Go East and Prosper: Africans Communities in Guangzhou

Go East and Prosper: Africans Communities in Guangzhou
By Jefferson Mendoza , eChinacities.com

Standing between the junction of Xiaobei Lu and Huanshi Lu, the surrounding one-kilometer radius is home to many African businesses and other visible minorities. It’s brimming with activities on a sunny afternoon and walking through one particular alleyway, you can see street vendors selling snacks, gadgets, and clothing racks while Halal butchers display their freshly mutton cuts, hanging nonchalantly just a few steps away.

 As you continue through the alley, more barbecued goods like the 20 RMB tilapias are showcased for passersby to gawk at. .

Go East and Prosper: Africans Communities in Guangzhou
Young African girl in Guangzhou. Photo: Ray Smith

Indeed, this area of the city has long been considered the most multicultural district. With each passing year, the African community is growing, according to local officials. Some estimate the number to be around 10,000, while African researchers have estimated the number to be higher. Since the country widened its open-door policy in the late 1990s, expatriates from Africa have made Guangzhou their new home – either momentarily or indefinitely. But their presence has shed light on the changing faces of the population, while the local government is grappling with how to deal with the emergence of a new set of foreigners.

“Integration, Segregation”

The ongoing photo exhibition “Integration, Segregation” at the Silo Creative Community Center depicts the lives of some members of the African community through the lens of Chinese photographer Lee Dong of Siyufeng Studio. Captured moments include African children with their parents, men hanging out in front of stores and others taking a contemplative night-time stroll.

Researchers, professors, photographers and other academics were some of those who attended last month’s press conference for the event, but no representative of the African community leaders were present. The sole African was Ben from Nigeria and all eyes were on him. Ben says that perhaps the African community leaders thought it was a Chinese-only event, and that’s why they didn’t attend.

Social worker Godwin Huang from the Dengfeng Community Family Integrated Service Center also attended the launch. On the 3rd floor of the community center, event photos are displayed on the walls in each of the rooms. According to Huang, about 100 Africans regularly come to the center every week for Chinese lessons, football games and guitar lessons, while free medical check-ups are also provided.

Huang says that Africans have different types of experiences upon their arrival. “When they first come to China, first impressions count. Sometimes they meet kind-hearted people when they do business, sometimes they don’t. They often have a culture shock.”

Established in 2012, the Dengfeng Community Center was created with the hope of easing the transition of Africans into the Chinese society. Yet the center has been seen as “untrustworthy’ because of it’s affiliation with the Guangzhou government; thus making it difficult to build Sino-African relations.

African-China Economies

Inside a fast-food chain in the Xiaobei area, anthropologist professor Gordon Mathews of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and P.h.D student Linessa D. Lin sat to discuss the low-end globalization that is happening around the world. In Guangzhou, with so many Africans doing trade work, buying and selling goods to be shipped back to Africa, an African presence is seen as a ‘key’ factor in the country’s economy. According to Mathews, if they suddenly vanished, their departure would have an enormous impact on the economy. 

Guangzhou’s proximity to factories and the ease with which cargo can be moved makes the city attractive for many African traders. But aside from doing business, living and learning about China are optional. “They’re not here to learn Chinese culture. They’re here to make money and they can make a lot of money if they have any sense. There is a lot of money floating around here,” says Mathews.

Many Africans have made the transition from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. The popularity of Chunking Mansion is declining due to high real estate prices, whereas in Guangzhou, rent is cheaper and therefore easier to set up shop in or outside of the Xiaobei area. Under the guidance of Mathews, Lin has made contact with several members of the African community regarding their business ventures.  

“Guangzhou is a special place that foreigners have been coming for a long time. The difference is that a very large number has  been coming in within a short time period,” says Lin. “Many of them would like to stay for a long time. They usually stay in Zhu Jiang New Town.”

But visa policies, and the length of stay, have made it difficult for members of the African community to stay in the country legally. Those who remain stay illegally and may face jail time if they are caught.

Chinese Green Card

It was announced at a press conference held on March 20, 2014 at the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council in Beijing, that China will relax its policies regarding issuing permanent residency permits or Chinese Green to expatriates. Spearheaded by Qiu Yuangping, he said that more flexible policies will be enforced regarding the 10-year Green Card system.

In its 115th plenary session, Guangzhou’s Import and Export Fair, simply known as the Canton Fair, has continuously attracted locals and international delegates. Not surprisingly, African delegates have found Guangzhou to be their new home for business ventures, and possibly their residency, as shown through the growth of the community. These days, it’s common to see Africans residing in districts that were once nonexistent as is the case few years ago in the Zhu Jiang New Town district.

Yet in the Xiaobei area, for those who have chosen to live a life there, life is better than back in their home country. In some cases, Xiaobei remains a beacon of hope and a stepping ground for a brighter future whether it’s for business opportunities or for better living conditions.

Additional Information:

1. The Dengfeng Community Family Integrated Service Center
Add: 3/F, 133 Xiatiang Xilu, Jinlu Villa Hexie Department (Beside Jinlu Hotel)
Tel: (86) 20 830 55904
Email: aliensfriendship@hotmail.com
Getting there: Line 5 Xiaobei Station Exit D. Walk 20 minutes heading north.

2. Original Element Creative Industry Design Center (OECIDC) – SILO Creative Community CentreView In Map
Where: 63 Xizhe Road, Xicun, Liwan District, Guangzhou
地址: 荔湾区西村西增路63号
Price: Free
Gallery hours: 10:00 – 18:00 (Monday-Saturday)
Tel: 86 20 8124 5202/ 86 138 08882328/ 86 131 6881 0057
Email: gzfanglan@163.com or zilisui@gmail.com
Sina Weibo: http://weibo.com/SILOCommunity
Getting there: take subway line 5 Xicun station Exit D. Turn right and right again. Walk 10 minutes until you reach red-colored entrance.

3. Lee Dong Photography:

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Keywords: Sino-African relations Africans Communities in Guangzhou


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POLICE in Kampala have arrested a Chinese businessman and impounded 1,443 cell phones from his shop worth over sh 50m for allegedly selling them using false trademarks. Liu Linhui who operates Mukie International, an electronics shop on Galilaya Shopping Arcade along William Street in Kampala was arrested during a police operation to net traders dealing in counterfeit goods and using false trademarks. The Kampala Metropolitan police spokesman, Patrick Onyago who on Friday paraded the suspect at the Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Department (CIID) headquarters at Kibuli said the police operation would continue to crack down on many other traders dealing in counterfeits. He explained that the operation followed complaints from Nokia, a phone company that wrote to the police indicating that many traders in Kampala were using their trademark to sell products not manufactured by them. According to Onyango, traders import phones from manufacturers without labels and later insert Nokia stickers on them, which he said would be difficult for an ordinary customer who follows particular brands to detect that the item bought is not genuine. But when checked, the phones have different models, names and brands that may not be easily detected on first sight. He said the police had impounded exhibits of cell phones without exterior labels that are altered and sold using Nokia trademarks. During a search of the shop, the police also recovered separate stickers belonging to Nokia and other brands including Samsung and HTC, which are pasted on the imported phones and sold. Preliminary investigations also indicated that the traders evade paying taxes by declaring different phone models at the customs, which they alter later to target the big market in Kampala. Onyango said many other brands have been used by the traders depending on which brand is attracting high demand. He said the operation would continue and they hoped to net several others. Liu will be charged with selling goods with false trademarks under the Uganda Trademarks 2010 Act. Sources at the CIID however indicated that Lin had escaped from Kibuli when he was arrested on Wednesday and disappeared. He was only rearrested when he allegedly presented himself again. It is alleged that Liu slipped away while cops scrutinized the phones, but was netted after a hunt was mounted after the realization that he was missing. Liu possessed a work permit indicating that he was born in 1992 in the Chinese city of Zhejiang.

Jun 30, 2014 16:18 Report Abuse


Being something other than Chinese and having to live in this country can be either lovely or unbearable for you, if you know what I mean...To make it easier for u: people here could thoroughly admire you or spit in your face, both for no reason...Ignorance, is the key word here.

May 13, 2014 15:26 Report Abuse


I do not think it is quite fair to say that Chinese or any people of the world make some of their judgements based on blind ignorance. Part of it may well be ignorance, however, part of it is a real rational judgement whether a good judgement or not. It is like Mark Cuban admitting if he sees a "black guy in a hoodie" or a "bald white guy with tattoos" he is going to cross to the other side of the street. Logically, your chances of running into trouble with either of those actors is statistically and probably practically higher - some Chinese judging blacks as a greater threat or having social problems is part ignorance and sometimes racism to be sure, but it is also founded on the underlying fact that Africa and the people of Africa by in large have more social problems, violence, and criminality in their communities. It might be a bad stereotype, but it is also a safe stereotype. At the same time, would most Chinese you know get past the stereotype and be accepting of an African if they got to know them? I think they would, and that speaks to something good about Chinese people and people in general.

May 25, 2014 00:45 Report Abuse