The study of Africa and of Afro-Asian connections was, since its appearance in Chinese academia in the 1960s, heavily influenced by foreign policy toward African countries. Emphasis on anti-colonial movement building faded as the Chinese state’s relations with African countries later tended to emphasize economic cooperation. However, an anti-imperialist positioning against European and American traditions of studying Africa remained salient in Chinese Africanist discourses, while Chinese Africanists further distinguished themselves by deploying Chinese philosophical concepts in their analysis and interpretation. As the Belt and Road Initiative heralded unprecedented support for area studies and overseas fieldwork in China, a new generation of Africa specialists emerged to make China a crucial site for the production of knowledge about the African continent.
The rapidly growing field of African Studies in China thus presented 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 traced the construction of African Studies as a cutting-edge field of research in contemporary China. Negotiating the contradictions or alignments between their intellectual and political commitments, Chinese Africanists offered not only new perspectives but also possibilities for rethinking how Africanist knowledge is produced in “the West.”