China’s global capitalist expansion—prompted by Jiang Zemin’s Going Out Policy and, more recently, Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative—has given rise to numerous Chinese-run construction sites across Africa, as elsewhere. These building sites are loci not only of production, but also of friction. Many companies from China involved in construction projects work with an all-Chinese management, from project managers down to on-site foremen. The bulk of manual labor is, however, carried out by African workers. Capitalizing on productivity and efficiency, Chinese managers often complain about African workers under their direction and describe them as lazy. Local laborers are unwilling to work, they lament, and slow in learning.
Zooming in on management-labor relations on Chinese building sites in Ethiopia, Miriam Driessen will unpack the discourse of African worker indolence. Why do managers classify their laborers as lazy? What does this tell us about labor-management relations in the context of global China?
This event is online now as a podcast. Please, go to
Minutes of the event in Chinese: 繁体字 (traditional).
Date: Saturday, March 20, 2021
Time: 2 p.m. CET/Europe – 9 p.m. CST/China – 8 a.m. EDT/US
Topic: Dispelling the myth of African worker indolence. Labor politics in Ethiopian-Chinese encounters
Speaker: Miriam Driessen
Moderator: Ralf Ruckus
Miriam DRIESSEN is an anthropologist working on migration in China and beyond. In her latest book, Tales of hope, tastes of bitterness: Chinese road builders in Ethiopia (2019), she explores the social life of work on Chinese road construction sites in Ethiopia.
Another look at the mineworker (Michael Burawoy)
Time perception and industrialization: Divergence and convergence of work ethics in Chinese enterprises in Africa (Tang Xiaoyang and Janet Eom)
Tales of Hope, Tastes of Bitterness (Nicholas Loubere and Miriam Driessen)
Africa Drifters (Miriam Driessen)
This event is co-sponsored by gongchao.org, Made in China Journal, positions politics, and Critical China Scholars. The foundation Stiftung Menschenwürde und Arbeitswelt (Berlin, Germany) provided financial support for the technical platform.
Please, see the “China and the Left”-series page.