Could Chinese Migrants Fit in Perfectly in Africa?


Lu attends a business college in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka

She may be the only Chinese student on campus, but Lu Cheng has her feet firmly planted in two camps.

Most of her friends at her business college in Lusaka are from Zambia.

Perched on a bench in the college grounds, she plays the guitar with her friends. At home her instrument of choice is the guzheng, a Chinese harp.

But for an older generation of Chinese migrant, the ease of transitioning between cultures is a lot harder.

It’s been seven years since Lu Cheng’s parents waved goodbye to China and headed west to find better business opportunities.

They now run a successful chicken feed factory, and although her father Lu Jin says he has made a few Zambian friends, he relies largely on his wife and daughter for company.

Lu Cheng confides that her parents are counting the days until she graduates, when they will have “done their duty” and can return “home” to retire. Compared to her friends’ parents, they’re far “more traditional”, she says.

Much of the sense of isolation and disconnection among the older Chinese across Africa seems to stem from the challenge of language.

Thirty-five years ago, English teachers were hard to come by in China. The legacy is a generation of Chinese nationals, thousands of miles from home, who rely on their own expat community for support.

But as new generations arrive, things do appear to be changing.
‘International experience’

Huang Hongxiang works at China House, a consultancy based in Kenya which tries to build ties between the African and Chinese business communities.

He admits that the Chinese who came to the continent over the past 20 years – working for big Chinese state corporations – gained a reputation of keeping to themselves to themselves and of being aloof, tough on employees and even a little bit distant.

Could Chinese Migrants Fit in Perfectly in Africa?