Sunday, September 30, 2012
Learning Chinese in Zambia
A growing number of students are producing really first rate field research on China in Africa. The M.A. thesis of Arwen Hoogenbosch "Made-in-China”: Chinese as a commodity and a socioeconomic resource in Chinese language schools in Zambia" makes fascinating reading.
Arwen spent several months doing "participant observation", enrolled in a Chinese language school in Zambia. He got to know his fellow students, and reports on their varied goals and hopes for learning Chinese.
It's vividly written and full of interesting findings. For example, the story of "William":
... For most of his life, William and his siblings grew up on a Chinese operated farm. The Chinese farmer invested in the children and paid their tuition. The farmer also sent William to the Confucius Institute to learn Chinese. The Chinese employer can be seen as the family’s patron, which improved the cultural capital of the children. The Chinese employer also advised William to work at a Chinese restaurant to improve his Chinese. William’s social capital translated into cultural capital, by living with the Chinese farmer.
Then there is "Raymond":
In his work as a policeman he noticed that Chinese people in Zambia were increasingly coming into contact with law enforcement: “Often when they come to the office they cannot defend themselves because they do not speak English, but they have the right to hear what they have done wrong in a language they understand”. When he proposed to learn Chinese, his boss agreed and told him he could do a course in Chinese language during office hours.
Arwen's analysis of the motives for Zambians to study Chinese is thoughtful. Some thought it would advance their job prospects, although Arwen writes: "it appears that Chinese companies prefer Chinese skilled employees."
[Via China in Africa]