in a country with a population of 5 million). How have the Singaporean Chinese—who account for 75% of the local population and are predominately descents of earlier generations of immigrants from China—perceived these new comers who are visible in every corner of the Singapore society? Do they consider the new migrants belonging to the same community or as brothers of a different kind whose socio-political orientations and cultural identity are so divergent from their own? How does the Singapore state cope with the seemingly conflicting logics of importing global talents and foreign labour on the one hand and protecting its citizenry from increasing competitions for scarce resources in jobs, housing and education on the other? At a time of China rising, how do new Chinese immigrants respond to the politics of differentiation and integration? A close analysis of these questions will shed new light not only on the shifting identity politics in a highly globalized city-state, but also on the formations of new ethnicities among diasporic Chinese. This paper is divided into three sections. The first part considers the changing demography in post-1990 Singapore within which new Chinese immigrants constitute a significant portion of the social mosaic. The second part examines perceptions of local Singaporeans towards these new comers; it also analyzes various policy initiatives oriented toward the new migrants, ranging from managing the scale and pace of the inflow to integrating the existing ones into the local structure. The third part draws upon comparative diasporic Chinese experiences in Japan and the UK with a view to better understand the dynamics and characteristics of ethnic and identity politics in a multi-cultural Singapore. The paper concludes with a discussion on the theoretical and policy implications of our case studies, especially in relation to changing boundaries between ethnic and national identifications.

The China-Africa Nexus and “Low-End Globalization”
Gordon C. Mathews, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Just as South China has become a world center for manufacturing, so too it has become a center for temporary migration, with entrepreneurs from around the developing world traveling to its shores to do business. They are engaged in “low-end globalization,” based on face-to-face trade and goods carried by hand across the globe, a distinctly different form of globalization from that of high-end transnational corporations with their massive budgets and batteries of lawyers. A central node of low-end globalization is Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions, where sub-Saharan African traders bargain with Chinese or Pakistani merchants over the price and condition of hundreds of thousands of mobile phones each day. I estimate that 15-20% of the mobile phones now in use in sub-Saharan Africa have passed through Chungking Mansions, following a path from manufacture in south China, to sale to African traders in Guangzhou or Hong Kong, to transport through Hong Kong in the traders’ luggage into Africa, to perilous passage through customs, to sale to consumers in the stalls and markets of Lagos or Nairobi or Dar-es-Salaam. In this paper, based on four years of fieldwork in Chungking Mansions, as well as on research trips into mainland China and sub-Saharan Africa, I examine and analyze how this form of low-end globalization unites China and Africa in a common nexus, one that meets in person in the narrow stores and stalls and cafes of Chungking Mansions.

Chinese Migrants to Russia: Lifestyle Plurality and Migration Decision-Making as Reflected by Online Narratives
Artem Rabogoshvili , Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Germany

After years of political split China and Russia saw a considerable improvement in mutual relations which led to the opening of the Sino-Russian border and brought about the unprecedented flow of people and images in both directions. The paper explores the ways in which the transnational subjectivities of the Chinese migrants to Russia are proliferated through the media stories of the Chinese Internet and their possible influence on furthering migration from China. First, I look into the ways in which various forces – economic, social and political – come to facilitate or inhibit the cross-border movement of people and images between Russia and China. Second, I analyze the discursive strategies used in presenting migration decision-making and in reproducing images of a diversity of lifestyles for prospective migrants, as displayed on the state web-sites of the PRC. Third, I consider the way in which the sense of place towards different localities in Russia is constructed through the online travel descriptions of the Chinese visitors to Russia. In conclusion, the paper proposes the future directions of research of the Chinese imagining of Russia as planned by the author during his subsequent fieldwork in two Siberian cities – Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk.

Chinese Aid to Africa: Filling the Gaps That Others Left
Max Rebol, Fudan University, China

Western observers sometimes shockingly reduce Chinese Aid to Africa to a way of securing access to natural resources. A closer look does not only reveal that China’s disbursement of Aid to the continent is relatively unrelated to natural resources, but also that it fills exactly the areas that Western aid has increasingly neglected: Infrastructure, industrialization and manufacturing. Chinese and Western aid work but in many ways can be seen as complementing rather than competing. Western aid since the 1980s focuses almost exclusively on basic social needs, while China’s Aid to Africa is more based on industrial cooperation. The tools, such as preferential loans, that China uses hereby are often similar to what has been successful when China was in the role of the Aid recipient. Aid should therefore not be seen as a philanthropic one way transfer, but part of a mutually beneficial strategy that uses policy to channel investment into areas in which they are needed most. There is a fine line between aid and business, but in its relations with Africa today, China is well aware that at home it was not aid that lifted 200 million people out of poverty.

“Small is Interesting”. Lessons from Laos for the Overseas Chinese Studies
Danielle Tan, Independent Scholar, France

Among the Southeast Asian countries, Laos had welcomed the smallest overseas Chinese community, which nearly disappeared after the Communist forces seized the power in 1975. Yet, this land-locked country shared a long history with China and even experienced a Golden Age thanks to the Hui caravan trade. The global context has revived this overland legacy, pouring thousands of Chinese migrants from Yunnan and other parts of China on the new roads of Laos, channelled through the North-South Economic Corridor linking Kunming to Bangkok, built within the framework of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) era. In search for a better life and new economic opportunities in a country rich in natural resources but underdeveloped and underpopulated, the new migrants are depicted through an emerging discourse in the foreign media and development staff as an “army of ants” threatening the Lao cultural identity and plundering its resources with the blessing and complicity of highly corrupted officials. But at the same time, the massive Chinese investments are driving a fast economic growth that Laos would have never been able to reach without its new partners. In this framework, the paper seeks to examine the differences of the Chinese tracks in Laos compared with its Southeast Asian neighbours. I suggest that the analysis of this small “forgotten country” can provide insightful lessons to readjust the so-called “overseas Chinese studies”, especially with regards to inter-ethnic dynamics and relations to authoritarian states.

The Self and the Other in Economic Encounters between Chinese and Africans in Africa and China
Karsten Giese, German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Germany

Perceptions of the Other can be strong and detrimental, particularly when new and potentially dominant actors enter an already contested setting. When Chinese entrepreneurial migrants entered African localities they were met with mixed feelings on the side of their host societies but also brought with them their own pre-constructed stereotypes of "the African". The same happened when African merchants entered Chinese cities. Drawing on fieldwork in urban Ghana and Senegal as well as in China we argue that existing generalizations regarding this question tend to produce scholarly stereotype and do not adequately reflect the complex and localized negotiation processes in which Chinese and African actors are engaging. Perceptions of the self and the other are continuously challenged - or reinforced - whenever Chinese and Africans interact with each other. We will put the focus on the contested social arena of economic cooperation and labor relations, for which mutual perceptions can become crucial issues of success or failure. We will show in which way social positioning, exclusivity of networks, and modes of interaction are impacting individual and collective perceptions of the other on the micro level, and which role the specific characteristics of localities and macro level discourses on South-South-Cooperation or government rhetoric on Sino-African friendship play – if any. Finally we will explore how these processes and social constructions are facilitating or limiting the potentials of building of trust, agreeing upon common goals, and exploiting innovative potentials of cooperation for the benefit of both sides.