The Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

China has recently emerged as one of Africa’s top business partners, aggressively pursuing its raw materials and establishing a mighty presence in the continent’s booming construction market. Among major foreign investors in Africa, China has stirred the most fear, hope, and controversy. For many, the specter of a Chinese neocolonial scramble is looming, while for others China is Africa’s best chance at economic renewal. Yet, global debates about China in Africa have been based more on rhetoric than on empirical evidence. Ching Kwan Lee’s The Specter of Global China is the first comparative ethnographic study that addresses the critical question: Is Chinese capital a different kind of capital?

Offering the clearest look yet at China’s state-driven investment in Africa, this book is rooted in six years of extensive fieldwork in copper mines and construction sites in Zambia, Africa’s copper giant. Lee shadowed Chinese, Indian, and South African managers in underground mines, interviewed Zambian miners and construction workers, and worked with Zambian officials. Distinguishing carefully between Chinese state capital and global private capital in terms of their business objectives, labor practices, managerial ethos, and political engagement with the Zambian state and society, she concludes that Chinese state investment presents unique potential and perils for African development. The Specter of Global China will be a must-read for anyone interested in the future of China, Africa, and capitalism worldwide.
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About the author

Ching Kwan Lee is professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of Gender and the South China Miracle: Two Worlds of Factory Women and Against the Law: Labor Protests in China’s Rustbelt and Sunbelt.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jan 3, 2018
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9780226340975
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / International / General
History / Africa / Central
History / Asia / China
Social Science / General
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The rapid emergence of China as a major industrial power poses a complex challenge for global resource markets. Backed by the Chinese government, Chinese companies have been acquiring equity stakes in natural resource companies, extending loans to mining and petroleum investors, and writing long-term procurement contracts for oil and minerals. These activities have aroused concern that China might be "locking up" natural resource supplies, gaining "preferential access" to available output, and extending "control" over the world's extractive industries. On the demand side, Chinese appetite for vast amounts of energy and minerals puts tremendous strain on the international supply system. On the supply side, Chinese efforts to procure raw materials can either exacerbate or help solve the problems of high demand.

Evidence from the 16 largest Chinese natural resource procurement arrangements shows that Chinese efforts—like Japanese deployments of capital and purchase agreements in the late 1970s through the 1980s—fall predominantly into categories that help expand, diversify, and make more competitive the global supplier system. Investigation of smaller projects indicates the 16 largest do not suffer from selection bias. However, Chinese attempts to exercise control over mining of rare earth elements may constitute a significant exception. The investigative focus of this analysis is deliberately narrow and precise, assessing the impact of Chinese resource procurement on the structure of the global supply base. The broader policy discussion in the concluding chapter raises other separate important issues, including the impact of Chinese resource procurement on rogue states, on authoritarian leadership, on civil wars, on corrupt payments and the deterioration of governance standards, and on environmental damage. Such effects may make patterns of Chinese resource procurement objectionable, on grounds quite apart from the debate about possible "control" of access on the part of China and Chinese companies.
Both Yuk-ling, a busy Hong Kong mother of two, and Chi-ying, a young single woman from a remote village in northern China, work in electronics factories owned by the same foreign corporation, manufacturing identical electronic components. After a decade of job growth and increasing foreign investment in Hong Kong and South China, both women are also participating in the spectacular economic transformation that has come to be called the South China miracle. Yet, as Ching Kwan Lee demonstrates in her unique and fascinating study of women workers on either side of the Chinese-Hong Kong border, the working lives and factory cultures of these women are vastly different.

In this rich comparative ethnography, Lee describes how two radically different factory cultures have emerged from a period of profound economic change. In Hong Kong, "matron workers" remain in factories for decades. In Guangdong, a seemingly endless number of young "maiden workers" travel to the south from northern provinces, following the promise of higher wages. Whereas the women in Hong Kong participate in a management system characterized by "familial hegemony," the young women in Guangdong find an internal system of power based on regional politics and kin connections, or "localistic despotism."

Having worked side-by-side with these women on the floors of both factories, Lee concludes that it is primarily the differences in the gender politics of the two labor markets that determine the culture of each factory. Posing an ambitious challenge to sociological theories that reduce labor politics to pure economics or state power structures, Lee argues that gender plays a crucial role in the cultures and management strategies of factories that rely heavily on women workers.
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