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A Historical Overview of Chinese Immigration to Zimbabwe

Earlier Chinese Immigrants and Their Offspring

Chinese immigrants first moved to Zimbabwe in around the early 1900s, mainly as indentured labor, and they worked on white European settlers’ farms, mines and railways. Most of them originated from Guangdong’s Pearl River delta.4 They can be classified into two types: those brought over by the Rhodesia Land and Mine Owners Association and the

Rhodesian Native Labour Supply Association Ltd., and those who came outside the contract system with the help of their kin. Most returned to China when their contracts ended. The few who stayed in Zimbabwe opened groceries, laundries, bakeries or restaurants.

From the early 1990s, the small Chinese community has now entered its fourth generation, and the earlier Chinese immigrants and their offspring have become almost an integral part of Zimbabwean society. Those born in Zimbabwe receive a Western education and are moving further and further away from Chinese culture. The third and fourth generations like Western food more than Chinese food and they use English to communicate. Some speak Cantonese or even Mandarin, but almost no one uses Chinese writing. The older generation call them “bananas”: yellow on the outside but white on the inside (Tandon 1992).

The Chinese Zimbabweans do not play an important role in the Zimbabwean economy or in politics. The one exception, Fay Chung, was minister of education from 1988 to 1992 and made a great contribution to Zimbabwe’s educational development (Chung 2006). In 1962, Chinese Zimbabweans established a Chinese Association to defend their interests as a community. This raised ?10,000 to build a Chinese school, which was closed on the eve of independence. It also managed to obtain a separate burial ground where more than 80 Chinese are buried. As more and more Chinese entered Zimbabwe and formed new associations, the earlier immigrants became the minority and played a less and less important role in the community, and the old association ceased to function.

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