In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section China and Africa

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources from Chinese Government
  • Primary Sources from African Union
  • Journals
  • Databases
  • Overview of Contemporary China-Africa Relations
  • China’s Foreign Policy in Africa
  • Economic Relations
  • Resources Relations
  • Labor Relations
  • Environmental Relations
  • Migration
  • Soft Power
  • Aid and Governance Issues

Chinese Studies China and Africa
May Tan-Mullins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0137


Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, modern China-Africa relations have gone through fluctuating periods, influenced by exogenous and endogenous factors. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the heightened intensity of Chinese diplomacy with African states was evidenced through increasing trade, investment, and aid between China and the various African states. Alongside the rise in trade came increased foreign direct investment where the Chinese engaged mostly in infrastructure construction such as hydropower, telecommunications, and transportation. However, this reinvigorated entry into Africa was greeted with skepticism by many analysts in the West who question if China is a real partner or the new colonizer of the continent. This deepening of economic relations through a massive amount of foreign aid, trade, and investment evokes the debate if China is the new imperialist of the African continent, as critics argue much of Chinese actions are very similar to the colonizers in the past. In seeking to secure strategic resources and adhering to the noninterference principle, the Chinese were accused of violating Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines and global good governance norms in their engagement with African states. Africa’s interest in China mainly stems from trade and investment opportunities, ways to bolster regime stability, and strategically significant partnerships. African entrepreneurs in small and medium enterprises have, in the past, benefited from the growth of informal and formal linkages with Chinese and Taiwanese business networks outside of government sponsorship. The tapering off of traditional Western sources of political influence, economic investment, and development assistance have seen Africa turning toward other rising powers, such as the Chinese, India, and Brazil, and allows African actors to choose between the different donors and negotiate for the best deals. However, scholars debate if these Africans actors are indeed empowered to negotiate China-Africa relations and if there is any African agency in molding China-Africa developmental relations. As more grounded data is being published, the results among the African states are mixed. Although the situation has improved since the early 2000s, obtaining accurate data is one of the major challenges in researching China-Africa relations. Information is difficult to secure in China, and Africa is a continent with fifty-four countries, many of them fragile or failed states with weak institutional frameworks and data collection agencies, which naturally entails that information is not readily available. This article has included some African countries’ sources but also suggests the imperfect solution of using the African Union as a collective site of information. In terms of scholarly works, there has been a huge increase in recent years in the number of works published on various aspects of China-Africa relations, and this article attempts the difficult task of being selective, and any exclusion is a result of the author’s own research boundaries, not a reflection of any excluded articles’ merits.

General Overviews

Shinn and Eisenman 2012 and Raine 2009 presented a good general overview of China-Africa relations from an academic and think-tank perspective. Both books are credited for their use of history to contextualize the relations, bringing it up to date with discussions of the current situation and issues. Alden 2007 highlights to us some of the current debates in the field regarding Chinese involvement in Africa, especially pertaining to resource acquisition and general activities. Large 2008 presents a brief overview on the topic.

  • Alden, Chris. China in Africa. London: Zed Books, 2007.

    This early book emphasizes resource acquisition as the fundamental objective of China’s foreign policy in Africa almost to the exclusion of other objectives of noneconomic dimensions. Overall, the book is suitable as a starting point both for academics and others to understand current Chinese activities in Africa as a whole.

  • Large, Dan. “Beyond ‘Dragon in the Bush’: The Study of China-Africa Relations.” African Affairs 107.426 (January 2008): 45–61.

    DOI: 10.1093/afraf/adm069

    The author provides an objective historical background and overview of early issues surrounding the study of China-Africa relations. His article correctly identified the crucial need for more data-based research on China-Africa studies in order to enrich the field of knowledge.

  • Raine, Sarah. China’s African Challenges. London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2009.

    This book is a good background read from a think-tank perspective, as it contextualizes China-Africa relations through historical perspectives and then assesses the political economy impacts of China-Africa relations and associated issues and challenges in the early-21st-century context. It has a critical tone that is signature of the early think tanks’ works on China and Africa.

  • Shinn, David, and Joshua Eisenman. China and Africa: A Century of Engagement. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

    The authors contribute a historically and geographically comprehensive tome on China’s relationship with Africa’s fifty-four countries and contend China’s strategy in Africa in the early 21st century is not so much premised on promoting its development model but rather founded on pragmatism, which is an accurate reading from the Chinese perspectives. Focusing on fifty-four countries also means the book casts a broad stroke on all the countries discussed and lacks depth in certain aspects.

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