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African migrants in China

Photographer: Roman Pilipey

 

It started during the late 1990s, when thousands of African expatriates, most of them traders and business people, began to move to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou in search for a better life. In the 2000s, during a time of economic boom in China, the country's African population rapidly started growing, with settled African migrants building their own small businesses and creating the biggest African community in China, now known as 'Little Africa' or the 'promised land'.

 

The area stretches for about 7 kilometers from Dengfeng urban village, the heart of Guangzhou's Little Africa, to Sanyuanli area, a place full of wholesale markets where people can buy almost everything - from products, clothing, and wigs to electronics.

 

It is hard to determine the exact number of African expats living in China nowadays. According to the book 'Africans in China' by Professor Adams Bodomo, around 100,000 Africans settled in Guangzhou by 2012. City border checkpoints recorded some 430,000 arrivals and exits by nationals from African countries in the first nine months of 2014.

 

But since the 2014, thousands of African migrants have begun to leave Little Africa after the Chinese government initiated a so-called 'beautification' of Dengfeng urban village and started to control the African-populated area more carefully and deporting those who, for example, overstayed their visas. By February 2017, according to a Guangzhou police official, there were around 10,000 Africans officially registered in the city. It is however likely that the number of Africans living in Guangzhou is higher than the official figures suggest.

 

Other reasons more African expats are exiting Guangzhou include China's slowing economy compared 10 years ago, and unfavorable exchange rates. But the African community in Guangzhou has also been experiencing various social challenges: many Chinese people are not happy to share their land with African migrants. They will do business with African people but not develop friendships. And so, despite living numerous years in Guangzhou, many expatriates are disappointed to find that they are still not accepted by Chinese society.

 

So while many African people still come to Guangzhou in search for their own 'Chinese dream' of a better life, the multitude of challenges facing the biggest African community in China leaves the future of Little Africa fraught with uncertainty.