Article Reflections #9 – Agricultural Training

In a recent World Development article, Tugendhat and Alemu present primary research on China’s short-term technical and policy training courses on agriculture.


Who attends these courses? 

  • Technical civil-servants (~ 3 months, practical, hands-on training)
  • Senior officials (~ 2 to 4 weeks, more observation and policy but still some fieldwork)
  • Ministerial-level officials and secretaries (~ 14 days or less, networking, business, and policy

How do the short-term courses work? The short-term courses are “funded by the Department of Foreign Aid in MOFCOM, and the short-term courses are managed by MOFCOM’s ‘‘Academy for International Business Officials” (AIBO). A number of courses are also hosted at AIBO but more often funding is provided to other Chinese institutions such as universities, research centers, and relevant companies. Flights, accommodation and lodging are all paid for by MOFCOM, and the only costs borne by the participants or their ministries are the visa fees and stipends” (74-74). African ministries are allowed to pick which staff go (corruption/patronage or efficiency?) Almost all courses were taught in Chinese with an interpreter translating (generally into English or French). Authors observed a roughly even split between courses focused on technologies and technical methods and those focused on policy and management methods.

The authors consider three major questions:

  1. Do the training courses push a unified, central model of development. In other words, is there a Beijing consensus? While there were a few central messages pushed onto the courses (esp. China as a brethren developing country with technological experience emphasized with banquets and field trips to the countryside), there was no unified model of development or best practices dictated to course lectures. Instead, course content was largely left to the individual trainers. While course content does need approval from the central government, the lecturer’s interviewed said they rarely received comment on their submitted lesson plans.
  2. Do the training courses serve as vehicles for China’s commercial interests? The authors’ analysis shows course participants come from a diverse group of development countries and not just the resource-rich countries. However, a third of participants were offered the opportunity to buy goods connected with their training course.
  3. How do the training courses articulate China’s soft power?  The majority of the participants interviewed retained a positive impression of China. Both participants and organizers highlighted newly established relationships as the lasting impact of the courses.


The authors found no direct impact of the training courses:

“The greatest impediment to implementing the lessons from the training contexts in home contexts was either that courses were not relevant to the unique climate or socio-economic contexts the participants were from, or the job that they actually carried out” (78).

In other words, the courses weren’t geared to meet specific needs. Further, there seems to be limited options for follow-up work or funding for projects inspired by training course. Participants and lecturers alike stressed to the authors that relationship-building was more important than tangible impact of training. Tugendhat and Alemu conclude we’ll see long-term impacts from these training and they may be right. However, I can’t help but wonder if there was a more structured follow-up mechanism accompanying the training if we wouldn’t see more short-term impacts as well. It really just depends. Are the training courses about seeing China in a positive light or are they about equipping participants with the knowledge needed to improve their local situation?


Tugendhat, Henry, and Dawit Alemu. “Chinese agricultural training courses for African officials: Between power and partnerships.” World Development 81 (2016): 71-81.



Article Reflection #8 – Agri-tech Demo Centers

Starting with the 2006 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit, China announced that it would build agricultural technology demonstration centers (ATDCs) in partner African countries. ATDCs have been constructed in over 20 countries so far, and Xu et al.’s 2016 piece in World Development offers us great ethnographic insight into the reality of China’s ATDCs.

Summary: The paper starts with a review of China’s science and technology regime, providing the background context in which to see how ATDCs are an extension of China’s own experience of modernizing agriculture and thus China’s attempt to share that experience. The authors observed daily life at four ATDCs and it is through profiles of the managers and workers at the centers that we come to see the inherent political and social realities that get in the way of the ATDCs intended purpose of ag-tech transfer. As Xu et al. put it, “negotiations must take place about the meanings and implications of agriculture and technology, demonstration and extension, as well as aid and development” (89).

Reflections: ATDCs have a dual purpose to both share and demonstrate Chinese agri-tech to African users and to promote Chinese agribusiness. The interviews and narratives from Chinese managers and their African counterparts in Xu et al.’s paper reflect this conflict. If you’re looking for an example of why ‘the China model’ may not be as easy to export as is hoped/feared, this paper is a good place to start.


Xu, Xiuli, et al. “Science, technology, and the politics of knowledge: The case of China’s agricultural technology demonstration centers in Africa.” World Development 81 (2016): 82-91.

Article Reflections #7: Chinese Investment Abroad

I keep running into papers which cite Buckley et al.’s 2007 work on Chinese outward foreign direct investment (FDI), so I decided for this reflection post to just head straight to the original.

Summary: Buckley and co. ask if the investment location decisions of Chinese multi-national enterprises are explicable by standard FDI theory or something new & local to China which is (a) a developing country and (b) guided by central planning? They create a model to test several assumptions about the determinants of Chinese investment (1984-2001**), including two assumptions that are probably the most cited/discussed today.

  1. The amount of natural resources a country has does not have significant impact on whether or not Chinese investment will go to that country.
  2. The more politically ‘risky’ countries attract more Chinese investment.

Reflections: I see this paper cited a lot for the second conclusion, the apparent Chinese ‘preference’ for risk. What is sometimes lost when this paper is cited is that the political risk of a country was only a significant determinant when both developed and developing countries (OECD vs. non) were included in the same model.  Among non-OECD countries, political risk is not a significant determinant of where Chinese investment will go. Buckley et al. provided rationalizations for the Chinese ‘preference’ for risk. For example,  preferring to invest in developing countries b/c of China’s political advantages there or shared ideologies; state-owned-enterprise structure allows for better risk mitigation; lack of knowledge in ‘young’ Chinese companies; or even that the political risk variable itself was calculated with a Western understanding of risk. Still, those explanations obscure the basic point that outside of directing more of their investment towards non-OECD countries (less competition, perhaps?), Chinese investors appear no more attracted to the seriously risky countries than any other investor.

** This paper was written in 2007 and uses a dataset from 1984 to 2001. It would be fascinating to see an update. There are some factors that did not play a significant role in the 20th century Chinese economy that absolutely do play a role now. The authors themselves point this out by saying Chinese investment in their study was not motivated by asset-seeking as that wave had yet to happen by 2001 but was absolutely occurring in 2007 at the time of writing (think Chinese companies buying US R&D firms). However, I think returning to the natural resources and political risk question with 2002-present data would be equally as compelling.


Buckley, Peter J., et al. “The determinants of Chinese outward foreign direct investment.” Journal of International Business Studies 38.4 (2007): 499-518.

Article Reflections #6: China and Costa Rica

The China-Latin America story seems to share a lot in common with the China-Africa story: a sudden upswing in trade and economic ties and a China that is seen as the possible answer to poverty and infrastructure woes. Monica DeHart’s “Remodeling the Global Development Landscape: the China Model and South-South Cooperation in Latin America”, offers a nice entry point into this comparison.

Summary: DeHart covers the rhetoric behind ‘The China Model’ and ‘South-South Cooperation’ to show how both sit at the convergence between Western and Chinese representations of China both as a “powerful new development donor and a mere developing nation peer” (1361). DeHart weaves qualitative evidence from Costa Rica’s new stadium (funded and built by the Chinese) together with a larger analysis China’s engagement in Latin America based on economic interests (mutual benefit), not political ideology. DeHart also focuses on what this new arrangement means for Costa Rica’s identity – a “reinterpretation of the value of Chinese and Costa Rican culture and their embodiment of First (and Third) World identities” (1372).

Reflections: The ethnographic excerpts sprinkled throughout DeHart’s piece are a wonderful window into the everyday realities of the rhetoric DeHart studies. For example, she deftly uses the new stadium’s construction by Chinese laborers to show the both “authoritarian, exploitative development practices” (aka the China Model invoked by the West) and the ‘South-South’ friendship where Costa Rican locals were impressed by the Chinese laborers’ “efficiency and industriousness” (1369).


DeHart, Monica. “Remodelling the global development landscape: the China model and south–south cooperation in Latin America.” Third World Quarterly 33.7 (2012): 1359-1375.

Article Reflections #5: China-Africa as a Field of Study

There have been a couple ‘special issues’ on China-Africa affairs in various journals. One such collection is the Africa Studies Review Forum on Africa and China (vol 56, issue 1). Monson and Rupp’s article, “Africa and China: New Engagements, New Research“, is the introductory piece for the forum.

Summary: This introduction focuses on four points: (1) the “field” of China-Africa studies; (2) the historical evolution of China-Africa studies; (3) the importance of using qualitative as well as quantitative research methods; and, (4) the importance of interdisciplinary work. Monson and Rupp question if China-Africa research falls under the field of “area studies” and if it makes sense to study the relationship of a nation-state (China) with a continent (Africa). They argue that clear sub-themes are emerging in China-Africa research and that many of these themes would benefit from ethnographic research approaches. In contrast, the history of scholarship on Africa-China relations has been primarily about understanding how China’s policies and strategies in Africa affect international affairs, especially Western affairs. Monson and Rupp conclude that China-Africa studies “is best understood when it is both grounded in and in conversation with area studies knowledge” (39).

Reflections: This piece serves as a good introduction to China-Africa studies. It also provides a good foothold into more nuanced China-Africa research.


Monson, J., & Rupp, S. (2013). Africa and China: New Engagements, New Research. African studies review, 56(01), 21-44.