Reconfiguring Chinese-Zambian Encounters: Language, Religion, and the Limits of “Soft Power”


ACLS Fellowship Program


Community, Culture and Global Studies

Named Award

ACLS Yvette and William Kirby Centennial Fellow named award


This project addresses the increasing influence of the Chinese state and capitalist enterprises in Zambia today, with a focus on how individual Zambians and Chinese expatriate migrants work to mediate relations between their two countries through interactions of commerce, language, and religion. The central research question that guides this project is: in the context of the growth of a “new Chinese empire” on the world stage, what are the constraints, redeployments, and subversions that take place with regards to soft power as an empire making strategy? What are the excesses that are not foreseen or intended by the Chinese state, and how do individual Zambians and Chinese alike reappropriate the aims of the Chinese state to advance their own agendas? To pursue this question, this project will examine various realms of symbolic order that slip past the more obvious political-economic structures. How, for example, do the afterlives of European colonialism and postcolonialism continue to shape the success or failure of Chinese soft power projects, even as Europe itself recedes as a locus of global political power? How will the spiritual realm of the Christian God and Satanic witches shape the this-worldly contours of emerging Zambian-Chinese relations?