The Rise and Fall of China’s Little Africa

At the turn of the 21st century, Guangzhou — already a magnet for internal migrants — became an accidental experiment in multiculturalism in China, as loose immigration rules and factories churning out cheap products attracted droves of African entrepreneurs. Business boomed, and by 2012 as many as 100,000 Sub-Saharan Africans had flocked to the city. As interracial marriages in the community flourished, Bodomo theorized that, in time, an African-Chinese minority would arise, becoming China’s 57th ethnic group and demanding full citizenship rights. Today, that looks unlikely. By April last year, just 4,550 Africans were living in Guangzhou, according to local authorities, including students and diplomats as well as businesspeople. One reason for the decline of the African community over the past year is strictly business. In 2019 alone, of the 2.95 million foreigners entering China through Guangzhou, 358,000 were from African countries, according to local officials. Many came on quick visits to buy from the region’s factories, using African residents as middlemen to connect with Chinese wholesalers. When Covid-19 prevented foreigners from visiting China, the factory owners of the Pearl River Delta — often cited as the world’s biggest urban area — had to rethink their business model.

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