Migrants in Motion: Sacrifice and Desire Among the Chinese in Zambia

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Migrants in Motion: Sacrifice and Desire Among the Chinese in Zambia
     Migrants in Motion: Sacrifice and Desire  Among the Chinese in Zambia Janny Chang The Chinese have historically blah blah blah Key words: migration, work, Chinese, Zambia !"#$%&'(#)%" Chinese migration abroad in search of better opportunities spans over 500 years (Mohan and Kale 2007). It is a global phenomenon that is generally spurred by push and pull factors. While “voluntary migration” has often  been attributed to the movement of people to different parts of the world, economic and political push factors reveal glaring constraints facing individuals. Constraints coupled with the lure of better opportunities abroad instigate accelerated movement. This seems to be the case with the increasing presence of the Chinese in African countries. Immigration of Chinese nationals to African countries is still a relatively new phenomenon, compared to the British, French, Germans and Indians. Because it is often times accompanied by strong and controversial  political support from the Chinese government, newspaper reports have a tendency to sensationalize this trend. The media has mainly concentrated on resentment of Zambian traders and shop owners towards the Chinese fueled by competition in niche markets (Southall 2009) and alleged labor exploitation expressed in revolts against managers in the coal and copper mining industries (Trofimov 2007). Although these incidences demonstrate some of the challenges posed by increasing Chinese  presence in Zambia and other African countries, a closer look at the experience of Chinese migrants adds to the story. Thus, this article seeks to explore the experiences of Chinese migrants through their experiences working at a multinational corporation in Zambia. To enhance our understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the mobile population of Chinese working in Zambia, Chinese migrants through their experiences working at a multinational corporation in Zambia. To enhance our understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the mobile population of Chinese working in Zambia, I turn to interviews and ethnographic data highlighting their perception of sacrifice as the primary motivator to work abroad. Empirical data also shows that once they arrive in Zambia and other African countries and reside for a period of time, their attitudes, desires and  perceptions change. This shapes their ultimate decision to stay. Others +),$-#)%" The mode of Chinese involvement in Zambia has its variants in the history of forced and semi-voluntary labor of people in the African, East and South Asian diasporas to accommodate the global economy (Nettles 2008; Said 1990). China's deepening engagement with Zambia emanates from its need to supply its growing market economy. All my informants talked about the importance of China's economic growth and recognized that the company they worked for, an export firm, has benefited from and contributed to the burgeoning economy. China's rapid economic growth has presented problems related to worker relations, including unfair and harsh labor  practices. David Harvey (2005:18) has discussed at length China's tremendously low wages and unregulated and exploitative labor conditions that have resulted from the government's aim to grow the economy and develop as rapidly as possible. According to data provided by an immigration officer in Zambia, an overwhelming number of Chinese who enter Zambia do so under the auspices of employment permits. A chart delineating the number of  permits issued is included. In 2010, out of 7,121 total entries documented, 2,702 were issued employment   Chinese migration to African countries has increased dramatically in the last decade. This article explores the experiences of the transient population of Chinese employees working in a Chinese company in Zambia. Data gathered from fieldwork demonstrates the  significance of push and pull factors. Employees are motivated to work abroad in Zambia because of powerful conceptualizations of  sacrifice for themselves, their families, and their nations. While staying in Zambia, their perceptions and desires change. Some decide to  stay, stating that Zambia offers a less stressful life than in China. Nearly all express a change in attitudes and stereotypes of Africa and express appreciation of the positive aspects of their experiences abroad.   permits that were issued were employment and temporary ones. This indicates that most of the Chinese who enter and stay in Zambia are only there provisionally. +.#/%& -"& 0%"#.1# This article relies primarily upon ethnographic data collected over five months in Zambia, six days a week, six hours a day at the largest telecommunications company in the country, which also happens to be Chinese-owned. The total of five months was divided into three months during  preliminary research in 2010 and two months during long- term fieldwork the following year in 2011. My engagement with the company actually began in 2007, when I first visited Zambia during the summer for preliminary research. Access to the company was granted in 2010 when I  befriended one of the managers, who, along with the managing director (MD), approved my conducting research there. I behaved like one of the employees, going to work five to six times a week for eight to 10 hours a day. As I grew closer to the employees, I was also invited to their homes and even went on weekend excursions with them. Data was primarily collected at the company or at coffee shops near company premises. The company, which I shall address as Company A, specializes in physical telecommunications infrastructure such as fiber optic networks. It has grown and spread to 39 Sub-Saharan African countries . Company A is located in Lusaka, which is considered the administrative and political center of Zambia. While most of the data collected in 2010 were based on field notes and informal and unstructured interviews, this changed when I returned in 2011. I implemented formal and structured interviews and collected life histories from 16 employees in Company A. Formal and informal interviews were focused on their motivation and attitudes towards working abroad and the challenges and opportunities they faced on a daily basis. Time passing had strengthened our rapport and trust. During long-term fieldwork, informants whom I had  befriended the previous summer volunteered to grant formal and structured interviews. Their trust in me even extended to offering to help me recruit other informants via the snowball method. Strong rapport and trust gained over the course of two years enabled me to access  personal aspects of their lives. Half of the informants in the company were Chinese nationals, mostly hailing from Henan, Shandong and Hubei provinces. The company is composed of two types of local employees: temporary and formal staff. Included in the local staff are 36 formal employees and 18 temporary employees. Chinese employees comprise approximately 67  permits followed by 769 temporary permits. From 2008 to 2010, most of the total employees, almost all formal staff, excluding those who stay in Lusaka for a few weeks to months temporarily for business. The employees are distributed among five major departments in the company: technical service, finance, marketing, human resources and administration. This is captured in the company organizational chart included below:   +%#)2-#)%"3 #% 4%$5 67$%-& The experiences of the Chinese working in Zambia are underscored by the hierarchical development paradigm that is often criticized by anthropologists (Escobar 1995, Ferguson 2002, 2006), but is nonetheless a paradigm that is  part of the their everyday lives. As Vanessa Fong (2004) illuminates in her ethnography of teenagers in Dalian, China, the hierarchical development paradigm that places the US and European countries on top and “third world” countries on the bottom, were espoused by my Chinese informants concerning where they perceived their positions in the world order. Most of the informants perceived China as trying to catch up to America and Zambia as trailing far   behind. More generally, the Chinese perceived their situations as an inevitable part of China's efforts to catch up with the US. They also perceived their own sacrifices as part of an effort to improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the situation of future generations. The framework of sacrifice underscored their reasons for working so hard and tolerating everyday drudgery. They wanted to move forward and considered making sacrifices the only way to help their families and their nation advance. One informant discussed the sacrifice both he and wife make by living apart for over seven years. He quipped, “If    you had a chance to make your life better, wouldn't you? We have to make sacrifices to improve our future and for the future of our children.” He then went on to explain that he finally had opportunities that his parents did not have. They had a simple dream, he said, and that dream was to obtain an education. Their dreams were dashed during the Cultural Revolution when young people were ordered into the fields to perform manual labor. 8-($)9)(. For most of my informants, working abroad was a necessary sacrifice to fulfill previously denied dreams and improve their lives. It was also a symbol for success since working abroad was often associated with wealth. Wealth, as we will see, ensures their chances of getting married. It affords them the ability to purchase a home in the city, which is now a prerequisite set forth by Chinese women looking to marry. Almost uniformly, the Chinese employees complained about skyrocketing housing prices in China. They spoke of the pressures of being able to  purchase homes in order to find a suitable spouse. As one employee, Alonso prepared for his trip back home to China and the wife of another employee had agreed to set him up with one of her single friends, complained to me, “I hope the woman is nice. It's so hard to please Chinese women. They have to have homes before getting married. How can you afford a home right after college? You have to spend years saving up, especially with increasing housing prices. It's nearly impossible to buy a home right now in popular cities. Chinese women demand homes before getting married because they need stability. This puts pressure on the men though. It means I have to keep toiling away just so I can find a suitable wife.” From the Chinese perspective, wealth also ensures and symbolizes stability. In Confucianism, which underpins this perspective, extols the virtue of stability. Stability is more valued than freedom, as it guarantees the harmony and well being of collectives, including the family and the nation. The desire to be stable through the accumulation of wealth is not only rooted in Confucianism, but is also a consequence of experiencing over a century of historical and fiscal instability. Even if my informants did not experience this directly, the powerful narratives of major wars, poverty, famine, and political unrest in China passed down by their grandparents and parents, who did directly experience these hardships, greatly affect their decisions to take advantage of the opportunities now, even if it means making tremendous sacrifices. Furthermore, the lack of social security and other safety nets also proved to be urgent impetus for the Chinese to work abroad and save money. Thus, my Chinese informants faced immense  pressures to accumulate capital for the security of their futures or else they faced downward mobility. Garnering six to seven times more than the amount of average salaries in China made the sacrifices worthwhile. 0%3#3 %9 8-($)9)(. The benefits of working abroad did not come without heavy costs, such as anxiety, confusion and insatiability. One informant remarked, “I want to be rich, filthy rich. It's not fair that there are people back home who turn into millionaires overnight. That's what I spent a lot of my time thinking about. I've read  Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I  just don't think I'm going to be wealthy in my lifetime.” Another informant stressed to me, “It's never enough.” While pursuing wealth was seen as a worthy goal  because it enabled them to take care of their families and increased their qualifications as suitable marriage partners, it also generated confusion about their cultural identities. Although they desired wealth, they also criticized it, associating its pursuit with the lack of culture in China. They often referred to Taiwan, Hong Kong and elements of the Chinese diaspora huaquiao as the preserver of traditional Chinese culture. They felt that many mainlanders only cared about the pursuit of wealth and lacked the elements of spirituality and philosophy that they felt were more prevalent in Chinese communities abroad. Although the main motivator for working abroad and making sacrifices was the pursuit of wealth, and therefore, stability, they were also not entirely comfortable with this pursuit since it called into question their quest for authentic Chinese identity and culture, amid rapid changes and mounting pressures in their lives. :$.33'$.3 -# 4%$5 Preceding sections focused on motivations for working abroad in African countries and Chinese  perceptions of sacrifice and associated costs. The overwhelming belief in the necessity of sacrifice also carried with it strong discursive justifications for any costs. At the national level, this discourse underpins actions taken  by the government to move towards rapid economic growth, which has been made possible by the harsh conditions endured by rural-urban migrant workers numbering 114 million in the cities in China and expected to rise to 500 million in 2020 (Harvey 2005). At the local  levels, this discourse was accepted by many Chinese and  justified as a necessary part of increased standard of living. This common sentiment illustrates the high tolerance level Chinese employees have for harsh working conditions. Chinese companies in African countries are no exception. Employees were expected to work seven days a week and be on-call 24 hours a day. I will refer to one of my informant’s story to elucidate the challenges and  pressures he faces on a daily basis. Employees in the sales and marketing department were responsible for setting up contracts that were subsequently implemented by project managers in the technical services department. The technical services department was the largest in the company and its tasks ranged from selling applications and software to cell phone companies and resolving technical problems. Their main tasks consisted of network maintenance and optimization. One of the engineers expressed that he felt immense  pressure everyday because if he took one day off, all the cell phones in Zambia would fail. The thought of being responsible for so many cell phone users stressed him out and prevented him from being able to sleep at night without interruption. The lack of sleep resulting from a extremely demanding work schedule was a constant complaint among my Chinese informants. This informant claimed that even when he went home to China for vacation, he could not sleep because he was so accustomed to waking up in the middle of the night to accommodate clients or fix technical  problems. The employees often complained about feelings of isolation and loneliness because they were deprived of relationships, dating, and time with their families. One informant complained to me that he spent less than week with his family when he visited mainland China for a month  because he had to spend majority of the time attending workshops and conferences for work. He also expressed to me feelings of alienation, disconnectedness, and being left  behind, because so many of his friends had gotten married and he regretted missing these events due to working abroad. Another informant, whose wife was still in China attending graduate school for a Masters degree in urban  planning, complained about having to adjust every time he visited home and then re-adjust every time he came back to Zambia. He said that he had grown accustomed to a married  bachelor life and went through periods of depressing, locking himself in his room, sitting and contemplating his life in the dark. Although the company provides free transport twice a year either for employees returning to China or for their families to visit Zambia, they rarely took advantage of these perks because they were frequently overloaded with work. Those who had free time to spend with their families often found themselves habituated to working around the clock and consequently, refrained from taking full advantage of this free time. Despite having to endure pressures at work which limited time spent with family, their conceptualization of sacrifice as a necessary means to a worthy end, from their perspectives, offset the myriad challenges they faced. This discourse also percolated to the individual level, influencing my Chinese informants to accept  pressures at work, which might be deemed stringent by any other standards, but justified by them as a necessary component of making progress. When my informants and I discussed some of the harsh working conditions facing both Chinese and Zambian workers in the copper and coal mines in Zambia, their sentiments were captured in one of the comments: “They're exploited and that happens everywhere in China, but that's what it takes for us to get ahead. If you had the opportunity to improve your life, wouldn't you?” 8.##;)", <%=" The majority of the Chinese in Zambia are migrants in motion, meaning their stay in the host country is temporary (Park 2008). Company policy dictated that Chinese employees would work in a country for a maximum of three years. Depending on their access to  personal connections or acquisition of an irreplaceable, marketable skill, they could be transferred to their top choices, including the United States, western European countries or China. Attrition rate has increased, evidenced  by a handful of my informants simply quitting because they could no longer stand the pressure of work or the loneliness associated with being abroad for so long. The greatest deterrent to permanently settling down in Zambia is the loneliness factor. In addition to work  pressures limiting time spent with family, the reluctance of wives, girlfriends and fiancées to visit or settle down in Zambia further contributes to the loneliness problem. Part of their reluctance stems from negative stereotypes of Africa as a continent afflicted with disease, poverty and war. These negative stereotypes, accompanied by real threats of physical danger posed by malaria and road accidents, limit their desire to visit or stay. Furthermore, overall weak infrastructure, combined with real threats of  physical danger render the possibility of bringing their aging parents to settle in Zambia, a weak and undesirable option. The possibility of finding a suitable mate among Chinese women in Zambia is also highly unlikely. Although there are Chinese women in Zambia, over 85  percent arrive attached, either with their husbands or fathers or under strict auspices of their companies. Those who travel as employees are regulated in terms of where they go, whom they see, and how often they are allowed to venture outside of company premises. Few go to Zambia alone and even fewer would give Chinese men the chance to court them due to strict restrictions placed upon them by their employers, managers or men in their lives. Therefore, the greatest deterrent to permanently settling in Zambia is  loneliness caused by the reluctance of family members and  partners to visit and exacerbated by the shortage of Chinese women working in Zambia. Yet another major deterrent to staying long-term in Zambia relates to differences in language and culture. Most migrants in motion lack fluency in the English language and thus face numerous challenges during their stay in Zambia. Those working under the auspices of large private or state-owned companies like my informants have the advantage of being protected by managers and members in the company. They also tend to live together in close quarters, usually four or more members to a house or room, depending on the size and profit margins of the company. However, the ones working independently must rely upon their  guanxi, or network of personal Chinese contacts to assist them, including agencies or individuals specializing in acquiring work permits and other documents on their behalf. My research indicates that one of the major deterrents to the Chinese settling in Zambia and other African countries is the language barrier erecting challenges in communicating and in resolving logistical problems in their everyday lives.   0/-",)", <.3)$.3 Despite significant deterrents to settling in Zambia, around 20 to 30 percent of the migrants in motion end up staying. I now turn to two stories of employees whose  perceptions and desires changed during their experiences working in African countries. One employee was born in and grew up in Inner Mongolia. He has two older sisters. Both parents worked for the bureau of the government. He attended university in Schezuan and worked in Beijing for two years in research and development as an electrical engineer. He then moved to Chengdu, where he continued working in telecommunications specializing in broadband communications and Internet service. After three years, he was promoted to manager and decided he wanted to try working abroad. He joined a state-owned enterprise and was transferred to the Algerian division of the Chinese company. He stayed for a couple of years before joining this company in the Zambian division. He met his wife while attending university. Describing her as a driven, career woman, he explained that neither he nor his wife wanted her to quit her job to stay with him in Zambia. Their increasing earnings potential  paves the way for a stable future, an especially crucial concern now that they have a two-year-old daughter. Because both he and his wife are busy working, his parents have assumed full responsibilities for taking care of his daughter. On weekends, his wife travels from Chengdu to Inner Mongolia (about 1,689 km) to see their daughter. He visits his wife and daughter once a year for about two weeks.   When I asked him about his motivations for working in Zambia, his response was a high salary and a new working environment prompted him to accept this job. Regarding his experiences working in an African country, he responded: The good thing about Africa is that there is less  pressure. I wanted to make career advancements, which is why I chose to take this job. It’s just that there’s a lot of pressure now in China. A lot of  pressure. Here, the lifestyle is more simple. There’s a lot of beautiful natural scenery. People here are relaxed. Work is also more relaxed than it would be in China. The bad thing is it’s very under-developed and the economy and all forms of efficiency is lacking. Having lived in Algeria and traveled to Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa for work, this informant understood the nuances in culture, languages, and landscape of the continent. When I interviewed him, he had  just returned from a business trip to Congo Brazaville and enthusiastically raved about the night-markets, which he said were so similar to the ones in China. It was evident that he had developed a sort of fondness for Zambia and other African countries, but the state of weak infrastructure and underdevelopment the likelihood that he and his family would ever stay. Taking a slightly different trajectory, there were several cases of wives moving to Zambia to be with their husbands. While it signaled the end of a career for the woman, it almost always led to a boost in the man’s career. There are limited career opportunities for the wife in Zambia unless she has fluent command of English or  possessed a technical skill. Company policy also discouraged the recruitment of both husband and wife. The husband, however, benefits from the presence of his wife, thus contributing to upward mobility in his career. Overall, the wife’s decision to be with her husband impacts the family as a whole, as it increases the likelihood of settling down and raising children in Zambia. One example concerns an employee, Bob, working in the sales division specializing in mediating between clients and engineers. Bob met his wife, Jane, while he was working for a software company in Shanghai. She had moved around a bit, initially managing a store for her cousin out of family obligation and then working in a small telecommunications company. The couple dated for a year. Then, Bob received a job offer in Shenzen. Jane decided to move with him to Shenzen and got a job there. When it was decided that he would have better opportunities transferring to South Africa, they had to decide what to do about their relationship. They got married in 2007 and the husband moved to South Africa while his wife stayed behind. Eventually, she decided to give up her career and join him. When I asked her why she decided to move, she offered this explanation:
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