Research Projects

China’s Private Commercial Engagement in Africa: The Wenzhou Trade Diaspora in Nigeria

(Funded under General Research Fund Scheme 2012 – 13 Exercise, Research Grants Council, Hong Kong)

Principal Investigator

Cao Nanlai, Honorary Assistant Professor, Research Assistant Professor, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences
(Remarks: Dr. Nanlai Cao left the University’s service from September 10, 2013.)

Total Fund Awarded

HKD 608,546

Project Duration

September 2012 – September 2014

Project Description

China has dramatically intensified its economic engagement with Africa since the turn of the new century. A broad multidisciplinary literature has addressed China’s state-led extractive investment projects in resource-rich African countries. However, less scholarly attention has been paid to diasporic Chinese communities in Africa and their relationship to the Chinese state. This proposed research investigates the dynamics of the Chinese private commercial presence in Africa by focusing on the Wenzhou trade diaspora in Nigeria ─ Africa’s most populous consumer market and leading oil producer. Wenzhou merchants, known as aggressive, speculative entrepreneurs back home and in large parts of Europe and the Middle East, have a rising presence in African businesses. Their small and medium-scale trading activities in Nigeria have been increasingly encouraged and driven by the Chinese state in the context of implementing the national development strategy of “going out to the world.” By examining Wenzhou merchants’ business operations in Nigeria, this project seeks to study the intertwined relationship between a household-based market economy and a state-led model of capitalist development and how this relationship unfolds in the current context of China’s rise in Africa. It will also explore the diasporic contexts in which these merchants combine commitments to native community, the Chinese nation-state and transnational commercial activity. To collect data for this research, I shall rely mainly on ethnographic interviews, participant observation, and analysis of secondary data. The diasporic experiences of these mobile Wenzhou merchants will illuminate emerging patterns of Chinese private entrepreneurship and state-business relations in a globalized world.