Chinese migrants in Tanzania regularly face inspections by street‐level bureaucrats, inspections that are often resolved by paying “tips.” These encounters make the Chinese feel vulnerable in Africa, although they disagree about why this is so. Some claim they are vulnerable because China lacks a colonial history in Africa, while others put the blame on some migrants’ illicit practices, which have made all Chinese targets for extortion. These contending etiologies reveal competing vernacular theories regarding the relationship between power, ethics, and status. The performance of petty corruption encounters reveals the ambiguities of economic and political power that characterize South‐South exchanges. How to act is therefore a space for experimenting with different possible forms of global Chinese citizenship.