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Chinese Traders in Accra: Entrepreneurial Sojourning as Ritual Journey

From the individual Chinese trader’s perspective, the endeavor to leave China in order to become entrepreneurially active in an unknown place somewhere in Africa can be seen as a rite depassage and a ritual journey. First the trader wants to make money from international trade. After a period of overseas entrepreneurship, they return home. The stages of economic sojourning in Africa resemble a ritual journey that eventuates in the integration of a markedly transformed person, the successful international trader, into Chinese society or the African host country.

Separation: Entrepreneurs Embarking on a Ritual Journey

The ritual journey of the Chinese entrepreneur starts with their separation from family, peers and community in China. Family members are left behind either to spare them the strains and stresses of the ritual journey (in the case of small children) or because they are not qualified for this transformative experience (unproductive spouses whose company would only reduce the expected profit) (Cao, December 10, 2011; Hong, February 10, 2011; Li, December 16, 2011). Physical separation and spatial as well as emotional distance are part of the ritual journey. Language, culture, customs, rules, laws and practices that structure the quotidian and provide the individual with security and predictability within one sociocultural context are exchanged for the unknown. Regardless of their individual backgrounds before migration, most Chinese traders in Accra thought their new host city would be a temporary space of possibilities and ambiguities, and still insisted on this interpretation of liminality when they were interviewed about their actual experiences. There were only minor variations between those who had earlier been traders in China and those who became traders only after reaching Ghana. The official Chinese government rhetoric regarding the “Going Out” policy and China’s South-South partnership with Africa, though both not addressed to petty entrepreneurs, may have had some impact on their decision to go to Ghana. Together with the general emphasis on entrepreneurship in China and the country’s emigration fever, this can be seen to have further strengthened the idea of embarking on a ritual journey that involves physical mobility, spatial displacement, hardship and sacrifice.

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