I always found it interesting during my world travels to discover pockets of foreign immigrants in countries far away from their own. Certainly, there seems to be a Chinatown in every major world city these days; while places in the US like LA are predominately Latino, Sao Paulo on the other hand has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan; furthermore there are more Indians and Pakistanis in Dubai than Emiratis. So why isn’t China the same as the rest of the world in terms of ethnic diversity? Well, actually, it is! There are pockets of foreign ethnic enclaves all throughout the Middle Kingdom, and some of the ones you’re about to read might just surprise you.
1) Kashgar’s Old Town
I felt like I was walking through the streets of Kabul when I was in Kashgar’s Old Town. Most of the women were fully veiled from head to toe, all the men sported long, thick beards, and lambs were being slaughtered right on the street in typical halal fashion. Even though Uighurs are listed as one of China’s officially recognized ethnic minorities, this stronghold of Uighurs mixed with a large percentage of Kazakhs, Tajiks and Kyrgyz make it seem much more like it is located in Central Asia than in China. Actually, after having toured most of Central Asia, I still tell everyone that Kashgar’s Old Town was the most authentic Central Asian area that I have been to throughout the entire area.
2) Guangzhou’s Little Africa
There are at least 20,000 Africans (mostly of West African descent such as Nigeria) living in Guangzhou; this is the most out of any city in China. Many of these immigrants came to Guangzhou to start a business in exporting clothing back to their home countries with many becoming successful in the process. When I walked down the streets of Guangzhou’s Little Africa, it felt like being in Lagos and definitely not Canton; African culture is widespread here with its music, food, dress and style. Unfortunately, the government’s recent crackdown on visas coupled with rising production costs are making many of Guangzhou’s Africans return home. If things continue, little Africa could very well disappear as quickly as it rose.
3) Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jinli
There are so many Koreans here that many call it the “Third Korea.” Located right on the border of North Korea, this major transit hub between the two countries not only has Korean immigrants but also many ethnic Koreans who are Chinese citizens. Despite being Chinese on paper, many of the region’s locals still speak Korean and follow Korean customs, while all the street signs are written in Hangul. However, things in Yanji, the prefecture’s capital, are looking pretty grim today since it’s becoming an international transit hub of crystal meth from North Korea, and is where many people like journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling were captured and detained by DPRK officials.
4) Heilongjiang’ Russians
Heilongjiang has a long history of Russian influence even though it’s still predominately Han. There’s a lot of Russian food and architecture to be seen around Heilongjiang with the prime example being the Russian Orthodox cathedrals in Harbin. Furthermore, with increased trade and political ties between these two neighbors, more Russians are moving in on a yearly basis; in Heilongjiang there are even some blue eyed, blonde hair Chinese citizens with 100% Russian blood. It’s also worth noting that the Russian influence isn’t just limited to the border regions: Sanya, the Hawaii of China, and Ritan Park in Beijing both have a huge Russian population in the form of tourists and expats, respectively. Could there be more Russian towns sprouting up all over China in the future?
5) Westernized Shanghai
Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen certainly have their fair share of foreigners, but none can compete with Shanghai. By official stats, many of these “foreigners” come from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, while there is a huge number from other Asian countries such as Japan and Korea. But with Shanghai’s past of European concessions and its role as an international financial center, Western influence has been and still is very prevalent in downtown Shanghai, the French Concession and the Bund. To reiterate, there are indeed other cultures represented all over the city, but no matter how you slice it, Shanghai is the Mainland’s most Westernized city.
And the others?
Of course, we could look at other ethnic enclaves of China, like Yunnan for instance, but the ethnicities living there have adopted many aspects of Chinese culture and have lived in China for thousands of years and, more often than not, are still small in numbers. Also what sets the ones mentioned on this list apart from other groups is that these minorities living here have a home nation: whether it be a Kyrgyz living in Kashgar, a Nigerian in Guangzhou, a Brit in Shanghai, a Russian in Heilongjiang, or a North Korean in Yanji. The point is that while the Chinese diaspora has spread all over the globe from Vancouver to Belgrade, the same is happening here in China. Globalization works in both directions, and it is taking place right before our eyes.
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Keywords: Kashgar’s old town foreigners in China foreign places in China
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Wenzhou is another interesting example. Even though you'll hardly find any obviously foreign-looking people, there are loads of Chinese or people of Chinese descent who've either lived abroad or grew up abroad and returned there to study/visit family and such. The clothes down there, for example, looked rather interesting to me as a lot of shops (and I mean regular shops, not just the foreign luxury brands you find elsewhere) seem to have either imported Western clothes or somehow adapted them to local preference and size. Wenzhou might not be the best example of a foreign enclave (as I hardly saw any foreigners while there, bar some people who were obviously there for business), but I think the fact that it's so heavily influenced by styles (and particularly wealth) from abroad was very interesting to me.
Nov 14, 2013 15:20 Report Abuse
I lived in Wenzhou for nearly 18 months and it is without doubt the worst place in China to visit. If you would like to witness a superficial and shallow group of Chinese people then Wenzhou is the place to go. It hurts me personally that you think that the clothes there are anything other than cheap and tacky crap. Many Wenzhouese people do emigrate, or have done so already, however, there is absolutely no semblance of that within the odious, generic soulless nature of Wenzhou to be found.
Sep 20, 2014 02:26 Report Abuse
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