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Opinion

Presenting the People's Map of Global China: a Call for a Global Network

People's Map of Global China

In recent years, ‘Global China’ has become a highly debated and contested topic. Empirically, Global China refers to the global dissemination of Chinese capital, human resources, institutions, norms, and practices. This takes many different forms, ranging from outbound foreign direct investment, labour, migration, multilateral financial institutions, infrastructure projects, globalisation of Chinese nongovernmental organisations, Chinese-funded global media networks, joint ventures in higher education, cultural diplomacy, globalisation of medical aid, and environmental initiatives, to name just a few examples. Analytically, these projects are also power processes that entail forms of resistance and adaptation involving host governments, societies, and communities.

Since Global China is such a huge concept, encompassing both different geographical areas and completely different phenomena, the available information remains very fragmented among disciplines and localities. In addition, much of the discussion takes a macro perspective, focusing on broad trends, geopolitical issues, and numbers. To address these limitations, we thought it would be important to create a platform that would not only bring together scholars and practitioners working on different localities, facilitating exchanges of ideas and information, but also put the emphasis on what Global China means for local communities. This is how the People’s Map of Global China began.

The map is an attempt to trace Global China in material, spatial, economic, political, and human terms reflecting the experiences of the people most affected by its emergence through a series of in-depth profiles about countries or specific projects compiled by academics, civil society groups, journalists and others. More than a data-collecting exercise, we envision this effort as a bridge between an academic community that tends to focus on the macro-level structure, history, and trends, and civil society organisations that instead tend to focus on the micro-level. In this sense, we aim to facilitate synergy and cross-pollination between academia and civil society. On top of that, while remaining solidly grounded in empirical data, the map is not simply a collection of figures and statistics but has a qualitative focus. Every profile attempts to provide a fully rounded account of Chinese involvement in the project or the country at stake, in a format that (we hope) is informative and readable also for a specialist and non-specialist audience alike.

We decided to call this a ‘people’s’ map for two reasons. First, the content attempts to trace the global imprint of China focussing on the experiences of the people most affected by it. For this reason, profiles have a strong focus on issues related to labour rights, environment, land, Indigenous peoples, etc. Second, our map relies on the input of a growing network of people who often hail from the places they are discussing, who have been conducting in-depth research on the various facets of Global China in their localities, and/or are working directly with communities impacted by these projects. Our logo reflects this spirit by showing a Chinese character of ‘people’ made up of several characters of ‘person’ which are linked in a network around the globe.

One of the questions we are frequently asked is how we choose which projects to include. We do not select projects on a sectoral basis, but we face a serious constraint in the lack of reliable information on many projects. For this reason, at the moment we are tapping into existing expertise, which unavoidably leads to us focusing on projects that have attracted a lot of public attention, often because they are controversial. Basically, we are looking into what literature is out there and asking people who have been working on these projects/countries for years to compile the information out there in a format accessible for readers. Our editorial team fact-checks drafts carefully and invite peer reviews to ensure that information accurate and clearly referenced. We also encourage contributors to propose content and have begun to receive unsolicited submissions. We only require that a project has significant Chinese involvement in terms of development and/or financing, and that it has impacts on people and/or the environment. As the site becomes more established, we hope to get more contributions from the wider community of people and groups working on these issues.

We will continue to improve the functions of the map, including making the project profile dashboard more accessible for users. There site users can look at a specific country, industry, company, bank to narrow down their search. Once we our archive is more developed, we hope the site can be useful to scholars by expanding their horizon beyond the boundaries of their geographical or disciplinary expertise. We also hope it will be of use to NGO practitioners by creating a platform on which they can join hands with other actors in advocacy targeting common interlocutors, and to journalist by providing them with up-to-date, accurate information about China’s global engagements.