Migration Paths - From China to South Africa

By Denisse Gonzalez

impactmania/AD&A Museum student (UCSB)

Chinese Migration to Africa

For the last few decades, over one million of Chinese people have migrated to Africa. According to the 2019 China Africa Research Initiative  at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies it is estimated that US$143 billion has been extended in Chinese loans to Sub Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2017. There was a Chinese African Forum on China-Africa Cooperation or (FOCAC),  that was proposed by president Jiang Zemin in 1996 and implemented in the year 2000. It has since sparked substantial investment in the country with US$67.2 billion in loans extended between 2001 and 2010 from China’s Export-Import Bank.

A few articles such as Small Pond Migration: Chinese migrant shopkeepers in South Africa by Edwin Lin in 2014 have shed light on some of the social effects of this migration phenomenon, specifically in South Africa, the region where I am researching Chinese migration. Lin argues that Chinese migrants move to South Africa due to a desire to adventure out of China in order to pursue freedoms associated with being one's own boss, such as owning a shop. Once in South Africa, they choose to stay because of comfortable weather and a slower pace of life despite losing freedoms associated with high crime in places like Johannesburg. A few Chinese immigrants move to Africa as employees or entrepreneurs while others are simply citizens looking for a new life.


  • I am interested in looking at the contemporary art work that has been produced as a result of this cultural amalgamation. One artist who has produced some controversial works due to their depictions of Chinese African relations is Nairobian contemporary artist Michael Soi. His artwork depicts the Chinese as taking advantage of Africa’s resources as well as indebting workers, and the nation more so than it helps.
  • While a controversial opinion, many Africans believe China’s investment in infrastructure has been overwhelmingly positive.
  • His work sheds insight into some of the tensions that exist as a result of these international trade relationships.

Additional questions:

Some  additional areas that I’d like to focus on moving forward include gender specifics pertaining to class, age, and gender, as well as, some of the vice versa effects of Chinese migration to Africa. I’d like to know more about the receptiveness of the African population over the years to the varying waves of Chinese migration. I’d also like to know more about what the assimilation process looks like for the Chinese immigrants arriving in Africa. Are Chinese citizens forming their own communities in Africa or are they generally assimilating well within the existing urban fabric of Africa towns and definitely more about the ways that we can see their cultural contributions in South Africa.

Did you move from China to South Africa? Share your story, take the questionnaire. 


Ying Chen, A., Huynh, T., & Jung Park, Y. (2010). Faces of China: New Chinese Migrants in South Africa, 1980s to Present. African and Asian Studies, 9(3), 286-306.

Lin, E. (2014). Small Pond Migration: Chinese migrant shopkeepers in South Africa. 133. T