"If You Greet Them, They Ignore You": Chinese Migrants, (Refused) Greetings, and the Inter-personal Ethics of Global Inequality in Tanzania
- Anthropological Quarterly
- George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
- Volume 91, Number 1, Winter 2018
- pp. 237-265
- Additional Information
What kinds of "friendship" are possible between unequally situated actors in the global economy? In this article, I recast the anthropology of global relationships through an ethnography of interpersonal relationships. The presence of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs in Tanzania—like other emergent "South–South" connections—provides an opportunity for exploring how the terms of global inequalities are negotiated in everyday interactions. Historical narratives of "Sino-Tanzanian Friendship" have invested interpersonal interactions between Chinese and Tanzanians with added semiotic significance. Based on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork among Chinese wholesale traders in the Kariakoo market district of Dar es Salaam, I examine the pragmatics and ethics of greeting strangers among Chinese and Tanzanian interlocutors. In particular, I assess the claim that "Chinese don't greet" either Tanzanians or each other. Tanzanian and Chinese interpretations of these refused greetings reveal a symmetrical evaluation and suspicion that the other seeks relationships only for instrumental, rather than emotional, reasons. I argue that this is based not just on differing cultural idioms, but also the potential economic relationships between the actors, shaped in this case by global material inequalities between China and Africa. Adopting the concept of "mutuality" to mean interconnections between actors—which precede either the agency or intention of the actors themselves—I argue that material conditions of inequality and market competition between Chinese traders and Tanzanians shape the potentiality of relationships. These complicate the historical narrative of "friendship," but are nonetheless registered in emergent forms of joking relationships between Chinese and Tanzanians, which index shifting global arrangements.