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 French received his B.A. from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He worked as a French-English translator in Abidjan, Ivory Coast in the early 1980s, and taught English literature at the University of Ivory Coast. His career in journalism began as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post and many other publications in West Africa. He was hired by The New York Times in 1986, and worked as a metropolitan reporter for three years, and from 1990 to 2008 reported for The Times as bureau chief for Central America and the Caribbean, West Africa, Japan and the Koreas, and China in Shanghai. During this time, his work was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; he was twice the recipient of an Overseas Press Club Award, and he has also won the Grantham Environmental Award, among other awards.
From 2005 to 2008 alongside his work for The Times, Mr. French was a weekly columnist on global affairs for the International Herald Tribune.
He is the author of “A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa” (2004), which was named non-fiction book of the year by several newspapers, and won the 2005 American Library Association Black Caucus Award for Non-Fiction, and was runner up for the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage and for the Hurston Wright Foundation’s non-fiction prize. Other awards include an honorary doctorate from the University of Maryland.
He is also the author of “China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa, which will be published by Alfred A. Knopf in May 2014.
His work has been published in The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, Rolling Stone, Transition, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Crisis, and Travel and Leisure.
He is also a documentary photographer, whose book, “Disappearing Shanghai: Images and Poems of an Intimate Way of Life,” with Qiu Xiaolong, was published in 2012.
French was a 2011 fellow of the Open Society Foundations and is presently researching a book about the geopolitics of East Asia.
The Diplomat interviews Howard French about China’s role in Africa. VIEW HERE
A Bouquet Of Radio Interviews, Reviews And Excerpts From China’s Second Continent VIEW HERE
Howard French: Journalists Must Convince People the News is Worth It
The former New York Times foreign correspondent, who is now an author and Columbia University Professor, says that even with television and the Internet making international conflict more vivid for viewers journalists still need to make it clear why news is interesting and valuable. (April 11, 2012)