'Being Chinese' in Mauritius and Madagascar: Comparing Chinese diasporic communities in the western Indian Ocean

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Federica Guccini
Mingyuan Zhang


Chinese migration to the Western Indian Ocean since the 1800s was part of an earlier historical trend that saw European colonial powers setting up plantation economies that required foreign laborers. Migrants from Southern China arrived in Mauritius and Madagascar first as indentured laborers, and later as free merchants. Despite many similarities between the two diasporas, they differed in terms of their cultural and linguistic propensities. Furthermore, since the 1990s, both Mauritius and Madagascar have been experiencing rising influences of Mandarin-speaking Chinese immigrants working in infrastructure construction, commercial and educational sectors. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in these two Western Indian Ocean countries between 2015 and 2020, this paper applies the theoretical lens of ‘diaspora-for-others,’ featured in this special issue, to explore the similarities and differences between Chinese migration trajectories to Mauritius and Madagascar, and their respective diasporic identity formations. Local socio-historical contexts in Mauritius, Madagascar, and China influence the transnational experiences of Mauritian and Malagasy Chinese communities, which further contributes to their heterogeneous, fluid and changing cultural identities. In addition, the People’s Republic of China’s increasing engagement in Western Indian Ocean countries as a gateway to Africa in the past two decades has also created more nuances in the distinguishable boundaries within the Chinese diaspora communities in the region.

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