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Absence of hindsight inclines most of us reflexively to regard China's involvement in Africa as strictly a phenomenon of the current moment. However, compelling evidence confirms direct contact between China and Africa as extending back in time some five or more centuries. Moreover, despite referring also to various peoples with indeterminate geographical origins, considerably older Chinese descriptions of individuals deemed to be black and very conceivably African precede those attesting to the age of direct engagement. From these records, both written and visual, we can surmise that African slaves were imported into China for a span of likely more than a millennium, from perhaps the fourth century of our Common Era well into the eighteenth. Contemporary Chinese-African relations are guided in theory by egalitarian assumptions at great remove from these old exploitative ones.
Nevertheless, as will be shown, the legacies of the imperialistic past continue to conspire in casting a long and complicated shadow across present-day aspirations for mutual engagement.
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- Asian/Pacific Studies Institute