Cheryl Mei-ting Schmitz

Grant Type

Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Institutional Affiliation

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Grant number

Gr. 10184

Approve Date

October 7, 2021

Project Title

Schmitz, Cheryl (Max Planck Inst. for the History of Science) "Suspicious Transactions: Translating Chinese Business in Postwar Angola"

As the People’s Republic of China has transitioned from a “rising” to a “global” power, its activities on the African continent have attracted critical attention. This book offers an ethnographic account of how Chinese-African interactions are experienced at the level of everyday life. Located in Angola, the site of some of the most controversial deals between China and an African state, the analysis traces the activities of a Chinese construction firm with whom the author lived and worked as a volunteer translator from 2013 to 2014. Examining commercial exchanges, labor and managerial practices, and the pursuit of business partnerships, the ethnography explores how knowledge and value are brokered through the negotiation of transactional alliances heavily colored by geopolitical rivalries. The analysis centralizes translation as both a research methodology and a problematic, since what are exchanged are not only words but also ideas. Translations and mistranslations take place through and alongside transactions, concrete instances of negotiation in which values emerge but which also involve practices of deception and attitudes of suspicion. Acknowledging the mutual imbrication of observer and observed, this analytical story of Chinese expansion on the African continent demonstrates how gaps in knowledge and sentiments of betrayal are central not only to the way Chinese businesses operated in postwar Angola but also to the anthropological enterprise itself.