INTRODUCTION

Every major city in the world has at least one Chinatown. Many, like Johannesburg, have two.  

The Chinese community, sometimes seen as reticent and insular, is often forgotten in the narrative of Johannesburg’s immense, dynamic diversity.

But this community is woven into the city’s social, economic and cultural fabric. 

With assistance from the China-Africa Project, Wits Journalism students have – with this project – sought to understand and reflect many different views about this frequently misunderstood community.

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  • HISTORY AND FUTURE

    The Chinese in Johannesburg are part of a long history of migration going back to the city’s first days, following the discovery of gold. It’s a rich past that informs the present and future of the Chinese in South Africa. Ray Mahlaka ventured into Soweto to find an old Chinese community, often overlooked in the history of the township. Prelene Singh tells the story of one of the oldest Chinese families in Johannesburg, whose personal history shows the community’s part in the city’s fabric. Emelia Motsai dug into the Chinese and apartheid and found a group of people still struggling to cope as the “in-between race”. Pheladi Sethusa set out to do a simple account on Chinese infrastructure development and found much more than she bargained for.

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  • WORK AND PLAY

    A journey from the nine-to-five weekday to a weekend of play in Chinese Jo’burg.Leigh-Ann Carey looked at television and its role in connecting the local Chinese community to China. Caro Malherbe explored the hard work and self-sacrifice that goes into running small Chinese businesses and raising families in South Africa. On the other side of the scale, Shandukani Mulaudzi investigated the big business of Chinese retail nodes that are transforming South African retail. From big retail to big state corporations, Dineo Bendile looked into the nomadic lifestyles of Chinese professionals.

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  • FAMILY AND TRADITION

    Chinese traditions and families are usually seen as uniform, but this isn’t the case. Many Chinese look at their traditions in their own, individualistic way.

    Nomatter Ndebele explored how one family has tried to maintain its Chinese traditions in a modern world. Mia Swart threw her searchlight on the belief that casts Chinese immigration into Johannesburg as the “new colonialism”.

    Mfuneko Toyana looked at how members of the Chinese community lay their dead to rest, and Palesa Radebe examined the relationship that develops between Chinese shop owners and the African workers they employ.

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  • CULTURE AND COMMUNITY

    The Chinese enjoy a rich and influential culture, one they have carried with them throughout the world, including into South Africa. The migration of this old culture to a young democracy has made for uniquely South African stories.

    Nokuthula Manyathi looked at the role of women and education as an empowerment tool in the Taiwanese and Chinese community today.  Thuletho Zwane went in search of Chinese visual artists. Sibusisiwe Nyanda interviewed young Chinese immigrants and found a group of young people looking for their own way to be “Proudly South African”.

    Nolwazi Mjwara uncovered how the closure of a well-known Chinese school impacts on new immigrants, while Liesl Frankson tackled the thorny subject of Chinese parents’ marriage expectations for their children.

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