Zheng He Remains in Africa

China's Belt and Road Initiative as an Anti-Imperialist Discourse

  • Ying-Kit Chan
Keywords: Africa, anti-imperialism, China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), colonialism, heritage, history, Zheng He


In recent years, China has sought to extend its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from Central Asia and Southeast Asia to Africa. This article argues that Chinese officials, aided by Chinese maritime archaeologists, journalists and researchers, have used discourses of heritage and history as a form of soft padding to justify China's infrastructure projects in Africa. Zheng He, a Ming dynasty admiral, who had allegedly visited East Africa in four of his seven famous voyages across the Indian Ocean, is particularly important in China's narrative of its historical relations with Africa. The details of Zheng He's engagement with Africa remain contested by historians, especially those in Western academia. The Chinese government thus supports 'sub-initiatives' of heritage and history construction, namely maritime archaeology, travel journalism and student fellowships, to substantiate the legacy of Zheng He in Africa. By suggesting that China and Africa also share the legacy of having been exploited, humiliated and victimized by European colonial powers, Chinese intellectuals have fashioned the BRI into an anti-imperialist discourse for acceptance by their African counterparts.

Author Biography

Ying-Kit Chan
Ying-kit Chan is a doctoral candidate at the Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University. He received his BA and MA in Chinese Studies from the National University of Singapore. A historian of late imperial China, he haspublished several articles on the rise and development of provincial consciousness in twentieth-century Guangdong.


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