Detail of a mural at the Zhejiang Normal University Institute of African Studies

Detail of a mural at the Zhejiang Normal University Institute of African Studies.

Source: Cheryl M. Schmitz.

Project (2020-)

Chinese Ideas of Africa in an Age of Global Expansion

The study of Africa and of Afro-Asian connections has, since its appearance in Chinese academia in the 1960s, been heavily influenced by foreign policy toward African countries. Emphasis on anti-colonial movement building has faded as the Chinese state’s relations with African countries have in recent decades tended to emphasize economic cooperation. However, an anti-imperialist positioning against European and American traditions of studying Africa remains salient in Chinese Africanist discourses, while Chinese Africanists further distinguish themselves by deploying Chinese philosophical concepts in their analysis and interpretation. As the Belt and Road Initiative has heralded unprecedented support for area studies and overseas fieldwork in China, a new generation of Africa specialists has emerged to make China a crucial site for the production of knowledge about the African continent.

Detail of a mural at the Zhejiang Normal University Institute of African Studies

Detail of a mural at the Zhejiang Normal University Institute of African Studies.

Source: Cheryl M. Schmitz.

The rapidly growing field of African Studies in China thus presents itself as an ideal arena for thinking through tensions between politics, economics, and science, as well as between universalism and particularism in Chinese intellectual traditions. Based on textual analysis, interviews with practitioners and students, and participant observation in classrooms and meetings, this project traces the construction of African Studies as a cutting-edge field of research in China today. Negotiating the contradictions or alignments between their intellectual and political commitments, Chinese Africanists may offer not only new perspectives but also possibilities for rethinking how Africanist knowledge is produced in “the West.”