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Doctor of Philosophy




Andrew Walsh


This PhD dissertation explores how the meaning of “being Chinese” is culturally and socially constructed in northern Madagascar, focusing on identity-shaping encounters between Mandarin-speaking Chinese and Malagasy people in three particular contexts: 1) a sugar plantation managed by a Chinese stated-owned corporation; 2) networks of Chinese and Malagasy private businessmen who enable the movement of cheap Chinese commodities from Guangzhou, China to northern Madagascar; and 3) the classrooms of the Confucius Institute - a worldwide educational project sponsored by the Chinese government aiming to promote Chinese language and culture. The dissertation provides an ethnographic account of Chinese-Malagasy encounters by discussing a number of prominent themes: the perceived homogeneity and actual heterogeneity of Chinese people in Madagascar, the influence of particular constructions of gender on intimate relationships between Chinese and Malagasy people, Chinese-Malagasy encounters mediated by global commodity chains and the selective representation of Chinese culture in the classes and events sponsored by the Confucius Institute. By juxtaposing the three contexts, this dissertation strives to bridge the growing literature on China-Africa encounters with broader discussions of Africa in the postcolonial world that has long been dominated by the dual protagonists of the “West” and Africa. The main argument is that all three contexts of Chinese-Malagasy encounters demonstrate the features of discontinuity, unpredictability, exclusiveness and disconnectedness entailed in Africa’s participation in the contemporary world order. Although Chinese-led projects bring certain benefits to Malagasy communities, Chinese stakeholders in Africa are reinforcing and perpetuating the power hierarchy of a postcolonial world that systematically disadvantages underdeveloped countries such as Madagascar. The frictions in Chinese-Malagasy encounters are caused by different and unequal ways in which Chinese and Malagasy people are aspiring for better lives.