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China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 20, 2014

4.2 out of 5 stars 104 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Although several recent books have discussed, in variously alarmist fashion, China’s recent incursions into Africa in pursuit of resources and profit, former New York Times journalist French (A Continent for the Taking, 2004) has the advantage of significant personal experience in both Africa and China. He also speaks Mandarin, so he can converse directly with some of the million or so members of the Chinese diaspora in Africa. They are a diverse lot—doctors, engineers, farmers, entrepreneurs, lobbyists, laborers, and prostitutes, among others—and accounts of their experience are often absent from analyses of Chinese-African relations, which typically focus on infrastructure building and resource grabbing. Interacting with Chinese and Africans in Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Namibia, and elsewhere, French capably illustrates that although the Chinese omnipresence in Africa may be a form of soft imperialism, it is also a result of the crushing pressures—lack of space, merciless business competition, pollution—of modern Chinese society. For many Chinese, he suggests, Africa means opportunity and relative freedom that cannot be had at home. If French is sympathetic to the plight of many Chinese immigrants, however, he remains critical of their casual racism and general callousness about their African hosts. And as he laments the seeming inevitability of corruption and environmental degradation, French’s disappointment in his cherished continent is palpable. --Brendan Driscoll

Review

A 2014 New York Times Notable Book

“Extraordinary…French delves into the lives of some of the one million-plus Chinese migrants he says are now building careers in Africa…and the stories [he] tells are fascinating.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Riveting…As a massive transactional process, China’s entry into Africa has been a dramatic success...but as an ideological and cultural undertaking, Mr. French’s masterly account suggests that it is getting nowhere.”
The Economist

“Howard French…let[s] the Africans and Chinese speak for themselves as he travels through fifteen countries. The result is a rich, complex, and satisfying look at this strange marriage.”
The New York Review of Books

“In his important new book, French weaves a rich tapestry of anecdotes, interspersed with numerous interviews with Chinese migrants and Africans alike, offering readers an eminently fair, occasionally humorous and sympathetic, but always engaging account….A searing, trenchant, and entertaining study of how China, in both an individual and collective sense, is shrewdly and opportunistically maximizing its relationships with African nations in an effort to extend its economic influence across the world. ”
The Christian Science Monitor

“China’s trade with Africa has grown dramatically…But China’s investments…are less significant for this rapidly evolving relationship, according to this 15-country survey by veteran African correspondent French, than the significant flow of new Chinese immigrants—often pushed out by the pressure and oppression back home as much as lured by opportunity. In vivid first-person reportage, French explores this momentous phenomenon, while challenging assumptions about China and Chinese immigrants…The book will appeal to students of China and Africa, and anyone interested in the shifting contours of the global economy and its geopolitical consequences.”
Publishers Weekly

“Although several recent books have discussed…China’s recent incursions into Africa in pursuit of resources and profit,…French has the advantage of significant personal experience in both Africa and China….Interacting with Chinese and Africans in Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Namibia, and elsewhere, French capably illustrates that although Chinese omnipresence in Africa may be a form of soft imperialism, it is also a result of the crushing pressures—lack of space, merciless business competition, pollution—of modern Chinese society.”
Booklist

“Accounts of China’s foray into African markets are often made with numbers; French goes beyond the statistics and illuminates the accelerating involvement of Chinese migrants….These candid moments are arresting, delivered via seasoned and sensitive reporting.”
Democracy

“The huge and growing ties between China and the African continent will be one of the most crucial relationships of the 21st century, and you simply could not invent a better guide to it than Howard French. Superbly written, rich in anecdote, insight, and a sense of the immense scale of what is happening, China’s Second Continent should be mandatory reading for anyone wanting to understand how our world is being reshaped.”
—Adam Hochschild, author, King Leopold’s Ghost

“We owe tremendous thanks to Howard French for this fascinating and deeply reported book. He is an audacious writer who takes his readers to the far-flung factories, farms and living rooms of the Chinese entrepreneurs who are flooding into countries like Mozambique, Zambia and Senegal. French intrepidly explores the other side of the global coin, giving voice to an array of Africans reacting warily to the new imperialists in their midst. This is an essential book for understanding not just China and Africa but our changing world.”
—Peter Maass, author, Crude World

“Almost no other writer would have dared the reportorial and story-telling challenge Howard French has set for himself in China’s Second Continent, and absolutely none could have pulled it off as well. This is foreign reportage and analysis presented as compelling human drama.”
—James Fallows, author, China Airborne


“In Howard French’s wonderfully engaging new book, he draws on his journalistic experience covering both China and Africa to weave together a series of vivid portraits which limn the country’s global rise in this remote and unlikely part of the world. What is so surprising about the stories he tells is that they chronicle everything from the constriction of massive stadiums, hospitals, universities, highways and mineral and energy extraction operations to small-scale shops, farms and family businesses. China’s Second Continent is a grand tale of the world’s newest diaspora, one that promises to change a previously largely forgotten continent.”
—Orville Schell, Director, The Center on US-China Relations, Asia Society

“Howard French has given us the most lush, fair, and expansive look yet at China’s role in Africa. This is a tale not strictly about China or Africa; it is about the encounter of civilizations and the energy produced in the collision. Infused with thought and sympathy, this is a book with no agenda other than fidelity to facts that were so difficult to gather on the ground.”
—Evan Osnos, staff writer, The New Yorker
 
“Is China’s burgeoning empire in Africa a ‘win-win’ for both parties? For the most comprehensive, closely-reported answer to this question, read this book. It’s full of surprises, from hard-driving frontiersmen looking for (and finding) countries with less corruption than they faced at home in China to healthy democracies constraining the more rapacious practices of extractive industry. I cannot imagine a better, more-qualified guide to this vast, fascinating subject than Howard French.” 
—William Finnegan, author, A Complicated War: The Harrowing of Mozambique

“Howard French magisterially holds up both ends of his transcontinental bargain: fluent in the idioms of the two worlds, China and Africa, he reveals the variegated diaspora of the one million or so Chinese in Africa yet also drives home that Africa is awakening in turn. His pages are teeming with human beings of flesh and blood, and often outlandish characters, at the new frontier explored in this fascinating book.”
—Stephen W. Smith, former Africa editor of Le Monde and professor at Duke University

“An important contribution to a critical debate on China’s rapidly changing relationship with Africa. Howard French goes beyond official statistics to weave stories of new wave Chinese immigrants and the Africans whose lives they impact. Unlike ideologues who focus on motives, French seeks to discern the impact of this relationship on all drawn into its vortex.”
—Mahmood Mamdani, Executive Director, Makerere Institute of Social Research, Kampala, Uganda and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, Columbia University

 
“Howard French is one of the most insightful American journalists to have covered Africa in the past twenty years. In this riveting and rich new book, he powerfully juxtaposes two worlds he is uniquely positioned to observe, namely China and Africa. Anyone who has recently spent time in Africa knows how important China is becoming on the continent. Yet French tells a nuanced story about the Chinese few will have previously understood. His storytelling is sharp and wise, the characters we meet are vivid and unforgettable, and the implications are profound and at times disturbing. Anyone interested in Africa and China, or more generally in migration and globalization, will find a wealth of material in this terrific book.”
—Scott Straus, professor of political science at University of Wisconsin, Madison
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 20, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307956989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307956989
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #398,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know very little about Africa except for our media's portrayal of it. I know a lot about China, having lived there for many years and speaking the language. But China is a civilization posing as a nation-state, and its venerable history and dizzying pace of modernization constantly defy easy understanding. Putting China and Africa together, oddly enough, turns out to be a formula to better understand both. And that is what Howard French accomplishes in his latest book, China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa.

A well-traveled, well-educated, and multi-lingual American journalist, French presents a rare, if not unique, perspective on the Chinese experience in Africa and the African experience of China. The author for the most part steers clear of the ideological grand posturing too often found in Western coverage of China's involvement in Africa. Rather, his reporting reads refreshingly like a travelogue sprinkled with the almost reflexive musings of the traveler along his journey.

Yet through those musings, along with the abundance of "as is" observations, emerges a much more serious and thought-provoking sense of a complex reality. French's unique contribution is that he writes not so much about "China" as a polity but more about the experience of individual Chinese emigrants and their African hosts at the personal level. And as individuals, we are each and every one different and cannot be reduced to simple statistics or generalization. Hence the richness of those personal stories creates space for the reader to interpret and come to his / her own conclusions.

A blemish of the book is French's seeming lack of awareness that his identity as a Western journalist inevitably affects his interviewees' answers.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought the book intended to provide an account of the Chinese migrants experiences, instead the book is a personal travelogue attempting to provide analysis on the theme based on a string of analogies.

No doubt the author has enjoyed quite an adventure writing this book and there are interesting experiences being told. However, the book is a story of the author' travels and encounters with Chinese people as opposed to telling the stories of Chinese who moved to Africa. ¨

Other parts of the book consists of analysis on the subject of Chinese migration to Africa, but anecdotal stories nearly always provide a poor source of information to draw wider observations from, which some factual errors in the book confirm. I understand the need to tie the various stories together by making some general observations and providing a contextual backdrop for the stories, however the book stretches beyond its capacity in this regard.

Overall I felt as if the book didn't really know what chair to sit on: a collection of personal stories of the struggles and successes of Chinese migrants would make for a fascinating read on its own and provide insights on an individual level; while a book stretching further into deeper observations require a more systematic research approach which was beyond the scope of this book. This book thus falls somewhere in between these two, not fully achieving either.

The author does nonetheless collect a bunch of highly interesting encounters which makes the book worth a read, but I often found myself skipping passages to get to these parts.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I knew something about China and a little bit about Africa. But in my various professional forays, I have been seeing sizeable Chinese presence which many a times Amazed me but at lots of occasion frustrated me as well.

Thus, I approached this book with hope to learn how the machinery function in China - Africa relationship and hoped for some real insights which could help me professionally. Many reviewers have already mentioned that it read more like a travelogue and I would tend to agree with them. The readers will acknowledge that Howard's intimate knowledge of Africa and the knowledge of Chinese could help him travel to Mozambique , Zambia, Senegal, Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali, Ghana, Tanzania and Namibia. This is quite a lot of travel and credit to Howard for making it through. However, most of the interaction comes through as hear say and not much official versions emerge. For those who have been interacting with Africa, most of it is a confirmation of what is already known first half.

Then why would I recommend this book? I would recommend this book to those who are thinking of getting into Africa (and I know many across the globe are looking at the potential consumption emerging from there, given the low growth rate in developed nations) . The book clearly tells that one needs to have a long term outlook for this place and also gives an indication of what could be components of the strategy to achieve a real "win-win" rather than the "win-win" which is currently being felt. And, yes, one needs to be ready to "eat bitter" to earn the "sweet returns" in long run. What that "bitter" really is, will change from country to country, which Howard has tried to cover.

To come back to the disappointment on lack of some deeper insights, I think it would be a tad unfair on the author to really get behind the Chinese wall as a rank outsider. What he has presented can still be helpful
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