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An exciting, hugely revealing account of China’s burgeoning presence in Africa—a developing empire already shaping, and reshaping, the future of millions of people.
A prizewinning foreign correspondent and former New York Times bureau chief in Shanghai and in West and Central Africa, Howard French is uniquely positioned to tell the story of China in Africa. Through meticulous on-the-ground reporting—conducted in Mandarin, French, and Portuguese, among other languages—French crafts a layered investigation of astonishing depth and breadth as he engages not only with policy-shaping moguls and diplomats, but also with the ordinary men and women navigating the street-level realities of cooperation, prejudice, corruption, and opportunity forged by this seismic geopolitical development. With incisiveness and empathy, French reveals the human face of China’s economic, political, and human presence across the African continent—and in doing so reveals what is at stake for everyone involved.
We meet a broad spectrum of China’s dogged emigrant population, from those singlehandedly reshaping African infrastructure, commerce, and even environment (a self-made tycoon who harnessed Zambia’s now-booming copper trade; a timber entrepreneur determined to harvest the entirety of Liberia’s old-growth redwoods), to those just barely scraping by (a sibling pair running small businesses despite total illiteracy; a karaoke bar owner–cum–brothel madam), still convinced that Africa affords them better opportunities than their homeland. And we encounter an equally panoramic array of African responses: a citizens’ backlash in Senegal against a “Trojan horse” Chinese construction project (a tower complex to be built over a beloved soccer field, which locals thought would lead to overbearing Chinese pressure on their economy); a Zambian political candidate who, having protested China’s intrusiveness during the previous election and lost, now turns accommodating; the ascendant middle class of an industrial boomtown; African mine workers bitterly condemning their foreign employers, citing inadequate safety precautions and wages a fraction of their immigrant counterparts’.
French’s nuanced portraits reveal the paradigms forming around this new world order, from the all-too-familiar echoes of colonial ambition—exploitation of resources and labor; cut-rate infrastructure projects; dubious treaties—to new frontiers of cultural and economic exchange, where dichotomies of suspicion and trust, assimilation and isolation, idealism and disillusionment are in dynamic flux.
Part intrepid travelogue, part cultural census, part industrial and political exposé, French’s keenly observed account ultimately offers a fresh perspective on the most pressing unknowns of modern Sino-African relations: why China is making the incursions it is, just how extensive its cultural and economic inroads are, what Africa’s role in the equation is, and just what the ramifications for both parties—and the watching world—will be in the foreseeable future.
“China’s trade with Africa has grown dramatically. . . . But China’s investments . . . are less significant for this rapidly evolving relationship, according to this 15-country survey by veteran African correspondent French, than the significant flow of new Chinese immigrants—often pushed out by the pressure and oppression back home as much as lured by opportunity. In vivid first-person reportage, French explores this momentous phenomenon, while challenging assumptions about China and Chinese immigrants…The book will appeal to students of China and Africa, and anyone interested in the shifting contours of the global economy and its geopolitical consequences.” —Publishers Weekly
“Although several recent books have discussed…China’s recent incursions into Africa in pursuit of resources and profit,…French has the advantage of significant personal experience in both Africa and China. . . . Interacting with Chinese and Africans in Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Namibia, and elsewhere, French capably illustrates that although Chinese omnipresence in Africa may be a form of soft imperialism, it is also a result of the crushing pressures—lack of space, merciless business competition, pollution—of modern Chinese society.” —Booklist
“The huge and growing ties between China and the African continent will be one of the most crucial relationships of the 21st century, and you simply could not invent a better guide to it than Howard French. Superbly written, rich in anecdote, insight, and a sense of the immense scale of what is happening, China’s Second Continent should be mandatory reading for anyone wanting to understand how our world is being reshaped.” —Adam Hochschild, author, King Leopold’s Ghost
“We owe tremendous thanks to Howard French for this fascinating and deeply reported book. He is an audacious writer who takes his readers to the far-flung factories, farms and living rooms of the Chinese entrepreneurs who are flooding into countries like Mozambique, Zambia and Senegal. French intrepidly explores the other side of the global coin, giving voice to an array of Africans reacting warily to the new imperialists in their midst. This is an essential book for understanding not just China and Africa but our changing world.” —Peter Maass, author, Crude World
“Almost no other writer would have dared the reportorial and story-telling challenge Howard French has set for himself in China’s Second Continent, and absolutely none could have pulled it off as well. This is foreign reportage and analysis presented as compelling human drama.” —James Fallows, author, China Airborne
“In Howard French’s wonderfully engaging new book, he draws on his journalistic experience covering both China and Africa to weave together a series of vivid portraits which limn the country’s global rise in this remote and unlikely part of the world. What is so surprising about the stories he tells is that they chronicle everything from the constriction of massive stadiums, hospitals, universities, highways and mineral and energy extraction operations to small-scale shops, farms and family businesses. China’s Second Continent is a grand tale of the world’s newest diaspora, one that promises to change a previously largely forgotten continent.” —Orville Schell, Director, The Center on US-China Relations, Asia Society
“Howard French has given us the most lush, fair, and expansive look yet at China’s role in Africa. This is a tale not strictly about China or Africa; it is about the encounter of civilizations and the energy produced in the collision. Infused with thought and sympathy, this is a book with no agenda other than fidelity to facts that were so difficult to gather on the ground.” —Evan Osnos, staff writer, The New Yorker
“Is China’s burgeoning empire in Africa a ‘win-win’ for both parties? For the most comprehensive, closely-reported answer to this question, read this book. It’s full of surprises, from hard-driving frontiersmen looking for (and finding) countries with less corruption than they faced at home in China to healthy democracies constraining the more rapacious practices of extractive industry. I cannot imagine a better, more-qualified guide to this vast, fascinating subject than Howard French.” —William Finnegan, author, A Complicated War: The Harrowing of Mozambique
“Howard French magisterially holds up both ends of his transcontinental bargain: fluent in the idioms of the two worlds, China and Africa, he reveals the variegated diaspora of the one million or so Chinese in Africa yet also drives home that Africa is awakening in turn. His pages are teeming with human beings of flesh and blood, and often outlandish characters, at the new frontier explored in this fascinating book.” —Stephen W. Smith, former Africa editor of Le Monde and professor at Duke University
“An important contribution to a critical debate on China’s rapidly changing relationship with Africa. Howard French goes beyond official statistics to weave stories of new wave Chinese immigrants and the Africans whose lives they impact. Unlike ideologues who focus on motives, French seeks to discern the impact of this relationship on all drawn into its vortex.” —Mahmood Mamdani, Executive Director, Makerere Institute of Social Research, Kampala, Uganda and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, Columbia University
“Howard French is one of the most insightful American journalists to have covered Africa in the past twenty years. In this riveting and rich new book, he powerfully juxtaposes two worlds he is uniquely positioned to observe, namely China and Africa. Anyone who has recently spent time in Africa knows how important China is becoming on the continent. Yet French tells a nuanced story about the Chinese few will have previously understood. His storytelling is sharp and wise, the characters we meet are vivid and unforgettable, and the implications are profound and at times disturbing. Anyone interested in Africa and China, or more generally in migration and globalization, will find a wealth of material in this terrific book.” —Scott Straus, professor of political science at University of Wisconsin, Madison