The 4th Session of Liangxiang Forum | Slavery in Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade

On the afternoon of May 21st, 2021, the fourth session of Liangxiang Forum organized by Institute for International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU) in Spring 2021 was held at Conference Room 205 of the Central Main Building, with the theme of “Slavery in Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade”. The lecture was presented by Prof. Mu Tao, Professor of History at East China Normal University, and hosted by Gao Liangmin, Assistant Research Professor at IIAS. Over 100 participants, including doctorate candidates and research professors at IIAS as well as external participants, attended the event online and offline.

In this lecture, Prof. Mu gave a detailed presentation to slavery in Africa and the Atlantic slave trade from four aspects. First of all, he explained the concepts and etymology of slave and slavery, as well as some representative research publications and translations on slavery in Africa at home and abroad.

Then, Prof. Mu took ancient Egypt, Nubia and Aksum as examples to introduce slavery in ancient Northeast Africa. He pointed out that the slaves in the above three areas were mainly prisoners of war, and the Egyptian slaves were mainly used in the construction of pyramids, temples, canals and other major projects, while slaves in Nubia and Aksum were adopted in large projects and exports.

In the third part of the lecture, Prof. Mu stressed that slavery in traditional societies in sub-Saharan Africa appeared among Sudanese and Bantu, which can be roughly divided into three types. The first type was domestic slavery, which dominated traditional societies in Africa. The second type was royal slavery represented by Sokoto Khalifa Kano, in which royal slaves became the core of royal slavery culture through the acquisition and dissemination of “knowledge”, while their leaders had political and administrative decision-making power and certain social status. And the third type was Arab slavery in East Africa, which was built on Bantu and Arab social traditions.

In the last part of the lecture, Prof. Mu elaborated the changes of slavery in Africa after the rise of the Atlantic slave trade from three aspects, namely the rise and fall of the Atlantic slave trade, the reasons for the large number of blacks imported from America and the influence of the slave trade. Finally, he concluded that the traditional slavery in Africa is characterized by slow development, moderation and variability, which is essentially different from the slavery of modern western colonists. Under the influence of the Atlantic slave trade, African native slavery experienced five stages of occurrence, development, stagnation, development and termination.

During the Q&A session, the audience actively communicated and interacted with Prof. Mu on how to view the role played by African natives in the slave trade, the influence and connection of the slave trade on the social class and political structure in Africa, how Arab scholars view the slave problem in Africa and the trends of the research on slave trade in Africa and greatly benefitted from Prof. Mu’s insightful responses.

Prof. Mu Tao is Professor of History at East China Normal University, Member of the 8th Discipline Evaluation Group of the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council, Vice President of Chinese Asia and African Studies Society, Vice President of Chinese African History Society, Director of China Association of Modem World History, Vice President of Shanghai Association of World History, Dean of Da Xia College of East China Normal University, and Doctoral Supervisor. He has made remarkable research achievements in the fields of African history, Jewish civilization history and modernization of developing countries. His books include General History of Africa (co-authored, Modern History Volume), History of China-Africa Relations (co-authored), Research on South Africa’s Foreign Relations and Lost Civilization: Jewish Kingdom. Other publications mainly include “On Slave Trade and the Development of Igbo Slavery”, “On the Spread and Influence of Islam in Black Africa”, “Bandung Conference and the Restoration and Development of Modern China-Africa Relations” and “On the Influence of Mining Revolution on South Africa’s Social and Economic Development”.

Text by: Wang Zijing
Typesetting by: Wang Zijing
Reviewed by: Dong Hui & Gao Liangmin