China's official rhetoric on its relations with Africa is important; it frames, legitimates and renders comprehensible its foreign policy in this ever-important area of the world. This article explores the following puzzle: why China's rhetoric on its involvement with Africa has retained substantial continuities with the Maoist past, when virtually every other aspect of Maoism has been officially repudiated. Despite the burgeoning layers of complexity in China's increasing involvement in Africa, a set of surprisingly long-lived principles of non-interference, mutuality, friendship, non-conditional aid and analogous suffering at the hands of imperialism from the early 1960s to the present continue to be propagated. Newer notions of complementarity and international division of labour are beginning to come in, but the older rhetoric still dominates official discourse, at least in part because it continues to appeal to domestic Chinese audiences.
Julia C. Strauss is senior lecturer in Chinese politics at the department of politics and international studies, SOAS and editor of The China Quarterly. She has published widely on state capacity in the 20th century Chinese state, and is currently working on a book manuscript that compares regime consolidation in China and Taiwan in the 1950s.
* Special thanks are due to Dan Large, Jamie Monson and R. Bin Wong for their careful readings of earlier versions of this paper.