Building African Studies Partnerships in China

China delegation

Any way you look at it, China’s role in Africa has grown dramatically during the past two decades. In terms of trade volume, migration, and especially foreign assistance and investment, China has become a major presence on the continent. This expanded role in Africa is driving the growth of African studies centers in Chinese universities and think tanks, and creating significant opportunities for Emory to expand existing partnerships in China and develop new ones. 

In December 2014, IDN director Sita Ranchod-Nilsson led a delegation of faculty from Emory’s Institute of African Studies to China. The Office of Global Strategic Initiatives and the Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning sponsored the trip. The Emory delegation visited universities and research centers in Beijing and Nanjing to explore prospects for collaboration related to research, educational exchange, and curriculum development.

Emory African Studies Delegation to China

Clifton Crais, professor of history and director of Emory’s Institute of African Studies

Sita Ranchod-Nilsson, director of the Institute for Developing Nations

Pamela Scully, assistant vice provost for academic affairs, director of the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence, and professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, as well as African Studies

Susan Gagliardi, assistant professor of Art History

The delegation visited a number of centers and learned about a broad range of programs. Peking University has one of the older African studies programs in China and is headed by the eminent historian Li Anshan. Their Center for African Studies is involved in many international initiatives with universities and organizations such as the United Nations and Oxfam. Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) long has been the premier training institution for China’s diplomatic corps. To meet the need for trained Africanists, BFSU is expanding its traditional focus on language and culture to include interdisciplinary area studies as well as fields such as political economy and law. The delegation also met with colleagues at Nanjing University’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, which has a partnership with Emory’s Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning that focuses on conferences, study-abroad trips and presentations by visiting scholars. They also stopped at the Center of Research on African Studies at Nanjing, which, according to its director, Professor Zhenke Zhang, is currently in a period of “re-blossoming” in response to China’s growing presence in Africa.

China is investing rapidly and deliberately in building African studies, and the delegation found sincere interest in intellectual exchange as well as collaboration on research and curriculum development across the spectrum of new, expanding African studies programs. “This trip felt very different from the previous trip I made in 2011,” said Sita Ranchod-Nilsson. “At that time, the Chinese colleagues I met were either indifferent or hostile to collaborating on development-related research. We returned from this trip with several promising opportunities for exchange and collaboration.” Of particular interest was “theories from the South,” an exciting area of interdisciplinary research centered on the recognition that economic, cultural, and political patterns emerging in Africa and across the global South raise important questions about well-received models of development, governance, cultural processes, and change. Emory’s Institute of African Studies has an international reputation for innovative scholarship, particularly in the humanities, and is well positioned to take the lead in building long-term intellectual collaboration with Chinese counterparts.


Photo: Emory Africanist delegation with Professor Sun Xiaomeng, Dean of the School of Asian and African Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University (December 2014).

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