Working in China as an African can be an eye-opening experience. In this personal account, Duncan Acorlor shares his experience there. In particular, he highlights the difference in behavior between the Chinese people he has met in Ghana and those he knows in China.
By Duncan Acorlor
Living in China for a period of one year opened my eyes to a completely different world. My trip to China made me understand that people all over the world saw the world differently and reacted to things differently. I had the opportunity to study the language, the culture, and last but not least worked with Chinese people.
I had the opportunity to work in China as a part-time English teacher and I volunteered to be a translator for a company that sold health care products. My working experience was for a short period, but I learned some work ethics and values, such as timeliness, punctuality, and sacrifice from the Chinese. I am glad to have learned these ethics and values as they have gone a long way to shape me as an individual and set me apart from a lot of my peers back home in Ghana. A lot of Ghanaians complain about the slow development of Ghana and make references to the “Asian tigers” as countries Ghana is supposed to learn from, without understanding how these countries got to where they are.
I had a good impression of China socially, culturally, and politically. Coming back to Ghana, I was poised to make use of what I had learned in China to help change my immediate environment. It was very easy to secure a job with Chinese companies because of my Chinese proficiency ability. Thanks to my Chinese proficiency skills I have had the opportunity to work in several fields including agriculture, healthcare, mining, and finance.
Working with the Chinese has not been much of a jolly ride, but has actually opened my eyes to the realities of the unpleasant happenings in my country. The experience has been somewhat the direct opposite of my experience in China. I sometimes try to console myself with the fact that I stayed in the northern part of China, Shanxi province, and so the people from Shanxi province could have been quite different from people from other places in China.
In Ghana, Chinese people are not well welcomed by Ghanaians because of some of the horrendous things they do in Ghana and get away with. The Chinese in Ghana engage in a lot of activities, make a lot of money legally and illegally, and repatriate money earned through unapproved and illegal means back to China. The question is, can one actually blame the Chinese for the things they do? If you live in a society or in a country where systems do not work, people are bound to do whatever they wish. This can be likened to an animal farm. As former President of the United States of America Barack Obama once said, “Africa does not need strong men. It needs strong institutions.” I believe my readers know and understand what I am driving at.
In China, I realized the majority of the Chinese were law-abiding and loved their tradition to the core. In detailing my experience with working with Chinese people in Ghana, let me first start off by saying that the Chinese have a saying in Chinese that says “ru xiang sui su,” meaning that when in Rome do as the Romans do.
In Ghana, they do the direct opposite of what they preach. “They are like wild dogs left on the loose,” making one wonder, “who let the dogs out?”
One of the numerous problems Ghanaians encounter with Chinese doing business in Ghana is tax evasion. How do they do it? Definitely, with the help of Ghanaians. We cannot blame them entirely. Another problem is bribery. Chinese bribe their way through everything. They have come to an understanding that to get things done in Ghana, you have to bribe government officials and you can become very powerful to the extent of being above the law. Then comes the question again, can you blame them?
Most Chinese companies violate the labor law of Ghana with impunity. In one Chinese company located in Tema, the local workers are paid very little wages and are not being provided good conditions to enable them to be efficient and effective and also puts their health and well being at risk. The workers of this company tried to form a union so that they can have these issues addressed. The local HR of the company managed to get those fronting the initiative out of the company by refusing to renew their contracts of employment. The contracts of the workers of this company only lasted three months subject to renewal. Due to this, no worker dared try anything of that sort. What a smart way to violate section 14(b) and (c) of the Labor Act, 2003, of Ghana which talks about “Prohibition of restrictive conditions of employment.”
In this paragraph, I would like to talk about the social aspect of working with the Chinese. In China, I had people walk up to me to have a feel of my skin and my hair. I was not really bothered because I understood that not many of them had the opportunity to meet African’s. Some of my African brothers and sisters did not really enjoy that and thought it was racist on the part of the Chinese to do that. Back home in Ghana, there are Chinese who refer to their employees as Black man, Black lady (hei mei), or Black devil (hei gui) in the Chinese language and some Chinese even go to the extent of calling Ghanaians monkeys. I get offended a lot. I ask myself how would they feel if we called them by the complexion of their skin, like say yellow girl or yellow man, or we called them pigs?
The above problems are a few of the challenges we encounter with Chinese people. Nonetheless, they still “contribute” to our economy by employing a chunk of the Ghanaian youth and donate a lot of money to the Government of Ghana to “undertake” infrastructural projects. But we all know there is no such thing as “free lunch.” I must say that the relationship between China and Ghana is a typical example of neo-colonialism.
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