Scholars discuss a Wits African Centre for Chinese Studies

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Africa China Workshop at Wits
Africa China Workshop at Wits

On the 19th of April 2018, a group of scholars gathered at Wits University in Johannesburg to discuss a proposed African Center for Chinese Studies. The meeting was convened by Professor Philip Harrison, SARChI Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning, and Professor Dilip Menon, Director of the Centre for Indian Studies at Wits University. 

The aim of the meeting was to think through the intellectual scope of the proposed centre, and to consider what it means to develop and run such a centre on the African continent. 

Three keynote talks were presented by Prof. Ching Kwan Lee, Prof. Ruth Simbao and Dr Ross Anthony. 

Professor Ching Kwan Lee from the University of California Los Angeles presented “The Specter of Global China”, which is also the title of her recent book published by the University of Chicago Press. In this book, subtitled Politics, Labor and Foreign Investment in Africa, Lee analyses capitalism and state-driven investment through an in-depth study of copper mines and construction sites in Zambia. She also drew from her extensive experience as a member of the Faculty Advisory Committee at the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies. 

Professor Ruth Simbao, SARChI Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa at Rhodes University, presented “Strategic Southernness, Reciprocal Epistemologies: Re-situating Africa-China through the Arts”.  Referring to her scholarly and curatorial work on Chinese presence in Africa, she analysed perceptions of ‘place’ in relation to situatedness, geopolitics and knowledge-creation on the African continent and in the global south. She questioned how an Africa-based centre on the study of China would delink from northern-driven theoretical and conceptual frameworks, and how African and Chinese scholars would engage in strategic southernness that knowingly “looks sideways”. 

Dr. Ross Anthony shared his valuable experience as a reseacher and a leader of the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University. He urged participants to take seriously what is already happening in various contexts across the African continent, and to consider the narrow idea of “China-Africa” as part of broader contextualised research on China and Chinese exceptionalism. 

Various members from the Faculty of Humanities recommended careful deliberation about ways in which all departments at Wits could actively be part of the development of the proposed centre. The Dean of Humanities, Prof. Ruksana Osman and the Vice-Principal Prof. Tawana Kupe engaged in further discussions about the centre, and encouraged ongoing, collaborative conversations that draw from multiple perspectives and experiences. 

Photo: (Back) Dr. Ross Anthony, Prof Dilip Menon, Dr Romain Dittgen, Dr Yan Yang, Prof Philip Harrison; (Front) Prof Tawane Kupe, Prof Ruth Simbao, Prof Ruksana Osman, Prof Zeblon Vilakazi, Prof Ching Kwan Lee.

Source:  Rhodes University

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