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The African Trading Community in Guangzhou: An Emerging Bridge for Africa–China Relations*

  • Adams Bodomo (a1)

This article analyses an emerging African trading community in Guangzhou, China. It is argued that migrant communities such as this one act as linguistic, cultural and economic bridges between their source communities and their host communities, even in the midst of tensions created by incidents such as immigration restrictions and irregularities. Socio-linguistic and socio-cultural profiles of this community are built, through questionnaire surveys and interviews, to address issues such as why Africans go to Guangzhou, which African countries are represented, what languages are spoken there, how communication takes place between Africans and Chinese, what socio-economic contributions Africans in Guangzhou are making to the Chinese economy, and how the state reacts to this African presence. Following from the argument that this community acts as a bridge for Africa–China relations it is suggested that both the Chinese and the African governments should work towards eliminating the harassment of members in this community by many Guangzhou law enforcement officials and instead harness the contributions of this community to promote Africa–China socio-economic relations.

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1 Bertoncello, Brigitte and Bredeloup, Sylvie, “The emergence of new African ‘trading posts’ in Hong Kong and Guangzhou,” China Perspectives, No. 1 (2007), pp. 94105; Bodomo, Adams, “An emerging African-Chinese community in Hong Kong: the case of Tsim Sha Tsui's Chungking Mansions,” in Prah, Kwesi Kwaa (ed.), Afro-Chinese Relations: Past, Present and Future (Cape Town: The Centre for Advanced Studies in African Societies, 2007) pp. 367–89.

2 Bodomo, “An emerging African-Chinese community in Hong Kong”; Adams Bodomo, “The emergence of African communities in Hong Kong and mainland China,” paper for Africa Table, Stanford University African Studies Centre, 23 May 2007; Zhigang, Li, Desheng, Xue, Lyons, Michael and Brown, Alison, “The African enclave of Guangzhou: a case study of Xiaobeilu,” Geographica Sinica, Vol. 63, No. 2 (2008).

3 See e.g. Bodomo, “An emerging African-Chinese community in Hong Kong,” pp. 367–89; Bodomo, “The emergence of African communities in Hong Kong and mainland China”; Brigitte and Bredeloup, “The emergence of new African ‘trading posts’”; Li et al., “The African enclave of Guangzhou.”

4 See e.g. Bok Rae Kim, “The African presence in Korea,” in Kiran Kamal Prasad and Jean-Pierre Angenot (eds.), The African Diaspora in Asia, Explorations on a Less Known Fact: Papers Presented at the First International Conference on the African Diaspora in Asia in Panaji, Goa (2008) pp. 436–44; Stoller, Paul, Money Has No Smell: The Africanization of New York City (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2001); MacGaffey, Janet and Bazenguissa-Ganga, Remy, Cong-Paris: Transnational Traders on the Margins of the Law (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2000); McIntyre, Joseph, Wurzel in zwei Welten: westafrikanische Migranten und Migrantinnen in Hamburg (Frankfurt am Main: Brandes und Apsel, 2004); Urciuoli, Bonnie, Exposing Prejudice: Puerto Rican Experiences of Language, Race and Class (Boulder: Westview Press, 1996).

5 Kallen, Evelyn, The Western Samoan Kinship Bridge: a Study in Migration, Social Change, and the New Ethnicity (Leiden: Brill, 1982).

6 Li et al., “The African enclave of Guangzhou.”

7 Brigitte and Bredeloup, “The emergence of new African ‘trading posts’.”

8 Cole, Jeffrey, The New Racism in Europe: A Sicilian Ethnography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

9 In its 16 July 2009 edition the SCMP splashed the following sensational headline on its front page: “Africans protest in Guangzhou after Nigerian feared killed fleeing visa check,” with a large picture of black people protesting in Guangzhou, some holding bloodied shirts to onlookers. The SCMP is Hong Kong's main English-language journal read mainly by Western expatriates in Hong Kong, and this sensational reporting really caused a stir in Hong Kong and southern China. Ordinary people suddenly woke up to the presence of a large community of Africans in Guangzhou, with the uncomfortable effect that every African in Hong Kong and southern China was perceived as a potential illegal immigrant.

10 Sullivan, Michael, “The 1988–89 Nanjing anti-African protests: racial nationalism or national racism?” The China Quarterly, No 138 (1994), pp. 438–57.

11 Ibid.

12 Li et al., “The African enclave of Guangzhou.”

13 The South Metropolis Daily in its January 2008 edition wrote: “Due to the skin color of black or brown of Africans here, the region is called ‘Chocolate City’ by Guangzhou people.”

14 Bodomo, “The emergence of African communities in Hong Kong and mainland China.”

15 Bodomo, “An emerging African-Chinese community in Hong Kong,” pp. 367–89.

16 Age-wise, these are people mostly in their 20s and 30s; in terms of gender there are more men than women; and in terms of schooling, many of them have finished high school and some even have tertiary education.

17 For other reasons for this West African preponderance, especially with Ghanaians, Guineans and Malians, see Bodomo, Africans in China, book manuscript in preparation.

18 Ibid.

19 Other activities such as festivals, dancing and worship are discussed in ibid.

20 They are now given only six-month visas.

21 The author thanks Dr Li Zhigang of Sun Yat-sen University for coming to this meeting and participating in our deliberations.

* I thank the HKU Research Grants Committee for funding my research project “The African Diaspora in China: the case of Hong Kong and Guangzhou” (project no. 10207573), through which research for this article was undertaken. I also thank audiences at the SOAS China–Africa workshop in London (September 2008) and the Chinese Society for the Study of Africa's Africa–China conference at Shanxi University in Taiyuan (October 2008) where earlier versions were read. I am grateful to Frances Lung, Yeung Hui Lam and Iris Yu for helping me in the field and for other research assistance.

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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
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