Global discourses about China’s three decades of impressive economic growth have impacted on the way China is imagined outside its borders – a ‘new land of opportunities,’ is a common claim. Whether or not these discourses or claims are accurate, over the last decade, thousands of foreigners have made their way into the country evincing a major transformation: China is increasingly seen as a destination by those seeking transnational economic opportunities. This paper examines the material practices linked to the recent arrival of African traders and migrants to the Xiaobei district in Guangzhou. I argue that to make better sense of the engagements, tensions, affects, and accommodations that these individuals are articulating, we need not only pay attention to trade logistics and governmental policies but also to everyday spaces and the changing materialities in city ethnoscapes. I focus on food consumption, entertainment, fashion, and mobility, claiming that objects like garments, movies, wigs, and even Uighur-peddled chicken or fish (‘Africa-style’) are the material embodiments of a buoyant ‘transnational assemblage’. This paper draws on the works of Delanda (2006) and Ong (2004) on assemblages, and from Appadurai (1996) and Glick Schiller (1992) on translocality and transnationalism. By utilising an assemblage theory approach, I avoid the straightjackets of extant conceptualisations of Africans in Guangzhou (emergent ‘African’ community vs. collapsing ‘ethnic’ enclave), and highlight the transiency and complexity of this social formation. I am also able to locate the forces and scales that drive and determine the appearance of the material practices described, at the intersections of translocal and transnational geographies and imaginations. Although everyday material practices and objects are often disregarded by more structural analyses, this paper argues that they are crucial to the process of an individual’s ability to make sense of a transnational space, and that they make evident how major transformations are impacting in the lived-worlds of people in China, Africa, and in-between.
Well, today is day one of the research project that I will be working in during the next couple of years: African presence in China.
I will investigate one of the least researched areas within the wider framework of contemporary Sino-African cultural and political exchanges: the presence of West African ‘migrants’ in southern China. The focus of the research will be to analyse how ‘new’ African diasporic identities are being formed in China, and to examine the plausibility of the ’emergence’ of African communities in the Pearl River Delta region -particularly in the city of Guangzhou- from a Cultural Studies/Cultural History perspective. In particular, this research will gather and evaluate data from historical records, popular culture, political discourse, personal journeys, racial representations, and global economic and cultural trends that inform how people from several different African nationalities might experience China.
Originally, I thought about this topic as a possible research project when I saw these images back in 2009:
Another version of the same incident here:
This is an interesting quick media report on the African presence in China:
If the presence of Africans in China still doesn’t make any sense to you, see here an audio slide show by Evan Osnos on African merchants living in China.
I will use this space to share my findings (of all kinds), it’ll work as a research weblog and journal 🙂
Finally, it is worth noting that I will be undertaking this research project from a position in the Cultural Studies Department at Lingnan University in Hong Kong under the sponsorship of the Hong Kong Phd Fellowship Scheme (If you are looking forward to do research in Hong Kong universities on HK or CHINA related topics, I strongly suggest you to visit the HKPFS website).