Chinese overseas workers at once represent and enact growing Chinese influence across the world. The bitterness they feel and narrate reveals the disputed nature of China’s engagement with Africa. Rather than being imposed, Chinese-led development in Ethiopia is contested, by Ethiopians and Chinese alike. Yet while Ethiopians assert their agency and challenge the power asymmetries intrinsic to the encounter, their Chinese counterparts, who are commonly presumed to set the standards of their engagement with Africa, lament their lack of agency in bringing their ideas of development to fruition. Indeed, the creativity and gumption with which Ethiopians, workers and non-workers alike, challenge Chinese authority reveals that they define their encounters with Chinese as much as they are defined by them.
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