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The everyday life of Chinese migrants in Zambia: emotion, sociality and moral interaction

Wu, Di (2014) The everyday life of Chinese migrants in Zambia: emotion, sociality and moral interaction. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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In recent years, Chinese engagement with Africa has expanded dramatically but has also become increasingly diverse as a wide range of Chinese institutions and individuals have undertaken activities on the continent. This phenomenon has attracted significant interest from scholars in different disciplines; however, most of the research carried out to date has been relatively macro-level, e.g. looking into international political-economic relations between states. This thesis aims to contribute to the recently emerging research perspective that focuses on Sino-African interactions from the ground up. It is based on sixteen months of ethnographic fieldwork carried out mainly in two sites near Lusaka, Zambia: a Chinese state-sponsored ‘agricultural technology demonstration farm’ and a private farm that is owned and run by a Chinese family. With their respective modes of organization and operation, fieldwork in these two farms provided access to very different types of interlocutors and situations. The primary focus in the thesis, building on data from these two contrasting settings, is on everyday situational interactions within the Chinese community itself and, to a lesser extent, between Chinese migrants and their Zambian hosts. The daily patterns of interaction among the Chinese migrants illustrate the essential role that emotion plays in forming and reproducing social relations and groups. On the one hand, in the Chinese folk understanding emotions are stressed and they are seen to be more important than instrumental exchanges when it comes to achieving sustainable relationships. On the other hand, as they are embedded in everyday moral interaction and conversational situations, the empathetic realization of embedded emotions is held to encourage convivial communication and group formation. At the pragmatic level, I argue that the significant role given to emotion within the folk understanding of social life may actually hinder interaction with ‘outsiders’. This can be manifested in the form of mismatched ethical practices in the course of everyday interaction. In this particular setting, it therefore causes tension between Chinese migrants and their Zambian hosts. Theoretically, against Potter’s claim that emotion is largely irrelevant in Chinese society, I argue that emotion, with an extensive connotation, is in fact the fundamental factor in the formation and reproduction of Chinese social relations.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Di Wu
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Stafford, Charles and Feuchtwang, Stephan

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