The bitter taste experienced by Chinese road builders arises not only from the challenges they face in their encounters with Ethiopians, but also from a chasm between a dominant rhetoric of unity and solidarity, and an underlying concern with the reality of social divisions. Straddling ethnic boundaries by sharing food with Ethiopians and gaining fluency in Amharic, some Chinese foremen threaten to close the distance to the other and, by extension, the boundaries between the knowledgeable and the ignorant, and the managers and the managed. The preservation of purity plays a central role in Chinese engagement with the other. Indeed, self-control is a prerequisite for the control of Ethiopian others. The disciplining of Chinese colleagues through the cultivation of restraint and reticence is closely linked to the project of disciplining Ethiopian laborers.
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