According to a CNN report, Guangzhou, already thronged by internal migrants, became an accidental experiment of multiculturism in China, as loose immigration rules and factories churned out cheap products, attracting many African entrepreneurs.
According to Prof. Adams Bodomo’s book “Africans in China”, an African-Chinese minority would arise as interracial marriages in the community flourished. However, by April 2020, only 4,550 Africans were living in Guangzhou, according to local authorities, including students and diplomats as well as businesspeople.
Further on, the number diminished due to several repatriation flights to Nigeria and Kenya and tougher coronavirus-era visa rules, with most foreigners barred from entry to China, according to experts and Africans.
“For the whole issue of African traders in Guangzhou, I suspect that era is over,” says Gordon Mathews, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Business has been one of the main reasons for the decline of the African community in China over the past year.
However, as Chinese migrants in Africa can easily order from Chinese factories themselves, and sell to locals where they are living, Africans have been cut out of the equation in their home nations.
“China wants to be the middleman and not have Africans (in its borders)… So it would make much more sense for the Chinese merchants to move to Africa, rather than having the Africans go to China,” said Mathews.
On top of that, the Africans also brought with them value systems that did not easily fit in with China’s political environment, according to CNN.
Many Africans were deeply religious, founding underground Christian churches. However, Beijing clamped down on the non-state sanctioned religion in recent years, raiding their house churches, which were shut down by local police.
Guangzhou also attracted communities of Hui and Uyghurs, Muslim minorities in China, who began serving halal food to the African incomers. As hostility to Islamic populations increased across China in wake of the crackdown on Islam in Xinjiang, restaurants serving halal food began to remove Arabic writing, according to the report.
Most African parents live in a status of constantly renewing one-year visas, and those who could not secure these overstayed. In 2011, the provincial authorities clamped down on overstayers, offering rewards to Chinese who turned them in, and making it illegal for employers, hoteliers or educational institutes to serve them.
A Chinese government-led campaign in 2014 tore down signage in the area that celebrated foreign trade, swept up street stalls serving local cuisines, and introduced a heavy police presence.
CNN reported that Africans across the city were evicted from their homes and hotels, and forced to live on the streets. Guangzhou authorities also sparked unproven fears that Africans were vectors of Covid-19 after some Nigerians tested positive for the virus.
Despite this, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian last year said: “The Chinese government treats all foreigners in China equally, opposes any differentiated practices targeted at specific groups of people, and has zero tolerance for discriminatory words and actions.”
Many Africans are now reluctant to return to Guangzhou once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.