Tag Archives: Chinese in Africa / Africans in China Research Network

[Migration] The ‘One million Chinese in Africa’ / ‘300k Africans in China’ narratives

More often than not, African presence in China is seen/understood through a ‘Western’ lens. This lens tends to reflect EuroAmerican anxieties/perspectives around migration upon diasporic Africans in Asia. It sometimes feels as if there was only one (Eurocentric!) way of making sense of people on the move (migrants!). To problematise these Eurocentric narratives of migration has been a major task/target of my research and one of the main aims of this blog. Simplistic/reductionist narratives about Africans in China have their flipside story in how Chinese migrants in Africa are represented by media and some scholars. Below, you’ll find an important critical reflection of how ‘Western’ media/scholars often misrepresent Chinese presence in the continent by elaborating simplistic arguments about ‘neo-colonialism’, and by conflating individual Chinese entrepreneurialism with the ‘Chinese government’ attempt to build an Empire in Africa. In fact, much of what is out there (in media) about Chinese in Africa rearticulates (often regurgitates) the old ‘China threat’ and ‘Yellow peril’ tropes.

‘One Million Chinese in Africa’, by Yoon Jung Park

In fact, much of the literature on China in Africa, including work on Chinese migrants, invokes the specter of colonialism or imperialism in some “neo” form. One of the recent and highly publicized books on Chinese in Africa goes as far as to call Africa “China’s Second Continent”, the subtitle making reference to a million migrants building a new empire in Africa (French 2015). These arguments reflect a mostly Western tendency to both target (and often demonize) China and to evaluate China’s activities on the continent as a reflection of the West’s own not-so-distant histories of colonialism in Africa. The current crisis with the Islamic State and other militant Islamic groups aside, China seems to have become the primary worry of the West in large part because of perceptions that China threatens to disrupt the global power balance and the reality that China has already unseated Western states as Africa’s most valuable international partner in trade and investment. Examining the thousands of Chinese people in Africa with this sort of colonial lens is misleading and obfuscates the facts surrounding these phenomena.

It is important to place the million in context. The population of Africa is around 1.1 billion. The number of internally displaced Africans within Africa was approximately 12.5 million at the end of 2013, while the number of internal migrants in China is around 260 million, and the number of Chinese living overseas globally is likely over 35 million. There are much higher numbers of Chinese in other countries, including the US. An interactive map created by the Migration Policy Institute shows that both the raw and relative numbers of Chinese to other countries are much higher than those to Africa. So why all the fuss?

While few would see the vast numbers of Chinese migrants to the US as agents of the Chinese state, this is exactly how Chinese migrants to Africa are often framed. Concerns about China’s growing global economic influence and their increased engagement in Africa and elsewhere in the Global South no doubt plays a role in the perception of Chinese migrants on the African continent. However, research on Chinese migrants reveals that relations between these migrants and the official representatives of the Chinese state – the Chinese consulates and embassies – in Africa are strained at best. The author’s interviews with Chinese ambassadors and other Chinese diplomatic staff over the past decade or so indicate that they are, for the most part, embarrassed by the many Chinese migrants in Africa whom they see as low class and uneducated. The myriad problems they must deal with, from crime and corruption (where Chinese migrants are often both victims and perpetrators) including issues related to irregular migration status, trafficking, labor, trade and tariffs, and the environment are viewed with frustration and shame. In a 2008 interview conducted by the author, one Chinese ambassador to a southern African country confided: “They are my biggest headache”. In short, there is no love lost between Chinese migrants and their official counterparts in Africa, and Chinese migrants in Africa can hardly be seen as state agents… [KEEP READING HERE]


Yoon Jung Park is a freelance researcher, convener of the Chinese in Africa/Africans in China Research Network, and adjunct professor of African Studies at Georgetown University. She has also held positions at Howard University, University of Johannesburg, Rhodes University, and the University of the Witwatersrand. Her research interests include Chinese migration/migrants in Africa; migration, race/ethnicity, and identity; and racism and xenophobia. She is author of “A Matter of Honour. Being Chinese in South Africa” and dozens of articles and reports on Chinese people – both migrants and citizens – in Africa. She is currently working on a book on Chinese migrants in Africa.

[DIY course] Free online Africa – China Relations course #SinoAfrica

Africa – China Relations


Welcome to the free, online version of ‘Africa – China Relations’, an undergrad, introductory & interdisciplinary course taught at the University of Hong Kong.

At this stage, below you’ll find the course contents as they stand as of early 2016. In the future, the presentations (prezis) will be replaced by video lectures (narrated prezis), but I’m still in the process of finding both time and funding to do so.

Finally, I believe that the best way to improve/expand my knowledge about any subject is by sharing it as it is – this has always been the leading idea behind this blog & and behind my scholarly work. There is a lot to improve (of course!) but as an introductory, free, online course, the assemblage of ideas, readings, videos, discussions & arguments in this collection are on the cutting edge of #SinoAfrica debates. In the future, I plan to add more advanced (and specific) courses but, first, let me take a selfie; and second, 摸着石头过河



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Course Description

In recent years, China and Africa have renewed their relations at many different levels. From political engagement to increased trade and economic relations, and perhaps more importantly, to increased contact between ordinary Africans and Chinese. The figures of Chinese living in Africa, and Africans living in China, have increased to a point that has no parallel in the history between these two regions. What are the implications of contemporary Sino-African engagements? What does this mean for the future of these regions and the world? In order to provide answers to these questions, this course introduces the main debates around Sino-African engagements and analyses some of the associated sociocultural, political and economic processes. Instead of simply reviewing the main literature on Africa-China relations, this course takes you into a critical and interdisciplinary journey in which crucial aspects of these relations are analysed through various texts and documentaries. Through discussion and analysis, this course will challenge extant narratives about Africa-China relations and delve into the possibilities (i.e. opportunities and challenges) that this ‘renewed’ engagement entails.

Course Objectives

  • Consider the ways in which Sino-African relations have evolved throughout history and to explore the possibilities for the future.
  • Explain the complex and contested dynamics of Africa-China relations.
  • Critically analyse and challenge extant representations about Chinese presence in Africa and African presence in China.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate:

  • an understanding of historical encounters, contemporary exchanges, and issues of representation around Africa-China relations;
  • general knowledge around the major debates, themes and concepts in Africa-China relations;
  • an ability to critically engage in discussions about the topic, and reflexively apply the knowledge generated in the course to future research.


Week 2: A new scramble for Africa?

(If you are unable to navigate the Prezi through this screen you can also view this Prezi on the website)

Primary reading

Large, D. ‘Beyond the Dragon in the Bush’.

Screening: The Battle for Africa


Week 3: Early encounters and pre-modern imaginations: did the Chinese discover Africa?

(If you are unable to navigate the Prezi through this screen you can also view this Prezi on the website)

Primary reading

Snow, P. ‘Chinese Columbus’

Wyatt, D. ‘Blacks of premodern China’ Chapter 1

Other sources

Smidt, W. ‘A Chinese in the Nubian and Abyssinian Kingdoms (8th Century)’

Wilensky. ‘The Magical Kunlun and ‘Devil Slaves’: Chinese perceptions of dark skinned people and Africa before 1500’

Keywords: #Kunlun #ZhengHe #ChengHo #Trade #DuHuan #Malindi #IbnBattuta #MingDinasty #VascoDaGama #NewSilkRoad #Coolies


[Research] A micro-literature review on #Africans in #Guangzhou #China in 12 tweets #SinoAfrica

[Open Research] ‘Homing’ Guangzhou: Emplacement, belonging and precarity among Africans in China*

Roberto Castillo (2015). International Journal of Cultural Studies.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 10.01.02 pmStreet crossing in Guangyuan West Road. 

The number of Africans sojourning, recurrently visiting and/or ‘living’ in Guangzhou since the early 2000s has no parallel in the history of the region.(1) There are no conclusive figures on the size of the population; however, different estimates range from 1500 to over 20,000 (see Bodomo, 2010; Li et al., 2008).(2) While significant efforts have been made to define the types and origins of individuals in the city (Bodomo, 2012; Li et al., 2012; Zhang, 2008), extant research has tended to represent Africans as a mass of traders (see Bertoncelo and Bredeloup, 2007; Bredeloup, 2012; Haugen, 2011; Mathews and Yang, 2012; Muller and Rainer, 2013) and to conflate their presence in the region with a wave of immigration (see Haugen, 2012; Lan, 2014).

Drawing on my fieldwork in Guangzhou (conducted between 2011 and 2014), I contend that these representations fail to account for the complexities associated with the multiple trajectories, stories and mobilities of individuals in the city. Indeed, if one considers the diverse rationales behind the multiple forms of mobility that drive individuals into transnational movement/activities between Africa and China, then a different perspective emerges: one in which Africans from diverse walks of life arrive in Guangzhou for myriad reasons, and then subsequently occupy various (usually transient) emplacements. Taking these multiple emplacements and trajectories into consideration leads to a more thorough understanding of the dynamics informing place-making processes and the experiences of Africans in the city, and renders representations of the African presence in the region as a wave of immigration problematic. While I suggest that the ‘immigrants’ label should be avoided, it is in no way my intention to characterize these mobile subjects as having no connection to place. Indeed, through ethnographic analysis and the deployment of analytical constructs, I endeavour to describe and discuss how individuals on the move attempt to ‘home’ themselves while navigating through their transnational journeys.

Most migration-related literature on place-making has focused on the ways in which immigrants forge collective identities when facing discrimination or poverty in a host society (Gill, 2010) – less effort has been directed towards assessing how people moving in transnational circuits might (or might fail to) feel at ‘home’ throughout their journeys. This article is an attempt to bridge this gap by bringing together the place-making strategies and the structures of feeling that intersect in the notion of ‘home’. Following Ahmed (2000), I contend that to better understand the ways in which ‘people on the move’ structure feelings of ‘at-homeness’, we need to pay closer attention to the affective, material and symbolic processes through which place-making and ‘homing’ during transnational journeys occur. ‘Home’, I argue, is not necessarily a place to go back to. It can be a process and a feeling (an embodied experience) that can be (re)produced while on the move, and ‘emplaced’ in several locations. Moreover, I maintain that under certain modes of transnational movement, ‘home’ can be emplaced within transiency, and it is by using this notion of ‘emplacement within transiency’ that I highlight how individuals are differently emplaced and how they often attempt to (re)produce a feeling of ‘being at home’ while on the move. I do this by following the stories and insights of two Nigerian community leaders, Tony E. and O. Emma, and by exploring some of the strategies that individuals and collectives employ to negotiate their everyday lives in Guangzhou under conditions of transiency and precarity.

As in many cases of transnational mobility,(3) the precarity experienced by most Africans in Guangzhou is predicated on economic uncertainty; in this particular case, however, the precarity is heightened by the logics of surveillance and control imposed on populations by the Chinese state. While sometimes paralysing, precarity can, nonetheless, function as a trigger encouraging individuals to develop structures of solidarity and networks of support. These networks, structured by (and structuring) the emergence of grassroots forms of organization (i.e. sporting clubs and community offices) are crucial sites for individual and collective attempts to ‘feel at home’ in Guangzhou. Throughout this article, these attempts to (re)create a measure of stability, familiarity and security under conditions of transiency, migrancy and precarity are referred to as ‘precarious homing’. As I will show, precarious homing is intrinsically connected to the notion of emplacement within transiency. This connection not only helps to elucidate the conditions under which individuals are emplaced while on the move but also makes their everyday efforts to (re)create a sense of ‘being at home’ clear. Indeed, through particular place-making practices and ‘homing’ projects some Africans have managed to generate the necessary spaces where senses of belonging to communities emerge.

Looking for ‘greener pastures’ in southern China

A trip to a secret soccer pitch 

On a Saturday morning in mid 2013, I waited for Tony, a prominent member of Guangzhou’s Nigerian community, in front of Canaan Wholesale Clothing Market in the area of Guangyuan West Road. For many Nigerians in Guangzhou, Canaan is a landmark. Almost a decade ago, it became the first hub of Nigerian and Ghanaian traders in the city. Nowadays, most of the stores in several of Guangyuan West Road’s wholesale markets are Nigerian-run. At around 11, Tony arrived in his new Korean SUV. With an eclectic mix of Nigerian pop and Americana blaring on the stereo, Tony drove me out to what he had previously referred to as an ‘undisclosed location’ – a somewhat lonely patch of grass serving as a soccer pitch in the northern outskirts of the city.

‘We [Nigerians] have been coming here for 16 years,’ Tony said. ‘Everybody is welcome on the pitch, but we keep the location private. We are safe here. Nobody harasses us and the police never come.’ It is there that Tony and the coach, Ken O, try out new players and select the most talented ones to play for the team they manage – Owners FC – the first African club to have joined Guangzhou’s International Premier League. While some of the players on the field have professional experience, others are newcomers to the sport. ‘Training is an opportunity to play some soccer, meet people, and make friends,’ Tony explained. ‘And if the players make it to the team, they might get exposure to Chinese recruiting agents.’ Out on the pitch that day, Ken was drilling some 15 players to do a combination of sprints and push-ups, while another 10 were laid out among the sports bags and sneakers in the shade behind one of the goal posts. Although it was the tail end of summer, the sun was still scorching. In addition to the players, a 3-year-old was kicking a ball around. With play at the other end of the pitch, the goalkeeper turned and asked sternly for the half-Nigerian, half-Chinese child to show his passport and visa. Everyone laughed. ‘There are many young Nigerians here without valid visas,’ Tony said, explaining the joke. ‘There may be hundreds only in Guangzhou.’ Indeed, at that day’s training session, only five people had valid visas – the rest were overstayers.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 10.05.57 pmKen talks to the players during the training.

The group on the pitch could be a representative sample of Nigerians and, to some extent, other African nationalities in the city. By focusing on personal stories and mobilities, for instance, it is possible to identify three main trajectories: those who attempt to live in Guangzhou; those who recurrently visit the city; and those who pass through it (this group is the majority). Within the first two trajectories, it is possible to discern at least four types of emplacements: the ‘more established’; the ‘semi-settled’; the ‘itinerants’; and the ‘newly arrived’ – and overstayers can and do emerge from all of these emplacements. The ‘more established’ (or pioneers) are a minority comprising those who, like Tony, arrived over a decade ago and who have managed (predominantly through hard work, investment and/or marriage) to ‘establish’ themselves in Guangzhou. The ‘semi-settled’ (or less established), like Ken, move in and out of the country several times every year (mainly for business and visa reasons). Individuals in both these emplacements tend to have deeper engagements in communities and function frequently as mediators between Chinese and African businesspeople. Many also think of Guangzhou as their main ‘home’.(4) In addition to these two groups, there are the ‘itinerants’, who constantly transit through multiple locations in transnational circuits of trade (usually on short income-boosting trips) and whose presence in China is highly transient and relatively superficial. And, finally, there are the ‘newly arrived’, like some of the players, who have only recently left their countries in search of opportunities and success. Despite their different trajectories, emplacements and stories, a common thread runs through the accounts of most of the Africans I met in the city: a lack of certainty about their future in China. Nonetheless, as with the group on the pitch, individuals are differently emplaced and their strategies for coping with difficulties and uncertainties are multifarious.

‘China is a difficult place’: emplacing people on the move in southern China

Southern China has historically been a migrant sending region (Hoe, 2013; Ong, 1993); however, over the last three decades, the region has rapidly become an important destination in transnational and translocal geographies of mobility (see Ngai, 2005; Pieke, 2012). Every year, countless individuals from across the country and the world converge in Guangzhou, and its surrounding cities, looking for opportunities.(5) Arguably, the region is a crossroads of multiple forms of mobility, crucial to the understanding of how several Chinese social, cultural and economic processes are being (re)connected to those in other parts of the world. At the level of individuals, the region is an exemplar of the contemporary intersections and interactions between people on the move in China both transnationally and translocally.

Recently, the salience of African presence in Guangzhou has led to the emergence of a significant body of knowledge on the topic (Bertoncelo and Bredeloup, 2007, 2009; Bodomo, 2010, 2012; Bredeloup, 2012; Castillo, 2014; Han, 2013; Haugen, 2013, 2012; Lan, 2014; Le Bail, 2009; Li et al., 2008, 2009, 2012; Mathews and Yang, 2012; Rennie, 2009; Zhang, 2008). Most of these researchers have framed the African presence in the city through the binary of foreigners (migrants/immigrants) versus a fixed ‘local’ Chinese population. However, in order to better understand the dynamics and (im)mobilities behind African presence in Guangzhou, it is imperative to move beyond this distinction and problematize the notion of the ‘local’. Indeed, rather than a group of foreign migrants encountering a settled local population, Africans in the city mainly intersect and interact with ‘Chinese’ individuals on the move: ‘internal migrants’ of different ethnicities.(6)

A further conceptual move is needed to clarify the nature of the spaces in which such intersections occur. This move requires thinking of ‘individuals on the move’ beyond the lens of methodological nationalism,(7) and to rethink the national scale as a contingent rather than an absolute force in organizing different types of migrant experiences (Ellis, 2012). Accordingly, if the mobile subjects converging in Guangzhou (both foreign and internal) are brought onto the same plane, a different mapping of their experiences is possible. In this mapping, precarity and liminality emerge as shared conditions that characterize both foreign and internal ‘migrant’ emplacements, thus critically problematizing the distinction between ‘locals’ and ‘foreigners’. Indeed, I argue that some of the difficulties Africans face in China, such as structural and legal impediments, renewing visas, immobility from overstaying, police harassment, and the impossibility of permanent residency, bear a striking resemblance to the difficulties experienced by many internal migrants: economic vulnerability, lack of belonging, social exclusion, harassment, hampered residential rights and impaired mobilities. Indeed, the strict visa regulations affecting Africans could be compared to the hukou system used to control internal migrants.(8) While I am not suggesting that foreign and internal subjects occupy the same emplacements or have the same experiences (obviously linguistic and cultural factors need to be taken into account), this comparison is not unfounded and needs to be taken seriously by researchers trying to explain the difficulties faced by Africans in the city.

In fact, since 2008, foreigners in China have been categorized as ‘floating population’ (a common designation for internal migrants) and are supposedly subject to the rules and regulations controlling its management (Lan, 2014). It could then be said that Africans as a group (or ‘minority’ as Bodomo [2012] has called them) have been informally inserted into China’s complex systems of population control and, as a result, have been subject to the dynamics of surveillance used to police ‘Chinese’ ethnic minorities – dynamics that are best characterized by erratic but systematic control/repression. It is these dynamics that have been characterized by researchers, journalists and individuals (who are perhaps unaware of the experiences of other minorities) as racial profiling and discrimination aimed specifically at Africans.(9) So, while the historical experiences of internal migrants in Guangzhou are beyond the scope of this article, this comparison serves two interrelated purposes: first, it contextualizes African presence in the region within the complex translocal mobilities of southern China (mobilities which have been thoroughly explored by Ngai [1999, 2005] and Sun [2009] in their investigations of Chinese rural-to-urban migrations); and, second, it equates the experiences of Africans with the precarity, liminality and unbelonging of internal migrants, thus challenging the common assumption that the difficulties faced by Africans in China are (or have been) unique.(10)

Indeed, as part of a push to control this (African) ‘floating population’, the provincial and central governments have implemented a series of measures to gradually regulate and, as Lan (2014) suggests, hamper its growth. The most relevant of these measures are: a regulation requiring Guangzhou’s residents to report any ‘malpractice’ involving foreigners, such as illegal entry, overstaying and working/doing business without permits (Lan, 2014; Lau, 2012); housing and business registration obstacles (Zhang, 2008); and the tightening of the visa extension system at the local level.(11) It is these measures, along with partial geographical entrapment (most Africans need visas to enter other countries in the region) and, in some cases, economic hardship, that are identified by many individuals as factors exacerbating their difficulties in China.(12)‘China is a difficult place,’ is a pervasive phrase used by many of the Africans that I met in Guangzhou, regardless of their status or emplacement in the city. [KEEP READING HERE]

*This article was published in a special journal issue dedicated to the discussion of how the notion of ‘home’ is being reconfigured in the context of multiple global modernities.

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“This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by SAGE in the International Journal of Cultural Studies on 03 March 2015, (PDF) available online at: http://ics.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/03/12/1367877915573767.abstract

To cite this article: Castillo, Roberto (2015). ‘Homing’ Guangzhou: Emplacement, belonging and precarity among Africans in China, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Online First. doi:10.1177/1367877915573767.

[Research] The 3rd International Conference on Chinese in Africa / Africans in China

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 7.18.18 pmPhoto by Kathy Huang

The 3rd International Conference on Chinese in Africa/Africans in China, was successfully organised by the Chinese in Africa – Africans in China Research Network at Jinan University, Guangzhou, China PRC, 12-14 December 2014. Thanks to Heidi Haugen, Tu Huynh, Yoon Jung Park, and to everyone else who made this possible.

See you in Nairobi! 

[RESEARCH] Chinese in Africa/Africans in China Research Network: 2014 conference

The next Chinese in Africa/Africans in China conference will be held in Guangzhou Dec 12-14 2014. It is hosted by the CA/AC network in collaboration with Jinan University.

The conference focuses on people-related aspect of China-Africa engagements. We invite scholars in this field to propose themes for the conference panels that they would like to chair. The panels can be theoretically, empirically, or methodologically defined. The prospective panel chairs are not expected to provide a list of participants, but help us circulate a call for abstracts to prospective presenters later.


For the full call for panels, see
Deadline for panels proposals: January 20, 2014
A call for abstracts will be issued in February 2014.

Contact: Heidi Østbø Haugen
Postdoctoral researcher
Department of Sociology and Human Geography
University of Oslo