China’s interest in the natural resources of Africa has ballooned lately and received much media coverage. Apparently, the last time somebody was that interested in metal ores and scrap, they were Germany in the late 1930s. This political force field across Africa is now, of course, being dressed up in cultural finery, including the manipulation of historical perceptions.
Under the leadership of Admiral Zheng He, China enjoyed a brief era of transoceanic power with insanely huge ships in the early 15th century. These efforts were apparently terminated because the Chinese failed to reach anyone whose civilisation impressed them.
Now a group of islanders off the coast of Kenya have suddenly “remembered an old legend” according to which they are the descendants of Zheng He’s crew members. And China is happily encouraging this folklore. Young islander Mwamaka Sharifu is studying medicine in China thanks to a scholarship from Beijing. She’s living proof of the long-standing peaceful contacts between China and Africa!
I don’t believe one word of it, but I wish Ms Sharifu all success with her studies. I also hope that the traditional Chinese prejudice against dark-skinned people isn’t bothering her too badly.
Thanks to Jerry Helliker for the links.