As the global media apparatus is full on building a narrative of ‘Africans leaving China’, it’s important to keep in mind that besides Guangzhou there are other cities like Yiwu and Wuhan with significant African populations.
Global Times: As Guangzhou African community shrinks, other Chinese cities see growing numbers
Yiwu, home to the world’s biggest wholesale market, is also becoming a hub for China-Africa trade as its African community thrives. Many African traders regard Yiwu as their second home, as they are given opportunities to participate in the city’s affairs, enjoy a high level of religious freedom, and are treated with respect by law enforcement officers.
Senegalese businessman Sourakhata Tirera sits in his office in Yiwu. Photo: Zhang Yu/GT
Sitting in his office in Yiwu, East China’s Zhejiang Province, Sourakhata Tirera, a Senegalese businessman, shifts easily between Chinese, French and his mother tongue Soninke to answer phone calls from his suppliers, partners and employees.
A successful businessman who has lived in the city since 2007, Tirera, known by locals as his Chinese name “Sula,” is now a proud representative of the thriving African community in Yiwu.
The local government put up a poster with his face on it in the train station and on billboards alongside the city’s main road, as a way to laud his entrepreneurial spirit but also to showcase the city’s embrace of foreign traders.
While Guangzhou was the first Chinese city to receive large numbers of African traders and still boasts the country’s biggest African community, experts say it is increasingly losing its leading position to Yiwu, which is becoming China’s model international and multicultural trade city.
While recent reports show that the number of Africans in Guangzhou is gradually shrinking, Yiwu’s African population is on the rise. “When [Africans] leave Guangzhou, some leave China but some go to other places in China, like Yiwu. Those that leave Guangzhou leave because, among other things, they want to find better opportunities in other parts of China and elsewhere,” Adams Bodomo, Professor of African Studies at the University of Vienna and author of 2012 book Africans in China, told the Global Times.
The exact number of Africans living in Yiwu, which sits in the manufacturing hub of East China’s Zhejiang Province, is hard to come by. Local authorities estimate that about 80,000 African traders visit Yiwu each year, in addition to about 3,000 traders from over 50 African countries who have settled in the city of some 1.2 million. But experts say the number of Africans living in the city may be as high as 30,000.
Yiwu is also playing a growing role in China-Africa trade. In 2015, Yiwu exported 48.21 billion yuan ($7.24 billion) of commodities to Africa, a 50.9 percent year-on-year increase.
Walking on Yiwu’s streets, it’s impossible to miss the African presence. In Yiwu International Trade City, Moroccan women wearing headscarves and robes bargain with local shop owners through the medium of calculators and broken English. Nigerian traders gather outside logistics companies as they pack bags of underwear into cartons which are about to be shipped. At night, businessmen from North Africa relax in the city’s many halal restaurants, as they smoke hookah pipes after a day’s work. And on Friday, the area near the mosque by the Yiwu river, one of the largest mosques in China, buzzes with Chinese Muslims and traders from North Africa and the Middle East, who flock to the mosque to pray. [KEEP READING HERE]