As a scholar in the US studying China-Africa relations, invariably the question comes up: well how does China study China-Africa relations? Dr. Li Anshan’s 2005 article, “African Studies in China in the Twentieth Century: A Historiographical Survey” is the most comprehensive answer to that question I’ve come across.
Summary: This article surveys the paradigms in African study and scholarship in China over the 20th century. Africa was not really studied during the Republican period (1911-1949), and the major publications then were translation of world geography, travel notes, or books about Egypt. From 1949-1965, African studies concentrated on national independence movements with the ideological focus on people’s resistance and anti-colonial struggles. During and following the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) essentially all social science and humanities studies were stopped. The period after opening and reform (1977-2000) was the most productive period and saw the founding of the Chinese Association of African Studies (1979) and the Chinese Society of African Historical Studies (1980). Since reform, topics in Chinese journals include: resistance movements during colonial periods; African nationalist movements; and bibliographies of important figures.
Reflections: Li’s critique of African studies in China are interesting in their own right and point to areas where international collaboration could benefit Chinese and other scholars. Li notes that few original studies have been done (most work is based on secondary sources translated from English), and not many Chinese scholars have been to Africa to teach or work. Neither Chinese-African society has its own journal. And, as in the past, Chinese scholars’ work is seldom published in English. There is the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ West Asia and Africa journal, but publications are only in Chinese.