Recent empirical evidence suggests that Chinese development finance may be particularly prone to elite capture and patronage spending. If aid ends up in the pockets of political elites and their ethno-regional networks, this may exacerbate ethnic grievances and contribute to ethnic mobilization. In this research note I examine whether Chinese development projects make local ethnic identities more salient in African partner countries. A new geo-referenced data set on the subnational allocation of Chinese development finance projects to Africa is geographically matched with survey data for 50,520 respondents from eleven African countries. The identification strategy compares sites where a Chinese project was under implementation at the time of the interview to sites where a Chinese project will appear subsequently. The empirical results suggest that living near an ongoing Chinese project makes ethnic identities more salient. There is no indication of an equivalent pattern when considering other donors’ development projects.