The Construction of ‘Otherness’: A History of the Chinese Migrants in South Africa

  • Karen L. Harris
Part of the International Political Economy Series book series (IPES)


This chapter presents a micro-narrative of the Chinese in South Africa highlighting a multifaceted othering that is integral to such a diverse cultural societal mix. It adopts an achronological approach by beginning in the wake of the new democratic dispensation and traverses back through four distinct political epochs of the South African past. It reflects on the indelible ‘otherness’ and perpetual ‘othering’ of the small Chinese community in a multicultural, yet racially stratified, South Africa. It thus traverses the full extent of the South African past, emphasizing the extended trajectory of the phenomenon of Chinese otherness.


  1. Accone, D. 1998. Case of the Chinese Can’t Be Made in Black or White, but Only in Yellow. The Sunday Independent, July 19.Google Scholar
  2. ———. 2008. Recognition of Apartheid Travails Behind Chinese Race-Rights Case. Sunday Times, January 27.Google Scholar
  3. Accone D., and B. Mthethwa. 2008. Are Our Chinese Black Enough for Empowerment? Sunday Times, June 29.Google Scholar
  4. Adkins, B. 2000. Chinese Shop Race Row Grows. Eastern Province Herald, January 18.Google Scholar
  5. Alden, C. 1997. Solving South Africa’s Chinese Puzzle: Democratic Foreign Policy Making and the “Two Chinas” Question. South African Journal of International Affairs 5 (2): 80–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. ———. 2007. China in Africa. New York: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  7. Anthony, R. 2015. Xenophobia in South Africa: Implications for Chinese Communities. Centre for Chinese Studies, University of Stellenbosch. Accessed 3 Nov 2015.
  8. Armstrong, J. 1997. The Chinese at the Cape in the Dutch East India Company Period, 1652–1795. Unpublished Paper, Slave Route Project Conference, Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa, October 24–26.Google Scholar
  9. A.W. 1904. Yellow Slavery—and White! Westminster Review clxi (5 May): 477–491.Google Scholar
  10. Barritt, D. 1971. UPE Ban Chinese from Functions After Intervarsity. Sunday Times.Google Scholar
  11. Barrow, J. 1804. An Account of Travels in to the Interior of Southern Africa. London: n.p.Google Scholar
  12. Beesly, E.S. 1904. Yellow Labour. Positivist Review: 79–82.Google Scholar
  13. Boyd, M. 1971. Oriental Immigration: The Experience of the Chinese, Japanese and the Filipino Population in the United States. International Review 58 (1): 48–61.Google Scholar
  14. Bradlow, K. 2008. Our Chinese Are Now Black. The Times, June 19.Google Scholar
  15. Brigland, F. 1989. The Typhoon in a Chop Suey Bowl. Natal Mercury, May 9.Google Scholar
  16. Chong, G.P. 1980. Chinese Are in the Dark About Representation. Evening Post, September 17.Google Scholar
  17. Chong, V. 2008. Chinese Were Also Victims. Mail and Guardian, July 31.Google Scholar
  18. Cooke, C.K. 1904. Chinese Labour: Its Moral, Economic and Imperial Aspects. The Empire Review (January): 204–305.Google Scholar
  19. Desmond, W. 2014. Desire, Dialectic, and Otherness: An Essay on Origins. 2nd ed. Eugene: Cascade Books.Google Scholar
  20. Donaldson, A. 2008. Say It Out Loud, I’m Black and Confused. Sunday Times, June 29.Google Scholar
  21. Donnelly, L. 2008. HRC to Investigate Mdladlana. Mail and Guardian, July 3.Google Scholar
  22. Duyvendak, J.J.L. 1949. China’s Discovery of Africa. London: Arthur Probsthain.Google Scholar
  23. Elphick, R., and R. Shell. 1989. Intergroup Relations. In The Shaping of South African Society, 1652–1840, ed. R. Elphick and H. Giliomee. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman.Google Scholar
  24. Fabian, J. 1991. Time and the Work of Anthropology. Critical Essay, 1971–1991. Chur: Harwood Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  25. Fourie, H. 2008. Chinese wat in SA gebore is, is ook nou “swart” [Chinese Born in SA Now Also “Black”]. Beeld, June 19.Google Scholar
  26. Gerardy, J. 2008. Wrongs of Past Made Right. Saturday Star, June 21.Google Scholar
  27. Grimm, S. 2011. Editorial. The China Monitor, March, 60: 3.Google Scholar
  28. Grove, N.J., and A.B. Zwi. 2006. Our Health and Theirs: Forced Migration, Othering, and Public Health. Social Science & Medicine 62: 1931–1942.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hadland, A. 1992. Concern at Swelling Hawker Numbers. Business Day, September 21, 2.Google Scholar
  30. Hallam, E., and B.V. Street, eds. 2000. Cultural Encounters: Representing Otherness. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Harris, K.L. 1996. Gandhi, the Chinese and Passive Resistance. In Gandhi and South Africa: Principles and Politics, ed. J. Brown and H. Prozesky. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press.Google Scholar
  32. ———. 1998a. A History of the Chinese in South Africa to 1912. Unpublished D Lit et Phil Dissertation, University of South Africa (Unisa).Google Scholar
  33. ———. 1998b. The Chinese in South Africa: An Interstitial Community. In The Chinese Diaspora: Selected Essays, ed. L. Wang and G. Wang. Singapore: Times Academic Press.Google Scholar
  34. ———. 1998c. The Formidable, Unwelcome Competitor: Overseas Chinese Merchants in South Africa. In History and Perspective: Ethnic Chinese at the Turn of the Centuries, ed. Z. Guoto. Fujian: Fujian People’s Press.Google Scholar
  35. ———. 1999. Accepting the Group, but Not the Area: The South African Chinese and the Group Areas Act. South African Historical Journal 40 (May): 179–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. ———. 2002. “Whiteness”, “Blackness”, “Neitherness”: The South African Chinese, 1885–1991: A Case Study in Identity Politics. Historia 47 (1): 105–124.Google Scholar
  37. ———. 2003. Early Encounters Between China and Africa: Myth or Moment. South African Journal of Cultural History 17 (1/11): 47–71.Google Scholar
  38. ———. 2010. Sugar and Gold: Indentured Indian and Chinese Labour in South Africa. Journal of Social Studies 11 (November): 147–158.Google Scholar
  39. ———. 2017. Rising China and the History of the South African Chinese. In China Rise: Impacts on the Chinese Overseas and Their Residing Countries, ed. B.P. Wong and C.-B. Tan. Oxford: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Higham, J. 1955. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Ho, U. 2008. Chinese Locals Are Black. Business Report, June 19.Google Scholar
  42. Holmes, C. 2000. Chinese Forgotten by Everyone. Eastern Province Herald, November 7.Google Scholar
  43. Hugo, E. 1980. After 90 Years the Chinese Begin to Emerge from the Twilight World. Sunday Times, March 23.Google Scholar
  44. Jensen, S.Q. 2011. Othering, Identity Formation and Agency. Qualitative Studies 2 (2): 63–78.Google Scholar
  45. Johnson, J.J., J.L. Bottorff, A. Browne, S. Grewal, B. Hiton, and H. Clarke. 2004. Othering and Being Othered in the Context of Health Care Services. Health Communication 16 (2): 255–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kings, S. 2014. Inequality Mocks South Africa’s Freedom. Mail and Guardian, October 31.Google Scholar
  47. Lai, B. 2000. Chinese Suffering Forgotten. Saturday Star, January 29, p. 10.Google Scholar
  48. Lake, M., and H. Reynolds. 2011. Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Lee, M.C. 2006. The 21st Century Scramble for Africa. Journal of Contemporary African Studies 24 (3): 303–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Louw, J. 1992a. African Hawkers Warn of Last Day. The Star, September 19.Google Scholar
  51. ———. 1992b. Chinese Hawkers Heed Threats. The Star, September 26.Google Scholar
  52. Mackerras, C. 1989. Western Images of China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  53. MacNair, H.F. 1924. The Chinese Abroad: Their Position and Protection. Shanghai: Commercial Press.Google Scholar
  54. Masombuka, S. 2008. SA Chinese Now Qualify for BEE. The Sowetan, June 19.Google Scholar
  55. Mativire, M. 2000. Council to Review Land Sales Policy. Eastern Province Herald, January 29.Google Scholar
  56. Mentzel, O.F. 1921. A Geographical and Topographical Description of the Cape of Good Hope. Vol. I. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society.Google Scholar
  57. Mohan, G., and M. Tan-Mullins. 2009. Chinese Migrants in Africa: New Agents of Development? An Analytical Framework. European Journal of Development Research 21: 588–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Moodie, D. 1960. The Record: Or, a Series of Official Papers Relative to the Condition and Treatment of the Native Tribes of South Africa. Cape Town: Balkema.Google Scholar
  59. Munro, A.E. 1905. The Transvaal Chinese Labour Problem. London.Google Scholar
  60. Naylor, T. 1904. The Truth About the Chinese in South Africa. London: Daily Chronicle Office.Google Scholar
  61. Ndlovu, V. 2008. Chinese Not Black. The Sowetan, June 20.Google Scholar
  62. Neame, L.E. 1909. Oriental Labor in South Africa. The Annals of the American Academy xxxiv (2): 175–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Ngqiyaza, B. 2008. Mdladlana Blasted Over “Insulting” Remarks on Chinese. The Star, June 26.Google Scholar
  64. Nwajah, O. 2000 Overcoming Qualified Citizenship. Mail and Guardian, September 29.Google Scholar
  65. Olander, E., and C. van Staden. 2015. China Malls Rise Amid Growing Xenophobia in South Africa, May 1. Accessed 13 Apr 2016.
  66. Pan, L. 1991. Sons of the Yellow Emperor: The Story of the Overseas Chinese. London: Mandarin Paperbacks.Google Scholar
  67. Park, Y. 2008. A Matter of Honour: Being Chinese in South Africa. Johannesburg: Jacana Press.Google Scholar
  68. ———. 2016. One Million Chinese in South Africa. SAIS Perspectives, May 12. Accessed 30 May 2016.
  69. Pheko, M. 2008. Black Judgement Subjects Chinese to Animosity, No Equality. Sunday Times, June 23.Google Scholar
  70. Raboroko, J. 1992. Chinese Traders Forced to Flee City. The Sowetan, September 25.Google Scholar
  71. Radebe, H. 2013. A People Fighting for Recognition. Business Day, January 25.Google Scholar
  72. Rantao, J. 1992. Asian Influx Has Hawkers Up in Arms. The Sunday Star, September 6.Google Scholar
  73. Richardson, P. 1982. Chinese Mine Labour in the Transvaal. London: Macmillan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Robertson, M. 1945. The Economic Development of the Cape Under Van Riebeeck. The South African Journal of Economics 13 (1): 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Said, E. 1995. Orientalism. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  76. Sakato, T. 2005. Race Classification Causes Confusion. Weekly Mail and Guardian, June 30.Google Scholar
  77. Samuel, H. 1904. The Chinese Labour Question. Contemporary Review lxxxv (April): 457–467.Google Scholar
  78. Shain, M. 1978. The Jewish Population and Politics in the Cape Colony. Unpublished MA Thesis, University of Cape Town.Google Scholar
  79. Spivak, G.C. 1985. The Rani of Sirmur: An Essay in Reading the Archives. History and Theory 24 (3): 247–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Sundstrom, K., and J. van der Merwe. 2000. SA Chinese Not Black Enough. Saturday Argus, January 23.Google Scholar
  81. Thompson, G. 1827. Travels and Adventures in Southern Africa. Vol. I. London: Henry Colburn.Google Scholar
  82. Van Houtem, H., and T. van Naerssen. 2002. Bordering, Ordering and Othering. Journal of Economic and Social Geography 93 (2): 125–136.Google Scholar
  83. Whyte, V. 2005. Too “Yellow” to Gain from BEE? Business Day, November 30.Google Scholar
  84. ———. 2008. We Have Won Our Right to Human Dignity. Pretoria News, June 21.Google Scholar
  85. Yamamoto, M. 2007. Honorary or Honorable? A Study of Japanese Residents in South Africa During the Apartheid Era. Unpublished MA Thesis, University of Cape Town.Google Scholar
  86. Yap, M., and D. Man. 1996. Colour, Confusion and Concessions: The History of the Chinese in South Africa. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.Google Scholar
  87. Zevallos, Z. 2011. What Is Otherness? The Other Sociologist, October 14. Accessed 14 Jan 2016.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen L. Harris
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Historical and Heritage Studies, University of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations