China in Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century African Literature (Cambridge 2023) unpacks the long-standing complexity of exchanges between Africans and Chinese as far back as the Cold War and beyond by examining the controversial symbol of China in African literature. Each chapter focuses on a genre such as poetry, popular fiction, memoir, and the novel, drawing out themes like resource extraction, diaspora, gender, and race. I show how African creative voices grapple with and make meaning out of the possibilities and limitations of globalization in an increasingly multipolar world.
The introduction, “African Literary Imaginaries of China,” lays out the gap in Africa–China scholarship regarding the humanities and world literature particularly. The need for humanistic scholarship on Africa–China relations pinpoints how these exchanges are more than just economic or political; they are also linguistic and cultural. One of the book’s main interventions is to rework the understanding of postcolonial literature’s “worldliness” by configuring it according to African literary imaginaries of China.
Chapter 1, “Kofi Awoonor Imagines China: The Longue Durée of Ghana–PRC Relations,” maps a cultural history. It begins with the Afro-Asian solidarity of the Cold War and ends with the period associated with the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). The chapter examines the life-writings and poetry of the Ghanaian poet and diplomat, Kofi Awoonor, and how he imagines the history of modern China through a series of key geopolitical events. Chapter 2, “Figures of Extraction: Representations of Mining in Ghana and Zambia,” examines how postcolonial masculinity is reconfigured according to Africa–China relations. It examines representations of mining in two pieces of popular fiction, Kwei Quartey’s Gold of Our Fathers (2016) and Mukuka Chipanta’s A Casualty of Power (2016). The chapter analyzes the sensationalist discourse surrounding Africa–China relations, demonstrating how Chinese investment triggers the colonial trauma of European colonialism even as the Chinese presence is configured in critically different ways.
Chapter 3, “Figures of Risk: Memoirs of a Chinese South African and a Cameroonian in China,” features two memoirs of diaspora: Ufrieda Ho’s Paper Sons and Daughters: Growing up Chinese in South Africa (2011) and Jean Tardif Lonkog’s The Black Man and His Visa (2013). Both represent diaspora in Africa–China relations, conceptualizing mobility via the complex interplay between race, government bureaucracy, threat of imprisonment, personal risk, and economic gain. Chapter 4, “Racialization and Afro-Chinese Identity: Henri Lopes’s Le lys et le flamboyant,” examines how multiracial identity is represented in Lopes’s novel, arguing that the narrative subverts the rhetoric that characterizes China’s presence as either a total “win-win” or inevitably a “new colonialism.”
The conclusion, “Forming Afro-Chinese Worlds,” focuses on the literary forms used to imagine Afro-Chinese worlds by reading Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s The Dragonfly Sea (2019). The novel counters the dehumanizing discourse of Africa–China relations, implementing an aesthetic that is anchored in the sociocultural histories of East Africa to represent China in and on its own terms. In sum, the book argues for a more nuanced understanding of cultural exchanges between Africa and China, one that resists the instrumentalization of identity by geopolitics.
China in Twentieth- and
Literature by Duncan M. Yoon