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


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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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... While certain countries, including Ethiopia, Angola, and Zambia, have been a priority, China has grown its presence in almost every African country (Bodomo, 2010). Since 2000, China has held the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation every three years (Bodomo, 2010), which is widely seen as an essential means of advancing Chinese diplomatic and commercial interests. ...
... While certain countries, including Ethiopia, Angola, and Zambia, have been a priority, China has grown its presence in almost every African country (Bodomo, 2010). Since 2000, China has held the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation every three years (Bodomo, 2010), which is widely seen as an essential means of advancing Chinese diplomatic and commercial interests. Over the decades since the Cold War, Chinese influence in Africa has increased significantly (Vines & Wallace, 2023). ...
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China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin have repeatedly hailed a ‘no limits’ partnership between their respective countries to the displeasure of the United States in light of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Therefore, it has become more apparent that the long-term goals of the Russian and Chinese foreign policies are to establish a new world order by reinstating their countries as great powers while challenging the U.S.-led global hegemony. The current geopolitical turbulence accelerated by the great power rivalry has not only shattered the international order that has existed since the end of the Cold War, but also reframed partnerships where the role of African states are becoming more prominent. Notably, while Martin Kimani, Kenya’s UN envoy, was widely praised for his powerful speech reaffirming Kenya’s respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders during the Security Council’s emergency session (21 February 2022), 25 of Africa’s 54 states abstained or did not vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the emergency session of the UN General Assembly (A/RES/ES-11/1) in March 2022. This equivocal reaction contrasted sharply not only with the widespread condemnation of Russia’s assault from every other region but also with African states’ official positions on preserving territorial integrity and borders within Africa. The study, therefore, seeks to explore Africa’s stance in light of the ongoing war and how the interests and (re)actions of African states contribute to furthering Russia’s goal of weakening the United States as a dominant power. The study applies a qualitative approach by drawing from literature on Africa’s relations with Russia and analyzing media and NGO reports on contemporary events, official communications of African officials, and voting patterns of African states in the UN General Assembly in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Initial findings suggest that several factors contribute to the hesitant position of some African countries. These include the legacy of colonial and imperial control, arms trading, food security, discriminatory treatment of African students in Ukraine, and the U.S. Congress’ anti-Russian legislation (H.R. 7311, the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act), which punishes African nations for their political and economic ties with Russia. These factors reinforce neocolonialism in Africa.
... The "influx" of migrants from African countries to China has attracted significant research attention. While some debate the presence of African resident populations in Chinese cities (Bodomo, 2010;Castillo, 2014), others describe the emergence of the African community (Bertoncello and Bredeloup, 2007;Gordon et al., 2017;Adebayo, 2022a), the precarious homing experience of Africans (Castillo, 2015), issues of racialization, regulation, and control (Lan, 2017a;Liang and Le Billon, 2018;Huang, 2019), and the extent of the temporariness of African presence, as marked by the realities of circulation, transiency, stuckedness, and immobility (Haugen, 2012;Niu, 2018;Adebayo, 2022b). However, the issue of deportability and deportation as they affect African migrants in China has received less attention. ...
... As immigration regimes of the Global North toward Africans tightened over two decades ago, China became a choice destination for some African migrants (Lan, 2017b), thus emerging as a frontier for the formation of the new African diaspora in Asia (Bodomo, 2010(Bodomo, , 2016Anshan, 2015). Since the 2000s, the narrative of China as the "New Promised Land" (Lan, 2017b) for Africans has crept into discussions. ...
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How do the manifestations of deportability in everyday life, and deportation experiences, constitute African migrants into a ‘deportspora’ in China? Despite the scholarly attention paid to the migration of Africans to China, questions of deportability and the simultaneous, reverse flows through their deportation are under-explored. In this article, I examined this critical gap by exploring the lifeworlds of Nigerian migrants and deportees from China, using data from two separate studies conducted in 2017 and 2020-2021. Nigerians are exposed to 'illegalisation', experience deportability threats and become vulnerable to arrest and re-dispersal as deportees. The realities of being undocumented and overstaying, the social act of running, and the host society's instrumentalisation of deportation to regulate or order the migrant community all point to the existence of Nigerian deportspora in China. The import of this form of social formation makes deportability and deportation an essential part of social life in the African migrant community in the Chinese city. The article advances critical debates in deportation studies, especially in the under-researched context of Sino-African migrations.
... For example, food and language are also influenced. Bodomo analysed the attitudes of Africans towards local food and language by means of a questionnaire, regarding how people identify themselves, what friends they choose, what cultural activities they participate in, and what they eat [3]. The African community is still steeped in African culture. ...
... Nevertheless, these enclaves overall have a positive impact on the economy of Guangzhou. At a group meeting on May 30, 2008, all four African leaders agreed that African shopkeepers had significantly contributed to Guangzhou and China both economically and socially by employing a large number of Chinese [3]. African businessmen and Chinese people generally have two different kinds of economic and social relations. ...
... African migration to China has emerged also in the early years of the twenty-first century as China became a new destination for workers and traders (Bodomo and Ma, 2010). Two of the largest Chinese commodity markets, Yiwu and Guangzhou, attracted an increasing number of traders and aspiring entrepreneurs (Bodomo, 2010;Bodomo and Ma, 2010;Bodomo, 2012) generating a vibrant context of small trade and business activities, particularly in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. This type of socioeconomic activity was labeled as "low-end globalization" (Mathews and Yang, 2012) as it was characterized by small capital, unregulated markets, and oftentimes irregular migration status for the businesspeople involved. ...
... Racializing processes in Guangzhou are better described as institutional at first, which then seeps through to the individual and community levels. In this regard, Bodomo (2010) emphasizes that the context in Guangzhou largely differs from the previously mentioned clashes on campuses in the 1980s. He argues that the main difference between both contexts is that in Guangzhou clashes are taking place between (illegal) African residents and hostile, generally corrupt law enforcement authorities. ...
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While contemporary China–Africa relations are often discussed in (geo)political and economic terms, they cannot be disentangled from “racial” orderings and tensions. Still, “race” remains underexplored in these encounters. This article seeks to further the conversation on the role of “race” in China–Africa relations. We build on the concept of “racialization” to examine the various ways in which race shapes both the Chinese-in-Africa and Africans-in-China contexts. We do so without losing sight of historical constructions and socio-political drivers. Drawing and expanding on a burgeoning strand of China–Africa “race”-related research, we argue that racialization processes are fused with strategic interests, historical “racial” consciousnesses, and political and economic discontent. Our analysis questions oft-repeated programmatic claims of a “Sino-African friendship” and posits that thinking through “race” is fundamental for an adequate comprehension of the narratives and modalities configuring China–Africa relations.
... Although much of the current research focuses on the patterns of the racialisation processes (see, for example, Ho 2017; Carling and Haugen 2021;Lan 2016;Liang and Le Billon 2020), there remains surprisingly little scholarship addressing how African international students exercise agency to reduce inter-group prejudices against all the odds and 'bridge' racial divides (Bodomo 2010(Bodomo , 2012. This paper aims to contribute to the gap in scholarship by presenting a case study of a 25-year-old Burundian young man named Alex's as he travels on public transport to China's rural areas. ...
On the one hand, studies of African international students in China document their instrumental role in ‘telling China’s story and spreading China’s voice’ while, on the other hand, this research indicates how their lived experiences are shaped by racialisation and exclusionary practices in social life. However, there remains surprisingly little scholarship exploring ways of reducing inter-group stereotypes and racial divides so as to further Sino-African diplomatic relations over the long term. Drawing primarily upon an in-depth interview with Alex – a 23-year-old Burundian international student in China, this paper employs Freire’s central concepts of dialogic practices and critical consciousness to examine how he established dialogues with villagers in rural areas in an effort to alter relations between two ethnic groups. The case study of Alex and his daily racial encounters highlights how African students are agentic in disrupting racial discourses. We further argue that dialogue, as a method to read the world in a Freirean sense, can contribute to increased tolerance and understanding.
... China has become an important destination for African migrants 1 (Marfaing, 2019). Attracted by China's rising position in the 'globalised economy of manufacture goods' (Fioratta, 2019), the majority of Africans going to China have, in the last two decades, migrated to the highly commercial centre of Guangzhou in Guangdong Province (Bertoncello & Bredeloup, 2007;Bodomo, 2010;Gordon et al., 2017). Between 2000 and2007, hotel records indicate that the number of African overnight stayers in Guangzhou increased annually from 6300 to 60,400 (Li et al., 2009). ...
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The presence of Africans in Chinese cities has made their healthcare-related issues an expanding area of interest. However, previous studies have not thoroughly explored how Africans live through health problems. This article explores the taken for granted aspect using the analytical frameworks of migration as a social determinant of health and phenomenological sociology. Based on interviews with 37 Nigerians in Guangzhou city, it describes how health and illnesses are lived and the ways that language barrier, cost of health care, immigration status and racism and discrimination intertwine with quotidian occurrences to shape the experiences of health challenges. Migrant networks and community structure provided critical assistance, but the context of labour circumstances and undocumentedness can overstretch these critical sources of support. The article exposes how the broader context of being and living in China determine how Africans experience health challenges in Chinese cities.
Young Africans studying in China are expected to help build a “bridge” between this country and their own. However, their experience is rarely seen as the foundations on which this bridge is built. This article is based on a qualitative exploratory survey conducted in Chengdu in 2022, when the borders were still closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The testimonies collected from French-speaking African students show the ambiguity of their reception, the difficult choices they have to make when it comes to learning Chinese, or the sometimes misunderstood workings of their scarcely Sinicized sociability. Shedding light on these difficulties thus allows preparing the ground to rethink Afro-Chinese university exchanges “from the ground up.”
Motivated by the fast-emerging literature on African immigrants in new destinations, this paper examines the role of religion in the African immigrants’ perceived attitudes of Chinese people toward them. Building on the triple-market model, we identify different ways Islam and Christianity influence African immigrants’ perceived attitudes in Guangzhou, the most popular gateway city for African immigrants to China. Using both survey and in-depth interview data, we find that Muslim Africans tend to perceive better attitudes of local Chinese toward them than their Christian counterparts. African-dominated congregations, where Christian Africans are used to participating, are negatively associated with African immigrants’ perceived attitudes. We argue that the mechanism underlying the relationships reflects how religion influences immigrants’ social experiences in China.
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Market reform and economic restructuring is reshaping the cities in mainland China. In the last two decades, a spate of studies have examined the transformation of urban social space under the perspective of socioeconomic transition, few lights, however, are shed on the implication of globalization upon urban China. Though the literature of transnationalism has extensively examined ethnic enclaves of Western cities especially the US, little is known about globalizing Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. This paper takes efforts to examine the newly appeared ethnic enclaves of African traders in Guangzhou, using Xiaobeilu as a study area. It mainly targets on the sociospatial feature as well as the underlying mechanism. The booming of Guangzhou's exporting economy is examined, followed by a general description of ethnic enclaves of transmigrants in Guangzhou. Five enclaves are identified, Sanyuanli, Huanshidong, Tianhebei, Ersha island, and Panyu, while the former two sites, Sanyuanli and Huanshidong, are becoming enclaves of African traders. As such, Xiaobeilu, one part of Huangshidong, is chosen to conduct in-depth studies. Under a microscopic lens, both questionnaires and half-structured interviews are used in the survey of 2006-2007. Though this study will use intensive interviews as the main method, questionnaires target on both Black and Chinese residents of Xiaobeilu are also used, and 45 questionnaires of African Traders have been collected, along with around 43 questionnaires of local residents. Importantly, a total of 46 semi-structured interviews have been successfully conducted, so that abundant qualitative information can be put into use. First, it is argued that Guangzhou's Black ethnic enclave is by no means the same as that of the West. Though the development of the enclave is largely an outcome of 'globalization from below', it is also heavily shaped by the national and local forces. Transnational migrants have been attracted to China as early as 1980, most African traders, however, came to Guangzhou after the door of China opened ftu-ther in the late 1990s. Located in PRD (Pearl River Delta), one of the world factories of China, Guangzhou enjoys advantaged status in terms of goods export, annual fairs, accommodation, and so on. Moreover, the restructuring of Xiaobeilu is interacting with localities such as Guangzhou's entrepreneurial history and culture. It is found that most transnational migrants of Xiaobeilu come from West Africa and they work as merchants, either floating or fixed, to collect products, such as shoes, clothes and electronic facilities. Africans of Xiaobeilu can be grouped into two types: salesmen and tradesmen, the former is featured by regular mobility of crossing borders, whilst the latter, as Diasporas, has developed social networks to trade between China and Africa. Accordingly, Xiaobeilu is becoming a social field featured by ethnic enclave economy, within which the residents are featured by both high mobility and diversity. Nevertheless, African traders of Xiaobeilu suffer a high possibility of residential segregation. As such, globalization adds Chinese cities such as Guangzhou a new dimension of sociospatial segregation, ethnicity.
The 1988–89 Nanjing Anti-African protests, exposing a high degree of student discontent towards the Chinese political system four months before the spring 1989 pro-democracy movement, exhibited a complex interaction between Chinese nationalism and efforts to promote political reforms. Nanjing students fused together racist strains in Chinese culture, their perception of themselves as the embodiment of Chinese patriotism and their support for legal and democratic political reforms as they took to the streets to protest against the government's inadequate handling of the alleged murder of a Chinese by an African student.
The African enclave of Guangzhou
  • Li
Li et al., "The African enclave of Guangzhou."
The African presence in Korea
  • Kim Bok Rae
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. 43644;
The emergence of new African ‘trading posts’ in Hong Kong and Guangzhou
  • Bertoncello