Category Archives: Documentary

[Film] ‘Rase’s choice’, a rare #SinoAfrica documentary


The documentary is about an exceptional Chinese woman’s journey to Nigeria. Born and raised up in the Chinese city, Guangzhou, where the presence of African traders numbers some 200,000, the woman named Rase falls in love with a Nigerian trader, Kevin. Facing a wide range of racial discrimination and strict immigration control in China, Rase decides to go to live and work in Nigeria, after Kevin is forced to leave China because of an expired visa. On her arrival, tensions build up. Rase finds work at a Chinese factory where she witnesses tremendous discrimination while Kevin hesitates to continue the relationship.

[Film Review] Made-in-China: The lives and times of Africans in Guangzhou

By Lina Benabdallah for Africa is a country


Guangzhou, in Southern China, has a long tradition as a trading port. More recently, in the wake of the Chinese state’s aggressive foreign and trade policies to Africa, the city is also home to a growing community of migrants and businesspeople from that continent. The latter buy goods in bulk in Guangzhou to sell back in Africa. Some have decided to stay.

In 2009, The New Yorker published, “The Promised Land,” by Evan Osnos “… which looks at the wave of African traders moving to China. The largest group has settled in the city of Guangzhou, where Chinese neighbors have named the community Qiao-ke-li Cheng—Chocolate City.” Though Osnos’s article wasn’t the first in-depth look at African migrants in China — Osnos’s account was predated by the work of academics like Heidi Østbø Haugen, Adams Bodomo, and Roberto Castillo — however, Osnos’s article certainly mainstreamed the broad outlines of these African migrants’ experiences in China and launched an intense focus on the community of Africans in China.

African migrants’ contemporary presence in China dates back to the late 1990s when the financial crisis in Thailand and Indonesia pushed Africans (among other migrants) to look for opportunities elsewhere. To date, it is hard to find reliable information on the numbers and nationalities of the Africans in China. Academic scholarship as well as media reports estimate the numbers to be anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000. However, during the last few years, there has been a trend of African migrants leaving China to go back to their home countries after encountering hardships and disappointments. Heidi Østbø Haugen and Manon Diederich, for example, document Gambian migrants’ stories about life in China and their decision to return home. The new film, Guangzhou Dream Factory directed by Christiane Badgley and Erica Marcus, thus adds a rich account of the complexities of living in China as an African migrant.

From the very beginning, Guangzhou Dream Factory exhibits a major strength: in a break with tradition, Africans are not just objects of the camera, but subjects who represent their own stories and experiences. Through talking to expatriates of various backgrounds (and entanglements with China, including wives and children), a complex story of aspirations, deceptions, challenges, and opportunities is woven. Some of the migrants have been very successful, others disappointed, and a few have become activists in helping other Africans who have settled in the community.

For example, Rahima is an Ugandan migrant who runs an East African food service (a sort of meals-on-wheels). She is also the president of an association to look after Ugandans in Guangzhou. Rahima shares stories of broken dreams and scammed migrants who sell all what they own back home in search of dreams made in China. Many young women, she recounts, are brought to China with promises to be employed as teachers or factory workers only to find themselves forced into a choice between prostitution jobs or unbearable debt.

Rahima is filmed carrying a baby who she found in a shop near his mom’s corpse. We don’t know who the dead mom is or what part of Africa she was from. But, we do know of Eva, a Kenyan young mother who falls victim to visa-cons, quits her job in Kenya and flies to China chasing a mirage. Upon landing in China, she immediately finds out that the employment agency that she had paid was fraudulent. The only positive part about Eva’s story is that she finally manages to get back to Kenya, “jobless and indebted, but at least she was safe.”

Yet the picture is far from being all bleakness. The filmmakers talk to young African entrepreneurs who are making strong steps towards achieving their made-in-China dreams. Both Emy, a restaurateur, who aspires to makes movies in China, and the Cameroonian self-made “King of Suits,” Kingsley Azieh Che — who claims to supply about 80% of the suit whole-sale businesses in his country — are examples of the kind of opportunities that many young Africans aspire to when they think of what China means for their futures. These success stories are, unfortunately, not possible for the average African migrant to China. In an email exchange, Christiane explains that most Africans who end up doing well in China are urban, middle class. They are “people who have enough money to pay for travel, visas, accommodation, goods, etcetera. And you know that in most African countries, that is a fairly small segment of the population.”

The documentary film also raises the very poignant and pressing questions about the future of children of mixed marriages, or of those who were born to African parents but only see China to be their home. The film shows the story of a Nigerian woman, Favor, and her daughter Cherich who was born in China and speaks fluent Chinese. We learn that a few weeks after the film was finished, the immigration police caught the mom and jailed her, and that she was sent back to Nigeria with her daughter. Christiane noted that the film has opened an opportunity to voice questions of responsibility towards this generation of African children born in China, the status of their parents, and the roles that can and must be assumed by African and Chinese authorities alike.

It is true that one could simply say that these stories are no different than any typical immigrant stories, full of hope and delusion, success and disappointment. But the overall sentiment of the documentary is that African migrants in China are skilled entrepreneurs, creative business-owners, risk-takers, and resilient strong individuals. This is a contrast to the images that the “Jungle” of Calais leaves in our minds, the capsizing boats in the Mediterranean, or the bare-life camps on the fringes of the EU.

If you want to see “Guangzou Dream Factory,” it is available for educational use only. For more information and screening events check the film’s website.

[Film] Stranded in Canton, a film by Mans Mansson and Li Hongqi


«Stranded in Canton», a wry hybrid fiction-doc about a Congolese t-shirt seller stuck in Guangzhou. At times feeling like a mix of Claire Denis and Jia Zhangke, the result is a strange, sad, funny and revealing portrait of displacement, and a new kind of globalization: East meets African.
Director : Måns Månsson
Screenplay : Li Hongqi, George Cragg, Måns Månsson
Cinematographer : Måns Månsson
Producers : Måns Månsson, Patricia Drati, Vanja Kaludjercic, Alex Chung

Lebrun Iko Isibangi (Himself or a version of Himself), Nana Nya Sylvie (Herself), Frank No (Himself or a version of Himself), Wassim Hasbini (Himself)

[Documentary] ‘Just Move On’ a documentary about the lives of foreign students in China #SinoAfrica

Just Move On (2015)

Documentary displaying what life is like for foreign students and foreigners in China.
Starring Stephanie Mwiti, Perry Bamfo and Chris.
Filmed in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China
Filmed by Lofter Chaunsy of Liaoning University

[Documentary] The little story behind this website made into a documentary: ‘Drifting City’ #SinoAfrica

In 2014-15, I collaborated with a group of Korean film-makers from the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Association that produce documentaries about people on the move (transnational subjects, if you will), and how they/we have been changing Asian cities ethnoscapes. This (little) opening story above, is the real story behind my own personal interest in the broader theme of being a ‘foreigner in China’ and my specific engagement with the topic of ‘Africans in Guangzhou’. The whole documentary is not yet available but it will at some point (I’ve been told).

If you’re interested in issues of transnational migration and representation (or Inter-Asian knowledge production) and want to have a look at the full version, do not hesitate in contacting me.  See trailer and information below.

Drifting City (2015) – Directed by Jeong Kim

The ‘researcher’ became the ‘researched’:


This film depicts the journey of a Mexican, Roberto, resident in China. On his way to renew his visa, Roberto meets an African at a railway station between China and Hong Kong. “Why is an African in China?” soon changes into a reflexive inquiry: “Why is a Mexican in China?” Roberto explores the African residents’ community in China and finds many new friends. The film is thus multi- and trans-national, with a Korean director filming the process as a Mexican resident in China explores its African community. (


Staring from Guangzhou, China and Ansan,South Korea, the camera follows Roberto and his partner Nadeemy to meet an African Hip Hop singer and other Africans in China. In a process, we come to realize a whole different path of globalization in this part of the world-China and Korea. Unexpected encounters thrive on love, friendship and aspiration. Like an open cut, there are breathless moments of pain but we all continue walking and drifting in the open cities. (

[Film] #SinoAfrica film-making cooperation

For further contextualisation around SinoAfrican film opportunities and potential you MUST read this: Nollywood: an untapped opportunity for deepening Africa-China relations? [PDF] – and this diplomatic perspective

[Documentary] 14+ Must-See #SinoAfrica documentaries

Over the last decade, more than a dozen #SinoAfrica documentaries have been produced. Here’s the list of the 13+ must-see films about Chinese in Africa and Africans in China. While the SinoAfrica filmic production is still in its infancy, the materials below are part of a wider assemblage of visual contents (i.e. documentaries, movies, music videos, personal recordings) that when put together give us a very interesting, somewhat comprehensive, perspective on what’s going on between Africans and Chinese in this (transnational) day and age. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the production processes of the materials below still replicate power asymmetries in terms of (global) media representation: an overwhelming majority of the available materials are done by white westerners. So, judge by yourselves, but I believe the ‘eurocentric gaze’ has a grip on the existing SinoAfrica documentary universe.


1. When China Met Africa (UK, 2010) [Chinese in Africa]

This 2010 documentary produced by British brothers Nick and Mark Francis is one of the best films on SinoAfrica relations. With a focus on Chinese in Zambia, the Francis brothers comprehensively explore the many layers of Chinese involvement in the country. This is a documentary about grassroots exchanges between Chinese and Africans that manages to represent the SinoAfrican encounter in all its complexity. Amongst the 4 or 5 documentaries that I show to my ‘Africa China Relations’ students at HKU, this is generally their favourite. Great teaching resource! Full version available for online rent here (IMBD: 6.2/10 – 77 votes) | web:


2. Empire of Dust (Belgium, 2011) [Chinese in Africa]

At first, it’s difficult not to be suspicious about this documentary. Bram Van Paesschen, a Belgian national, directs a film that features the cultural encounter/clash of a Chinese and a Congolese in Congo. The risk of the typically biased eurocentric gaze runs high here. However, as you watch, the film becomes a really unique piece portraying the SinoAfrican everyday and the cultural (mis)understandings between Leo and Eddy (who’s perfectly fluent in Mandarin) – both men work for the Chinese Railway Engineering Company (CREC). Slow narrative, and at times seems as if it was acted, but it’s definitely worth watching. Not very suitable for classrooms (if you ask me). Full version below (7.3/10 – 61 votes)


3. The Africa China Connection (Netherlands, 2012) [Africans in China]

This is among the first documentaries that looked into the flipside of Chinese presence in Africa: Africans in China. This is perhaps the strongest reason to watch the film. Dutch director Pieter van der Houwen makes it clear since early on, ‘The Africa China Connection’ is a ‘Western’ perspective/reflection on why are Africans going to China – and NOT to Europe. Arguably, the documentary is not so much about ‘Africans in China’, as such, but about Europe’s alleged decline. In the eyes of van der Houwen, (Fortress) Europe has managed to isolate itself to a point in which it’s not attractive to Africans anymore. A yearning for the days in which young Africans dreamed of Europe (and only Europe) underwrites the film’s narrative. Critically, van der Houwen tackles some issues surrounding African presence in China (i.e. visa problems), but he mistakenly assumes that China makes it easy for foreigners to stay in the country. Having said this, the discussion about mobility/migration comes across as interesting – mainly because philosopher and political scientist Achille Mbembe, and Ian Goldin, former Vice-President of the World Bank & advisor to Nelson Mandela, analyse the significance of changes in the destinations of the African diaspora. A fly-in/ fly-out perspective but still worth the while. Full version not available (Not rated) | web: FB page


4. China Remix (USA, 2015) [Africans in China]

American directors Melissa Lefkowitz and Dorian Carli-Jones explore Guangzhou’s burgeoning African entertainment industry through the lives of three African hip-hop artists who are trying to find success in the face of China’s challenging labor and immigration laws. The film follows the entertainers as they prepare for their shows, perform, and live their daily lives with their Chinese and African family members and friends. Also a fly-in/fly-out perspective, but very worth watching! Suitable for classrooms (short documentary).

Full version here (Not rated) | web:


5. African boots of Beijing (South Africa, 2006) [Africans in China]

A 2006 documentary film by Luke Mines and Jeremy Goldkorn about Afrika United, a team of Africans playing in a football championship league in Beijing, China. Full version (Not rated)


6. King Cobra and the Dragon (2012) [Chinese in Africa]

People and Power sent Sino-French academic Solange Chatelard and filmmaker Scott Corben to Zambia during the presidential elections in September 2011 to investigate whether Africa has entered a new era of colonialism with Chinese firms maltreating workers and devouring the continent’s natural resources. Full version (Not rated)


7. The Battle for Africa (2014) [Chinese in Africa]

China’s big arrival on the continent has challenged Western powers and sparked debate about a new Battle for Africa. But the real Battle for Africa is between Africans and its leaders – a battle for better governments. Al Jazeera English’s People and Power program broadcast this two-part documentary hosted by veteran journalist Sorius SamuraFull version (Not rated)


8. African Business in China (2015) [Africans in China]

Many African entrepreneurs today consider China as the new land of opportunities. One of them is Nathalie Fodderie from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On a reconnaissance trip to Guangzhou, in Southern China, she has three weeks to find equipment for her Kinshasa restaurant that needs complete refurbishment. Fodderie works with an established network of African and Chinese middlemen and traders and haggles with some of the toughest businessmen in the world. Aljazeera’s Witness takes us through her journey, as she grapples with geographic and cultural hurdles to make a profit. Must documentaries about Africans in Guangzhou are about Nigerians – this is a rare exception. Worth watching! Full version (not rated)



9. The Chinese are Coming (UK, 2011) [Chinese in Africa]

Travelling across three continents, BBC correspondent Justin Rowlatt investigates the spread of Chinese influence around the planet and asks what the world will be like if China overtakes America as the world’s economic superpower. While many in the West view Africa as a land of poverty, to the Chinese it is seen as an almost limitless business opportunity. From Angola to Tanzania, Justin meets the fearless Chinese entrepreneurs who have travelled thousands of miles to set up businesses. Worth watching and suitable for classrooms – the least popular of the documentaries that I show to my students, though. Full version (IMBD: 5.8/10 – 48 votes)



10. Faces of Africa – When Chinese Meet Zambians (China, 2015) [Chinese in Africa]

Full version (not rated)


11. 中国人在非洲 – Chinese in Africa (China, 2015-16)

This is a recently released documentary series showcasing Chinese presence throughout the African continent. In Mandarin, no subs. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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12. China in Africa (2016)

Coming Soon!

13. A Guangzhou Love Story (USA, 2016?)

In China, an unprecedented surge in African migration has led to a rise in marriages between Chinese women and African men. A GUANGZHOU LOVE STORY captures the love, heartache, and real life challenges of Afro-Chinese couples attempting to forge a meaningful future together in the face of racism and xenophobia.

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14. Guangzhou Dream Factory (USA, 2016?)

GUANGZHOU DREAM FACTORY is a documentary portrait of the African communities of Guangzhou, China – currently in post-production.

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Extra – TV shows (Al Jazeera & CCTV)

The Stream – How China is changing Africa

Inside Story – China in Africa: investment or exploitation?

Inside Story – Is China exploiting Africa?

And the more than 100 chapters of CCTV’s Talk Africa