[Journal Article] “China Wahala”: the Tribulations of Nigerian “Bushfallers” in a Chinese Territory”

A great academic article about Africans in Southern China – mainly about Nigerians in Macau, if I remember correctly. Worth reading!

Isabel Morais (2009) in Transtext(e)s transcultures: A Journal of Global Studies

Recent scholarly studies and media coverage have primarily focused on China’s increasing presence and sometimes asymmetrical engagement with Africa in tandem with the new trend of Chinese migration to that continent. Yet, the inverse flux of Africans to China and the emergence of African communities in Southern China over the last decades is influencing some areas of the Pearl River Delta Region, and changing the fabric of cities like Guangzhou, Macau and Hong Kong, in a way without precedent. There are representations or exotic descriptions from some mass circulation magazines and newspapers on the infamous Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong or the so-called “Chocolate-city,”an area centered aroundHongqiao, the village-district and Canaan market in the city of Guangzhou, with its arcades and strip malls filled with ethnic businesses and transnational migrants. In Macau, significant concentrations of African population of different origins are also seen in the “Papa pun” commercial center or in downtown areas. Despite many studies devoted to the “ethnoburbs” in other latitudes, only very recently, these entrepreneurial African communities in Mainland China are starting to become worthy of serious scholarly attention. Yet,there is total absence of studies dealing with the presence of more and more African students and the cultural manifestations of African communities well portrayed in the new African cinema, in music produced by Afro-Chinese bands or even singers.2Besides a continuing inward flow of transient Africans who come to China for business on a regular basis, a significant number of settler African traders, particularly Nigerians, have already married local Chinese women, set up families, autonomously run their businesses without recourse to Chinese intermediaries, and established a web of informal and formal committees representing their home nations and states, to solve disputes while maintaining personal and business links with Africa. Besides, those emigrant ‘bushfallers’ who are coming to China solely for business purposes, a new form of “silent” migration of Nigerians comprising students from different backgrounds is enrolling in higher education institutions in the Macau Special Administrative Region of China. These students are coming to pursue their studies or to seek a job to pay their student fees at the margin of the PRC scholarship and stipendprograms for visiting African students that were popular in China in the 1960s and mid-1970s as part of CCP’s foreign policy for Third World aiming friendly relations with Africa. Today, these “transnational” Nigerian students are in their own way affirming their identity and difference, in southern China, in particularly in Macau SAR, thanks to their network of multiple interrelations across nation-states from Africa to Asia and to a combination of perseverance, zeal, and gentleness without subservience. Although they have not been targets for the hostility and even violence like the Shanghai incident of July 1979 or the Nanjing protests in December 1988 at Hehai University targeting African students, today these Nigerian students are facing more subtle forms of ethnocentrism and legal discrimination from immigration laws to daily practices, which always try to associate their citizenship to problematic or easy stereotypes of scam or colour.3 Yet, at the same time, everything seems to indicate that these newcomers are quick adapting and finding new forms of negotiating their social integration in the Chinese local society which in turn is offering more opportunities.
This paper is part of a more ambitious project which aims to assess the new forms of migration from Africa to China and from China to Africa as well as their impact and contribution of globalization. First, this paper considers why and how Macau has evolved from a Portuguese outpost where slavery was a an institutionalized commodity to special administrative region of China where a new urban African community, mostly composed by Nigerian students, is in formation due to opportunities and rapid changes occurring in the region in the first years of the twenty-first century, by comparing the new to old African communities of students and business people/migrant workers from former Portuguese colonies (Angola, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique).Finally, borrowing the title from a sequel movie with the same title of the promising New African cinema, the paper focus on the “China Wahala”or the troubles of these Nigerian students through their tales of their experiences of racism(s) and their negotiations and responses which radically contradicts not only the slogans of cultural diversity propagated by the official discourse and tourist channels as these Nigerians are confronted daily with often dramatic situations ranging from indifference and ostracism to exclusion.

FULL TEXT HERE

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