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China and Africa: An Eternal Imprint

On an unseasonably cool September afternoon I managed to find a warm spot underneath a skylight at Great Mall, a sprawling suburban shopping complex in California’s Silicon Valley, and opened up my laptop to read the latest ChinaSource Quarterly. Guest edited by Senior Vice President Joann Pittman, this issue takes a deep dive into the complex relationship between China and Africa, from the post-war decolonization period to the current “Belt and Road” initiatives spanning the continent.

Vaguely conscience of the Mandarin being spoken by shoppers as they scurried behind me, I perused with grateful interest the accounts, written by both Chinese and African contributors, of a relationship that goes beyond the instances of racial discrimination or “debt trap” projects frequently cited in reporting on the China-Africa relationship. The reality of these aspects cannot be denied. But neither do they begin to tell the whole story of cultural integration that is occurring at many levels.

Particularly touching was the autobiographical account by Faith Manjiku Mworia. Following her language study in China, Faith has dedicated her life to furthering cross-cultural understanding in her native Kenya. In addition to teaching Chinese, Faith and her team also offer English classes to children from China and courses in Kiswahili, a major national language, to Chinese working in the country.

While China’s imprint on Africa through business and investment is indelible, more than one contributor suggested that the influence is going both ways. African churches are reaching out to the Chinese who are now in their midst. In China, African students and business people are active in international fellowships and warmly share their faith with local friends and colleagues in their host country. Meanwhile, opportunities to send cross-cultural workers to nations in Africa serve to broaden the horizons of the Chinese church. Africa is experiencing considerable change in the course of the unfolding relationship, but so is China.

My head spinning as I pondered the many dimensions of this relationship, I scooped up my computer bag and began making my way down the corridor, where I almost bumped into a sign standing in the middle of the floor.

Written in simplified Chinese, the standup banner invited shoppers from China to download the mall’s app, providing Chinese language maps and store information. Just a few steps beyond was another sign, also in Chinese, directing Chinese shoppers to the mall’s welcome center. And not much further down was another, this one sporting the familiar red, blue, and green logo of Union Pay, China’s international payment system, and offering its users a twenty percent discount at mall merchants.

With the title of Joann’s editorial, “A Glimpse of ‘From Everywhere to Everywhere’,” still ringing in my head, I passed underneath another Union Pay banner hanging from the ceiling and found myself staring at a storefront with signage completely in Chinese. It was a branch of the international logistics company MeiQuick, conveniently located inside the mall, where it apparently specializes in shipping Chinese customers’ purchases back home, arriving perhaps even before they do.

As my Great Mall odyssey illustrates, “from everywhere to everywhere” is not all that difficult in today’s highly connected world. The phenomena of Chinese in Africa and Africans in China point to the larger reality of China’s global reach and its importance as a world destination.

Much more difficult is the kind of cultural integration described in this issue of the Quarterly, characterized not just by going everywhere or being everywhere, but by connecting at a level that goes beyond business transactions and racial stereotypes. Pursued both by Chinese and African Christians, the goal of this integration is, in the words of one contributor, is “an eternal imprint written on hearts by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio

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