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African Pentecostal Migrants in China: Marginalization and the Alternative Geography of a Mission Theology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 May 2013

Heidi Østbø Haugen*
Heidi Østbø Haugen is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo. Her work focuses on trade and migration between African countries and China. Prior to conducting her doctoral research, she worked at the World Food Programme’s West Africa Bureau. She has studied Chinese (Mandarin) at Beijing Normal University. E-mail:


The city of Guangzhou, China, hosts a diverse and growing population of foreign Christians. The religious needs of investors and professionals have been accommodated through government approval of a nondenominational church for foreigners. By contrast, African Pentecostal churches operate out of anonymous buildings under informal and fragile agreements with law-enforcement officers. The marginality of the churches is mirrored by the daily lives of the church-goers: Many are undocumented immigrants who restrain their movements to avoid police interception. In contrast to these experiences, the churches present alternative geographies where the migrants take center stage. First, Africans are given responsibility for evangelizing the Gospel, as Europeans are seen to have abandoned their mission. Second, China is presented as a pivotal battlefield for Christianity. And finally, Guangzhou is heralded for its potential to deliver divine promises of prosperity. This geographical imagery assigns meaning to the migration experience, but also reinforces ethnic isolation. The analysis is based on in-depth interviews, participant observation, and video recordings of sermons in a Pentecostal church in Guangzhou with a predominately Nigerian congregation.


La ville de Guangzhou, en Chine, est le site d’une population grandissante de chrétiens étrangers, dont beaucoup continuent de pratiquer leur religion en devenant membres d’une église non confessionnelle pour étrangers approuvée par le gouvernement. Les églises africaines pentecôtistes, en revanche, opèrent dans des bâtiments anonymes sous des accords informels et fragiles avec les représentants de la loi. Bien des membres de la congrégation sont eux-mêmes des immigrants sans papiers dont les vies sont contraintes par la nécessité d’échapper aux contrôles de police, et la marginalité sociale et institutionnelle de ces églises reflètent ainsi leurs expériences au quotidien. Au sein de ces églises, ces immigrants ont cependant une place centrale et font quasiment l’expérience d’une « géographie alternative ». Dans cet article, la Chine est présentée comme un champs de bataille crucial pour la chrétienté, les Africains y ayant remplacé les Européens au front de la mission d’évangélisation. Pour les Africains eux-mêmes, Guangzhou présente un potentiel pour délivrer ses promesses divines de prospérité. Cet article soutient que l’imagerie géographique pentecôtiste, tout en donnant un sens et une signification à l’expérience des immigrants, renforce cependant une isolation ethnique. L’analyse se base sur des entretiens approfondis, des observations sur le terrain, et des enregistrements vidéo de sermons dans une église pentecôtiste à Guangzhou avec une congrégation principalement nigérienne.

Copyright © African Studies Association 2013 

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