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Sunday, 10 October 2010

China in Africa Watch

China summons the past to its defence :

Irked by accusations that it is the new coloniser of Africa, China is looking to use soft power and historical evidence of its ancient links to the continent to justify its economic embrace of Africa.

Chinese archaeologists have been sent to hunt for a long-lost shipwreck off the Kenya coast to support claims that China beat white explorers in discovering Africa. Meanwhile Beijing is preparing to fund more research on the continent to aid its companies and banks' quest for expansion there.

Last month saw the launch of the new China-Africa Research Centre under the Ministry of Commerce. The centre's aim is to "provide a theoretical basis for the Chinese government's Africa-related decision-makings," Huo Jianguo, president of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the ministry said at the opening. It will also provide consultation services for companies with plans to expand their businesses to Africa, he added.
You can read the rest of the IPS piece here.


  1. Europe new Africa existed for a long time: Roman Empire, the Queen of Sheba, the cooperation of Nubian crusaders with European crusaders.(Saint Maurice, patron saint of Magdeburg in Germany is an example of Europeans knowing of Subsaharan (or at least non Arab) Africa a long time ago). Not to say the Chinese are in any way wrong...maybe that history is once more being manipulated for political ends. As a historian I find that immensely sad. I think that a competition about 'who was here first' is pointless and impedes historical clarity. The duty to the truth should come before any political considerations and if it turns out that China had contacts with Subsaharan Africa I would welcome that amendment to the record but if it is merely an assertion that will not be backed up by fact but by politics then it is wrong.

  2. That said, Africa probably had ancient contact with China: it had contacts with the entirety of the old world for centuries before Europeans began to venture beyond their traditional haunts.

  3. There is a lot of evidence from paintings and pottery that shows there were longstanding contacts between Africa and East Asia.

    There are paintings of African ambassadors and traders in China, and African game like giraffes which were sent as gifts. There is Chinese pottery embedded in the walls of various trading ports in East Africa.

    There were huge trading networks that connected West Africa to East Asia and everywhere in between.

    Also, during the 19th century, there was an active movement that sought to re-write ancient history in the emerging colonial empire's image. Whether it was the de-africanising of Ancient Egypt, or the Anglicising or Germanising of Ancient Greece. Fair enough, lots of people rewrite history to fit their own needs.

    However, Ancient Egypt, like China, was one of those civilisations that were extremely influential on the civilisations that sprang up around it. China heavily influenced Korea, Japan, Vietnam, etc. Egypt influenced Greece and Rome, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

    Most of the letters of the modern alphabet is based on Egyptian hieroglyphs. In Greek, the names of the letters make no sense, as they are direct loans from Phoenician, which was itself based on Egyptian civilisation.

    Greek - Phoenician - English

    Alpha = Aleph = Oxen (as a cow's head - A)
    Beta = Bet
    Gamma = Gamel = Camel (saddle)
    Delta = Dalet = Door (like a saloon door - D)
    Epsilon = He = Heaven (like a man with both arms raised towad the sky - E)
    Theta = Thaw = Cross (T)
    Mu = Water (as in waves M)

    Egypt was very influential on the civilisations around it. However, Egypt itself was heavily influenced by it's founding cultures, which were Nubian, which themselves came out of the African Equalithic.

  4. The point I was making is that there is the assumption that there was no contact with Africa until the last 200 years when in fact there has been contact for millenia; a small inconvenience caused by geography does however mean that Chinese links, while certainly existing, will not be as old as Arab or European links. The pottery could have brought to Africa by Arabian or Indian middlemen and the gifts of animals were more likely to have been tribute as the Emperor who dispatched his great fleet did so to explore the world and bring it under his sway-tribute was a way of acknowledging his superiority. So while this ship will be a wonderful find and will undoubtedly give us a lot of new information let us not forget that it was just another empire extending its reach towards Africa. And it may have brought benefits with it.


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