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"China and Africa"—a Preview


In November of 2006, Beijing hosted a gathering of leaders from African countries for a meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCOC). The Forum, established in 2000, had convened previous meetings at the ministerial level, but this was the first summit that included national-level leaders. I was living in Beijing at the time and remember it well since no effort was spared to spiff up the city. The streets were cleaned, traffic restrictions were imposed, and giant banners flew all over town proclaiming the enduring friendship between China and the nations of Africa. Joseph Khan, covering the event for the New York Times, had this to say about the meeting: 

The official purposes of the three-day event are to expand trade, to allow China to secure the oil and ore it needs for its booming economy, and to offer aid to help African nations improve roads, railways and schools.

The unofficial purpose is to redraw the world’s strategic map, forming tighter political ties between China, now the fastest-growing major economy, and a continent whose leaders often complain of being neglected by the United States and Europe.

“African leaders see China as a new kind of global partner that has lots of money but treats them as equals,” says Wenran Jiang, a political scientist at the University of Alberta who has studied Sino-African relations. “Chinese leaders see Africa, in a strategic sense, as up for grabs.”[1]

At the time it seemed like simply another big meeting that was being held in Beijing. Truth be told it felt more like a dress rehearsal for the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games than anything particularly meaningful. I did not imagine that I was witnessing the beginning of what would become China’s strategic involvement in Africa, and would turn out to be a precursor to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that was launched by Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2013 which extended the aims noted by Khan in his New York Times piece to countries around the world.

That meeting in Beijing has been on my mind for the past few months as I worked on the 2019 autumn issue of the ChinaSource Quarterly, in which we look at the growing ties and cooperation between China and Africa and explore the ways they relate to gospel opportunities. The aim of this issue is provide historical background as well as information and analysis of the various issues related to Chinese and Africans working together to reach both Chinese and Africans.

In the lead article, “Fred” writes about the need for partnership between Chinese and African believers in reaching out to and ministering to the Chinese in Africa. He provides a model of Chinese and African Christians working together to overcome cultural barriers, serving hand-in-hand to reach Chinese in one country in Africa.

Michael Hicks, a PhD candidate studying the history of China-Africa relations during the Mao era, provides us with important historical background information, while also providing context for understanding some of the current issues.

“Christopher Lai” explores seven key challenges that Chinese Christian workers face in Africa.  These range from preserving the “face” of the Chinese government to issues of cross-cultural communications.

Next we hear from Faith, the founder of a language and culture learning center in Nairobi that provides services to Africans and Chinese from all walks of life. She writes about her love of all things Chinese, and of using language and culture learning as a means of building understanding between Chinese and Africans.

Another African voice we hear from is “Tim,” a student from Zimbabwe studying in China, whom I had the chance to interview. He reflects on some of the cultural similarities and differences between Chinese and Africans, and shares his thoughts on how Chinese Christians in China can reach out to the African students in their midst.

Lucy Liu reviews the book, China and Africa: A Century of Engagement, written by David H. Shinn and Joshua Eisenman. She commends the book for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it helps those interested in the subject to “get their facts straight. “ This is important for those wanting to engage both Chinese and Africans in meaningful ways.

We conclude with a recommended resource, The China in Africa Podcast, produced by the China Africa Project. Produced weekly, this podcast explores the numerous facets of the increasing engagement between China and Africa.

Four years after the summit in Beijing, the Lausanne Congress was held in Cape Town, South Africa. One of the emerging themes was that the spread of the gospel is no longer going to be “from the west to the rest;” rather it will be “from everywhere to everywhere.” This issue provides a small glimpse of that reality.

Based on the upcoming 2019 autumn issue of ChinaSource Quarterly, “China and Africa,” editorial by guest editor Joann Pittman. Watch for the full issue next week.

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio


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