by Sam Sturgis for CityLab from The Atlantic
China Remix looks at African immigrant communities in China’s “Chocolate City,” celebrating the power of rap music to bring communities together.
The first nonstop flight from Africa to China took off in 2008. It would be reasonable to expect that it was bound for Beijing, the cultural and political capital of China. Or to Shanghai, its financial behemoth. But the flight touched down in lesser-known Guangzhou, China’s third-most populated city, along the southern coast.
Dubbed “The Promised Land,” by the New Yorker in 2009, Guangzhou has become the land of milk and honey for China’s growing population of African immigrants. African businessmen and women ply their crafts along bustling streets. Some own restaurants. Many others work the export-import markets day and night, negotiating deals between Guangzhou and their home cities in Africa. In one neighborhood, Dengfeng, the African community is so dense that it’s commonly referred to as “The Chocolate City.” This is how Evan Osnos, writing for the New Yorker, described a local market called Canaan:
Lining the sidewalks are passport-photo booths, mobile-phone venders, and shops crammed with jeans and T-shirts, alligator-skin cap-toe shoes and made-to-measure suits, soccer jerseys and bulletproof vests (four hundred and ten dollars for blue nylon; five hundred and fifty-six dollars for camouflage). But the real business goes on inside, where merchants cut deals for bogus and factory-reject Prada and Lacoste and Polo. The Canaan economy is all cash and unhindered by borders: “one hundred per cent human hair” extensions are clipped from heads in India, braided by hand in China, and packed for sale in West Africa.
This scene of buzzing economic activity captures the perception that many residents, both Chinese and from elsewhere, have of Guangzhou’s African population: Foreigners in an ardent pursuit of economic gain.
“Existing research has tended to represent these Africans as a mass of traders,” Roberto Castillo, a Guangzhou-based researcher who studies Africans in China,explained in a YouTube videocast. Castillo adds that, “the overarching trading narrative reinforces notions of Africans in the city as merely profit-seeking exporters.” This characterization of an immigrant community strictly guided by Guangzhou’s commercial sector is pretty reductive. [KEEP READING HERE]
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