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Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa

by Ching Lee University of Chicago Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 256 pages
AU$62.00 NZ$64.35
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China has recently emerged as one of Africa’s top business partners, aggressively pursuing its raw materials and establishing a mighty presence in the continent’s booming construction market. Even though Africa has become a popular destination of foreign investment from around the world, China has stirred the most fear, hope, and controversy. Yet global debates about China in Africa have been based more on rhetoric than empirical evidence. Ching Kwan Lee’s The Specter of Global China is the first comparative ethnographic study that addresses the critical question: Is Chinese capital a different kind of capital?


Conducting extensive fieldwork in Zambia over a period of six years, Lee shadowed Chinese, Indian, and South African managers in underground mines, interviewed Zambian miners and construction workers, and worked with Zambian officials. Distinguishing carefully between Chinese state capital and global private capital in terms of their business objectives, labor practices, managerial ethos, and political engagement with Zambian state and society, she concludes that Chinese state investment presents unique potentials and perils for African development. The first book to explore this phenomenon, The Specter of Global China will interest anyone curious in the future of China, Africa, and capitalism worldwide.

List of Abbreviations

1 Unnatural Capital: Chinese State Investment and Its Travails in Africa
2 Varieties of Accumulation: Profit Maximization and Beyond
3 Labor Bargains: Regimes of Exploitation and Exclusion
4 Managerial Ethos: Collective Asceticism versus Individual Careerism
5 Contesting Capital: Aspiration and Capacity from Below
6 Eventful Global China

Appendix: An Ethnographer’s Odyssey: The Mundane and the Sublime of Researching China in Zambia

Ching Kwan Lee is an excellent ethnographer and the access she obtained to mining companies through her friendship with Zambia’s former acting president is exceptional. For academics studying mining or construction in Zambia, with or without a Chinese focus, this will prove an invaluable text purely for its details. Its core depiction of Chinese State capital is an interesting insight that opens productive space for the ongoing study of both China and other forms of capital.
Ching Kwan Lee is professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.