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The Back Rooms in Johannesburg’s Chinatown

South Africa is home to the largest and one of the oldest Chinese diaspora populations in Africa, dating back hundreds of years. Although there are no precise figures, the ethnic Chinese population in the country is estimated to be at least 300,000.

And during that long history, the Chinese community has often struggled to find a place within South Africa’s complicated racial matrix. Even today, long after the end of apartheid, and despite South Africa’s full embrace of multiculturalism, a sense of “otherness” hangs over the country’s diverse ethnic Chinese communities.

Dartmouth College Assistant Professor Mingwei Huang has spent years studying Chinese migration and assimilation patterns in South Africa, particularly in Johannesburg. She recently contributed a chapter to the new book “Anxious Joburg” where she explored how architecture in Johannesburg’s Chinatown is a manifestation of the Chinese community’s complex history in South Africa.

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About Mingwei Huang:

Mingwei Huang is an Assistant Professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. She is an interdisciplinary scholar of race, migration, gender, and sexuality, trained in American Studies and specializing in Afro-Asia and transnational feminism. Her research explores the reconfiguration of race, capitalism, and empire underway in the 21st “Chinese Century” and their historical entanglements with Euro-American colonialism. Huang’s first book is an ethnography of contemporary Chinese capitalism, migration, and world-making in Johannesburg, South Africa that follows the transnational flows of migrants, commodities, and money from China to South Africa and back. My work on the Black Panther Party in China, Sino-African racial antagonisms, and the red-white-blue “China bag” has been published in Scholar & Feminist OnlineRadical History Review, and International Journal of Cultural Studies.

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