Frank Dikötter

New Trade Revolution

China’s Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who Are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 357pp £25 order from our bookshop

One of the most gripping views from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong is the South China Sea, its green islands shimmering in the distance on a clear day. Another striking spectacle is the ceaseless transit of container ships spreading ‘Made in China’ to the rest of the world. One cannot help wonder whether what is in these containers – rubber sandals, plastic toys, enamel washbasins – will end up in a Marrakesh bazaar or a Croydon street market. Cheap products from the People’s Republic have been around for decades, but a new export is now extending China’s global influence: an army of migrants willing to set up businesses in the most unlikely places around the planet. Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araújo spent two years travelling through twenty-five countries, capturing the voices of the ordinary people who are at the heart of China’s current expansion. 

In Egypt alone, it is estimated that 15,000 Chinese traders – possibly as many as 100,000 – make a living as door-to-door salesmen. Many do not speak a word of Arabic. In total some 750,000 traders from China officially live in Africa. They are

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