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Smith College

Publication Date

Fall 2017

Program Name

South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights


Political participation is a fundamental component of democracy. But the level of immigrants’ political participation is generally lower than for people who are perceived as natives. This paper identifies the determinants of six Chinese immigrants’ political participation in Cape Town, part of a group that has a long history of political integration but is still often seen as passive and apolitical. It argues and tests the effect of five main determinants related to the length of residence, interaction with the local Chinese association, socioeconomic background, language ability and prior political experience, and social perceptions. Data comes from interviews conducted with Chinese immigrants who are from very different walks of life and have various political experience in Cape Town in the summer of 2017. The empirical results show that, with small individual-level variations, the political participation of Chinese immigrants is a function of a longer period of stay in South Africa, the good language ability, high-level socioeconomic background and membership in the local Chinese association. In addition, prior political experience in China, a non-democratic regime, and the extent to which Chinese immigrants feel welcome in the society also shape the level of engagement in politics.


African Languages and Societies | African Studies | Chinese Studies | Civic and Community Engagement | Migration Studies | Political Science | Race and Ethnicity | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Sociology of Culture


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