China Speaker Series

The Spector of Global China: Politics, Labor and Foreign Investment in Africa (Ching Kwan Lee, UCLA)

Time: Oct. 23, 4:00pm - 5:30pm

Location: White Hall 205, 301 Dowman Drive, Atlanta, GA 30322

Free and open to the public

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. Among major foreign investors in Africa, China has stirred the most fear, hope, and controversy about labor rights and national development. This talk analyzes the peculiarity of outbound Chinese state capital by comparing it with global private capital in copper and construction in Zambia. Refuting the rhetorical narratives of “Chinese colonialism” and “south-south cooperation”, Lee draws on ethnographic data collected over a six-year period to chronicle the multi-faceted struggles that confront and differentiate these two varieties of capital, and discuss their uneven potentials for post-colonial African development. 

About the speaker

Ching Kwan Lee is a professor of Sociology at UCLA. She is interested in global and comparative issues, work, globalization, political sociology, development of the global south, comparative ethnography, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and Africa. One of her current research projects examines the rise of “platform capitalism” in China and its impact on state-capital relation, employment, and workers’ new imaginations of work and working lives. Another of her on-going project traces the historical trajectories and contemporary forms of grassroots politics in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

Previously, she has published three monographs on China, forming a trilogy of Chinese capitalism through the lens of labor and working class experiences. Gender and the South China Miracle: Two Worlds of Factory Women (1998) documents the organization of gender and work in factory regimes in Hong Kong and Shenzhen when South China first emerged as the workshop of the world. Against the Law: Labor Protests in China’s Rustbelt and Sunbelt (2007) chronicles the unmaking and making of the Chinese working class in two regional economies experiencing the death of socialism and the rise of capitalism respectively in one country. The Specter of Global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa (2017) follows the footsteps of Chinese state investors to Zambia and compares its relation with African state and labor to other global private investors.