The South African-born Chinese community is a tiny one, consisting of 10,000 to 12,000 members in a population of approximately 45 million. Throughout much of the history of this race-conscious country, the community has been igred or neglected, and officially classed along with people of mixed race or with Indians in the South African category of 'Asiatic'. Shaped by both external and internal forces, Chinese identities in South Africa are beginning to receive more media and scholarly attention as China's aid, trade, and investment in Africa grow and large numbers of new Chinese immigrants stream into South Africa and other African states. A Matter of Hour examines the shifting social, ethnic, racial, and national identities of Chinese South Africans over time. Using concepts of identity, ethnicity, race, nationalism, and transnationalism, and drawing on comparisons with other overseas Chinese communities, it explores the multi-layered identities of the South African group and analyses the ways in which their identities have altered with each generation. Park's study breaks away from the often narrow enquiries into ethnic and national identity in South Africa, offering valuable new perspectives on this shifting terrain of study.
Yoon Jung Park is senior researcher in the Centre for Sociological Research at the University of Johannesburg.