‘Little Africa’ in China

From New Internationalist Easier English Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

‘Little Africa’ in China

Guangzhou in China is ‘Little Africa’. It has Asia’s biggest African migrant population. They come to China for business opportunities, good universities, and low living costs. Carlotta Dotto reports.


The Chinese have a saying: ‘If you want good food, go to Guangzhou.’

Photo by Carlotta Dotto.

Jojo is 33 years old and from Ghana. He says, ‘China is not only the land of our dreams, but an opportunity for all Africa.’ He left his family and friends to find opportunities.

He remembers that, at the beginning, it was not easy. ‘There is no real employment in the country. You have to be creative and employ yourself.’ After almost four years, Jojo is a trade representative, helping business deals between Chinese and Africans. He is also a fashion designer, designing and making clothes that he sells in both countries. And he has a modern African restaurant in the centre of Guangzhou, together with his Chinese wife.

There are no precise figures but we think that more than 15,000 Africans live in the busy city. Most are from Egypt, Mali, the DRC, and Nigeria. Guangzhou is part of the Pearl Delta Region and it is the biggest urban area in the world. More than half a million people travel here each year to buy all kinds of ‘Made in China’ products, for example, air conditioners and fake Nike sneakers, and then they send them back to Africa.


Photo by Carlotta Dotto.

People started arriving in China to follow their dreams when the country made the economy freer in the mid-90s. But the number of people grew in the 2000s when Beijing made stronger economic relations with Africa. China overtook the US as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2010, and in September 2018 President Xi Jinping promised another $60 billion in loans and investments.

Masoud is 32 years old and he is a medicine student from Niger. He was one of the 50,000 African students to receive a Chinese government scholarship in 2015 to study abroad. He sees China as ‘the new land of opportunities, where anything is possible.’ In less than 15 years the number of African students has grown 26 times. This is thanks to scholarships and each year more students arrive in China from Africa than from any other region. This means it is the second most popular place for Africans to study abroad after France. Most of those going to Chinese universities are from Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Morocco, Eritrea, and Cameroon.

Xiaobei Lu is the centre of Guangzhou’s Little Africa. It is filled with halal food shops, bilingual signs, and women carrying bags on their heads. Africans and Chinese make business deals in the colourful markets and malls. The social life in Little Africa is mostly around business. There is of course time in the evening for the nightlife in the restaurants. The Chinese have a saying: ‘if you want good food, go to Guangzhou’. This is also where most Afro-Chinese romances begin. And each Sunday a growing number of mixed families go to churches and mosques, as Afro-Chinese children play in the courtyards.


Photo by Carlotta Dotto.

In the middle of a mixture of economies, languages, and ethnicities, the lives of Chinese and Africans depend on each other in their daily activities.

But it is not easy for those who want to live here. Social-security benefits are poor. There are almost no medical benefits and migration rules are stricter. All this means that most African migrants in the city live in difficult conditions.

Chinese embassies in Africa have made it more and more difficult to get visas to enter the country, and there are now very few opportunities to get residence permits or long-term visas. At the same time, there is greater control of foreign residents in the city.

The Guangzhou Public Security Bureau does not allow African husbands full citizenship rights. And so families live in fear of separation.

The researcher Heidi Østbø Haugen says, ‘Even if they are married and have children, most of the African people never know how long they will be allowed to stay. Foreigners cannot buy houses or flats, and they don’t have financial security or legal rights to their kids. They will never be integrated, if they don’t know what the future will bring.’


'Every day before I leave my house, I take all the documents that prove that I am legally resident in China,’ says Yugo in the photo here with his family. Photo by Carlotta Dotto.

The growing new generation of mixed-race children born in China has full citizenship. This allows them to go to state schools and be fully integrated. But their parents continue to suffer prejudice and hostility.

Jin Qigang is a 23-year-old waitress from Guangzhou. She says, ‘In China, people are not used to foreigners. Most Chinese have never seen foreigners in their lives, so they are very afraid of them, even to touch them or talk. But the situation is changing and we’re getting used to it.’

‘Every day before I leave my house to go to the market, I spend about 10 minutes finding all the documents that prove that I am legally resident in China,’ says Yugo (in the photo above). He is from Nigeria and married a Chinese woman 15 years ago and had 2 children. ‘With the visa system, they let you know that this will never be your home.’ The conditions are difficult but Yugo is not ready to give up the Chinese dream. ‘While Europe is rejecting migrants, China is doing a lot to help us.’

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2019/03/11/%E2%80%98little-africa%E2%80%99-china

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)