Global discourses about China’s three decades of impressive economic growth have impacted on the way China is imagined outside its borders – a ‘new land of opportunities,’ is a common claim. Whether or not these discourses or claims are accurate, over the last decade, thousands of foreigners have made their way into the country evincing a major transformation: China is increasingly seen as a destination by those seeking transnational economic opportunities. This paper examines the material practices linked to the recent arrival of African traders and migrants to the Xiaobei district in Guangzhou. I argue that to make better sense of the engagements, tensions, affects, and accommodations that these individuals are articulating, we need not only pay attention to trade logistics and governmental policies but also to everyday spaces and the changing materialities in city ethnoscapes. I focus on food consumption, entertainment, fashion, and mobility, claiming that objects like garments, movies, wigs, and even Uighur-peddled chicken or fish (‘Africa-style’) are the material embodiments of a buoyant ‘transnational assemblage’. This paper draws on the works of Delanda (2006) and Ong (2004) on assemblages, and from Appadurai (1996) and Glick Schiller (1992) on translocality and transnationalism. By utilising an assemblage theory approach, I avoid the straightjackets of extant conceptualisations of Africans in Guangzhou (emergent ‘African’ community vs. collapsing ‘ethnic’ enclave), and highlight the transiency and complexity of this social formation. I am also able to locate the forces and scales that drive and determine the appearance of the material practices described, at the intersections of translocal and transnational geographies and imaginations. Although everyday material practices and objects are often disregarded by more structural analyses, this paper argues that they are crucial to the process of an individual’s ability to make sense of a transnational space, and that they make evident how major transformations are impacting in the lived-worlds of people in China, Africa, and in-between.
Keywords: Africans in China, Guangzhou, Xiaobei, Materiality, Transnational, Translocality, Assemblages, Ethnoscapes
*Paper for the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia 2012: MATERIALITIES: ECONOMIES, EMPIRICISM AND THINGS