The South African-born Chinese community is a tiny one, consisting of 1, to 12, members in a population of approximately 45 million. Throughout much of the history of this most race-conscious country, the community has been ignored or neglected, and officially classed along with Coloureds (people of mixed race) or with Indians in that particularly South African category of ‘Asiatic’. More recently, as China’s aid, trade and investment in Africa grow and large numbers of new Chinese immigrants stream into South Africa and other African states, Chinese South Africans are beginning to receive both media and scholarly attention. For this reason it is timely to focus on the only resident community of Chinese on the continent. This title, based on a PhD thesis, focuses on Chinese South Africans by examining their shifting social, ethnic, racial and national identities over time. Using concepts of identity, ethnicity, race, nationalism, and transnationalism, and drawing on comparisons with other overseas Chinese communities, it explores the multi-layered identities of the South African group and analyses the way in which how their identities have changed over time and with each generation. As the title makes clear, Chinese identities in South Africa have been shaped by both external and internal forces. As regards external factors, the state – both that of China and of South Africa – played a key role in establishing the parameters of identity construction. Over time the weight of this influence changed, as a result of international political events, internal racial policies, and external trade and political relations. At the same time, individual and community agency, and the force of the ‘China myth’, played important parts in the construction of Chinese South African identity.
A Matter of Honour: Being Chinese in South Africa
The South African-born Chinese community is a tiny one, consisting of 1, to 12, members in a population of approximately 45 million.