Book on China in Africa is Named to Best of 2014 Lists


China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa by Howard W. French has been named to The New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of 2014 and one The Economist‘s Books of the Year.  The book was published on May 21, 2014, and the paperbook version is scheduled for publication on February 3, 2015.

The publisher introduces the book:

“An exciting, hugely revealing account of China’s burgeoning presence in Africa—a developing empire already shaping, and reshaping, the future of millions of people.

A prizewinning foreign correspondent and former New York Times bureau chief in Shanghai and in West and Central Africa, Howard French is uniquely positioned to tell the story of China in Africa. Through meticulous on-the-ground reporting—conducted in Mandarin, French, and Portuguese, among other languages—French crafts a layered investigation of astonishing depth and breadth as he engages not only with policy-shaping moguls and diplomats, but also with the  ordinary men and women navigating the street-level realities of cooperation, prejudice, corruption, and opportunity forged by this seismic geopolitical development. With incisiveness and empathy, French reveals the human face of China’s economic, political, and human presence across the African continent—and in doing so reveals what is at stake for everyone involved.

We meet a broad spectrum of China’s dogged emigrant population, from those singlehandedly reshaping African infrastructure, commerce, and even environment (a self-made tycoon who harnessed Zambia’s now-booming copper trade; a timber entrepreneur determined to harvest the entirety of Liberia’s old-growth redwoods), to those just barely scraping by (a sibling pair running small businesses despite total illiteracy; a karaoke bar owner–cum–brothel madam), still convinced that Africa affords them better opportunities than their homeland. And we encounter an equally panoramic array of African responses: a citizens’ backlash in Senegal against a “Trojan horse” Chinese construction project (a tower complex to be built over a beloved soccer field, which locals thought would lead to overbearing Chinese pressure on their economy); a Zambian political candidate who, having protested China’s intrusiveness during the previous election and lost, now turns accommodating; the ascendant middle class of an industrial boomtown; African mine workers bitterly condemning their foreign employers, citing inadequate safety precautions and wages a fraction of their immigrant counterparts’.

French’s nuanced portraits reveal the paradigms forming around this new world order, from the all-too-familiar echoes of colonial ambition—exploitation of resources and labor; cut-rate infrastructure projects; dubious treaties—to new frontiers of cultural and economic exchange, where dichotomies of suspicion and trust, assimilation and isolation, idealism and disillusionment are in dynamic flux.

Part intrepid travelogue, part cultural census, part industrial and political exposé, French’s keenly observed account ultimately offers a fresh perspective on the most pressing unknowns of modern Sino-African relations: why China is making the incursions it is, just how extensive its cultural and economic inroads are, what Africa’s role in the equation is, and just what the ramifications for both parties—and the watching world—will be in the foreseeable future.”


Howard W. French

In an interview with The Diplomat, French sums up the complexity of the relationship between China and Africa: “Seeing China as either savior or demon in Africa, as so many people tend to, are particularly unhelpful ways of trying to understand the encounter between these two parts of the world…it is important to think about the Chinese impact on a country by country basis and to expect sharply divergent outcomes.”

ChinaFile produced the below video introduction to the book, this 38-minute interview with French, and collected the following reviews:

Alexis Okeowo, The New York Times (July 10, 2014)
Michael Deibert, African Arguments (July 9, 2014)
Stephen Ellis, Wall Street Journal (June 6, 2014)
Aaron Ross, The Specatator (July 5, 2014)
Rick Romeo, Boston Globe (June 3, 2014)
David Wilson, South China Morning Post (May 18, 2014)
Kerry Brown, Asian Review of Books (May 16, 2014)

Additionally, The Economist and The Christian Science Monitor also have reviews.

French also spoke at a National Committee n U.S.-China Relations program on October 22, 2014:

Images courtesy of Knopf Doubleday