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Bodies that divide and bind: tracing the social roles of association in Chinese communities in Pretoria, South Africa

Authors G. HoustonM. WentzelK. YuE. Vivier
PUBLICATION YEAR: 2013
OUTPUT TYPE: Research report- other
Intranet HSRC Library: shelf number 7669
handle 20.500.11910/3022
Forming associations is a common way in which migrant communities support the integration of, and promote opportunities for new migrants, as well as preserve identity. This pilot study examined the role of associations in the lives of Chinese living in Pretoria. It is the first phase of a collaborative study between the unit for Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery (DGSD) at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in South Africa, and the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS) in Beijing. The objective of the study is to explore the Chinese presence in South Africa and the South African presence in China. It is underpinned by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) established between the HSRC and CASS in 2002, which aims to facilitate exchange and cooperation between the two organizations. The objective of the South African part of the study was to examine how participation in Chinese associations (be they cultural, religious, educational, socio-political or commercial), or the lack thereof, would impact on immigrants' experiences of their adopted 'home' countries. The study focused in particular on social interactions and relations, and drew on individual perceptions of, and reported participation in several local Chinese associations. Pretoria was chosen as the focus of this study because the majority of Chinese in SA studies have examined large and dense Chinese communities. More scattered and smaller settlement areas like Pretoria remain much more invisible in the literature; yet we hypothesized that it could present more and different challenges to immigrants' social interactions. We followed the tradition set by previous studies that differentiate three distinct Chinese communities in South Africa: the descendants of the Chinese (mainly from Canton in China) who arrived in the late 1870s and consist now of 3rd or 4th generation South African-born Chinese (SABCs or Chinese South Africans); the Taiwanese who were first lured to SA in the late 1970s and 1980s under the apartheid government's industrial development policy; and the newer migrants arriving since the mid- to late- 1990s, mainly from the People's Republic of China (PRC), and consisting of both middle managers and professionals who arrived before 2000, and small traders primarily from Fujian Province arriving after 2000 (Huynh et al 2010). We found this distinction valid and useful, especially since some of the associations we uncovered during the study also organized themselves around this distinction. Members of the HSRC team travelled to China in November 2012 for the first physical meeting with the CASS team and to find ways to facilitate the Chinese component of the research, with its focus on interviews with South Africans living in China. Whilst in China the research teams travelled to the city of Guangzhou, which has the largest concentrated African population (Mainly Nigerians) in China, but could not identify or meet with any South Africans in the city. While in Guangzhou, the teams visited the Guangdong Museum of Chinese Nationals Residing Abroad in Guangzhou.