CNN:s Jenni Marsh rapporterar om och från den stad i Stillahavsasien (Nordost- och Sydostasien) som fram tills alldeles nyligen inhyste den största svarta befolkningen och minoriteten i denna region av världen – nämligen Guangzhou i södra Kina (eller Kanton som européerna kände staden som tidigare i historien) och som alltid i Kinas historia har varit en kosmopolitisk stad där det tidigare fanns en stor västerländsk närvaro och fram tills pandemins utbrott 2020 en subsaharisk afrikansk befolkning som uppgick till hela 100 000 invånare.
Subsahariska afrikaner och nordost- och sydostasiater har haft kontakt med varandra långt tillbaka i historien och mycket längre tillbaka i historien än innan européerna vare sig kom till subsahariska Afrika eller till Stillahavsasien såsom under Sidenvägen-perioden när bl a Kina handlade med dagens Östafrika och när både asiater och afrikaner regelbundet besökte varandras länder. Under kolonialtiden mellan 1500-talet och 1800-talet tog européerna sedan regelbundet med sig sina svarta slavar till Asien, vilka bl a har avsatt spår i målningar i bl a Japan där 1700-talets holländare kunde porträtteras tillsammans med sina slavar från Sydafrika och Nederländska Karibien.
Under Andra världskriget, Koreakriget, Vietnamkriget och Kalla kriget kom sedan 100 000-tals fr a svarta amerikaner att både strida och stupa i, och vara stationerade i och tjänstgöra i regionen. 1000-tals av de svarta amerikanska männen fick också genom årtiondena barn med ”local/native”-kvinnorna i en mängd olika länder såsom i Filippinerna, Vietnam, Thailand, Sydkorea, Japan och Taiwan och så är också fallet i Guangzhou där ett stort antal fr a svarta afrikanska män har gift sig med kinesiska kvinnor ända sedan Kina öppnade sig för omvärlden på 90-talet (OBS: självklart händer det också att afrikanska kvinnor gifter sig med asiatiska män men det är då långt vanligare med det motsatta), vilket har gjort att det numera finns en hel minoritet och s k community av blandade eller mixade svarta asiater i Guangzhou och varav åtminstone en har blivit en s k ”celebrity” i Kina – TV-kändisen Zhong Fei Fei.
Förutom i Guangzhou finns det en relativt stor svart närvaro även i vissa städer i Japan i form av svarta amerikanska expats och subsahariska afrikaner liksom svarta amerikanska soldater och även i Sydkorea finns det fortfarande ett antal tusen svarta amerikanska soldater. I åtskilliga länder i Stillahavsasien finns det dessutom relativt stora grupper av blandade eller mixade svarta asiater vars svarta fäder av olika anledningar har lämnat landet och många av dessa blandade eller mixade svarta asiater har ända sedan 1950-talet adopterats bort till Väst.
Jag var själv i Guangzhou för några år sedan och även om jag besökte och även bodde i den gamla europeiska stadsdelen så såg jag en hel del afrikaner på stadens gator och många fler än vad som är brukligt i Kinas övriga storstäder.
“When the coronavirus pandemic ground China to a near-halt in early February last year, Youssouf Dieng jetted back to Dakar for, he thought, a brief sojourn. In reality, it was a year before Dieng – who had worked as a goods trader in the manufacturing hub of Guangzhou in southern China for two decades – could return, on an air ticket three times the usual cost, and a complicated business visa.
By then, the pandemic had driven hundreds of Africans out of Guangzhou, sparked the most severe anti-Black racial clashes in China in decades, and remade business operations, with Chinese factories connecting with African customers directly over e-commerce platforms.
”Now it is very, very quiet,” Dieng says of Little Africa, a nook of Guangzhou informally named after the swell of thriving African businessmen who once lived, ate and prayed there in huge numbers.
”Not many foreigners now, and all the small shops are closed. Small business around here? No more.” 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, according to Prof. Adams Bodomo’s book ”Africans in China.”
While that figure was never verified, it pointed to the generally accepted opinion that, between 2005 and 2012, at least, this was the largest African expatriate community in Asia. 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.
Ten months on, more than a dozen experts and Africans who spoke with CNN said that number has further dwindled, due to several repatriation flights to Nigeria and Kenya, and tougher coronavirus-era visa rules, with most foreigners barred from entry to China. Many who remain are rooted in China by Chinese wives and children.”
“For centuries, Guangzhou has intermittently been a nerve center for migrants, whether internal or foreign. When African traders arrived in the city in the early 2000s, they formed a particularly visible enclave – partly because they tended to congregate in one or two relatively small areas, and partly because black skin had not before been widely seen in China in large numbers.
The Africans also brought with them value systems that did not easily fit in with China’s political environment. Many were deeply religious, founding underground Christian churches, which sometimes attracted Chinese congregations – a deeply contentious practice in a country where proselytizing by foreigners is illegal. As Beijing clamped down on non-state sanctioned religion in recent years, their house churches were raided and shut down by local police.
Africans from Muslim nations also continued to practice Islam, a religion Guangzhou has a long connection with, being home to China’s oldest mosque. Guangzhou attracted communities of Hui and Uyghurs, Muslim minorities in China, who began serving halal food to the African incomers, as did a range of Middle Eastern eateries. But in recent years, as hostility to Islamic populations increased across China in the wake of the crackdown on Islam in the country’s western region of Xinjiang, Africans have reported that restaurants serving halal food began to remove Arabic writing from their menus and signage.
Africans also formed small democracies within their own communities, voting for a head of each nation within Guangzhou, to lobby on their behalf with the local authorities on matters such as visas.”
“While many Africans spoke of leaving Guangzhou in the years leading up to the pandemic, much of the community remained, often rooted by marriages, children, a lack of better opportunity in Africa or elsewhere, and ultimately a sense of home.
While there is no official data on how many Africans in Guangzhou married Chinese women, a walk through the strip malls of Little Africa in recent years made it clear: scores of shops are run by an African husband and his Chinese wife, with their children running down the corridors.
Yet that sense of belonging was rocked for many last April when Africans across the city were evicted from their homes and hotels, and forced to live on the streets. After a handful of Nigerians tested positive for Covid-19, Guangzhou authorities quarantined and tested Africans all across the city, sparking unproven fears that Africans were vectors of the virus.
Last year, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian 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.””
“Whatever their future, the heyday of African trade, life and love in Guangzhou has produced a generation of African-Chinese children. While many are still adolescents, some have reached adulthood, and are navigating how their mixed identity will fit into China’s increasingly nationalist landscape.
Zhong Fei Fei, 24, says her parents met at the turn of the century in Guangzhou, where her Congolese father was a graduate student and her Chinese mother was doing business. They fell in love, and moved to Brazzaville. But after her father died when she was a toddler, she grew up in China with her grandparents: they renamed her Zhong Fei Fei – a name that roughly translates to China-Africa.
Since then, she says she has grappled with not being ”Chinese enough” in China. She said a Shanghai school teacher once told her class she spoke Mandarin well for a ”foreigner.”
”I was so confused because how come I’m the foreigner?” she remembers thinking. But she also has dealt with not being considered black enough in Congo.
Last year, her identity came to the fore when producers of the Chinese version of K-pop reality TV show ”Produce Camp 2020” invited her to star in the series. When Zhong emerged from the show, she was a trending topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, but not for the right reasons – many were attacking her for her race.
”I was looking at my phone and I had like 200,000 messages or something,” she says of reconnecting to the world after exiting the show. The online attacks came at the same time authorities in Guangzhou were accused of mistreating Africans there.
Yet Zhong says she also received messages of support, and subsequently used the platform to launch a music career. For families in Guangzhou, Afro-Chinese celebrities like Zhong could be helpful for their children.
Pastor Ignatius, a Nigerian evangelical preacher who has three African-Chinese children under the age of 12, hopes that ”what is happening in Japan might happen here,” referencing the Afro-Japanese community there, from which many celebrated figures have emerged, such as tennis player Naomi Osaka.
”What we see from the school, they are very accepting – though there are times of student discrimination here,” he says, of the public Chinese school his children attend in Guangzhou.
They all have Chinese passports – without one, they would not be eligible for free education or healthcare. Dual nationality is forbidden. Chike, who also has three African-Chinese children under age 13, says while there is ”more discrimination” for the family to contend with in recent years, ”as long as my kids know who I am, where I’m from,” they are free to live in the society they feel will be most beneficial.
Mathews, the Hong Kong-based anthropologist, previously speculated during the height of African migration to Guangzhou that the African community could provide China with its own Barack Obama figure – a non-Han leader. In an era of growing nationalism, he now believes this community of Afro-Chinese children will more likely dilute to the point where they won’t have a collective voice.
”They will probably blend in the overall landscape of Guangzhou because it has so many people from all over the place,” says Mathews. ”I don’t think they’ll be noticeable … it will be a few hundred people.””