I was reading an article today on Fool's Mountain: Blogging in China and it was dealing with the number of Africans flooding into Guangzhou. The article was providing a Chinese perspective on parts of Guangzhou becoming "Chocolate City" (as the local taxi drivers call it).
Here are some surprising highlights from the article:
In an era when China-Africa relations are making headlines in Western newspapers, it’s time to hear the story from a Chinese perspective. If the 20th century was defined by the American Dream, what can China bring to the world in the 21st century?
In Guangzhou, a 10 square kilometer area centered around Hongqiao has been given the name “Chocolate City” by taxi drivers. Every day after noon, “Chocolate City” begins to turn lively. Tens of thousands of black people seem to erupt from the ground in groups of twos and threes. Carrying large black plastic bags or wearing backpacks, they look through the stalls along the street. The stalls are filled with “tail goods” (尾货, excess production that did not meet quality standards) from thousands of small factories throughout Guangdong: blue jeans, unbranded television sets, hand-assembled cell phones.
In distant Africa, nearly 50 countries exploding with demand have opened their arms wide, and are rapidly digesting all of these consumer products not produced locally. Based on Chinese official statistics, during this period of China-Africa trade fever that started in 2003, the number of Africans headed to Guangzhou has been growing at annual rates of 30-40%.
Based on official statistics, since 2003, the number of Africans in Guangzhou has been growing at 30-40% annually. Based on a report in the Guangzhou Daily, there might already be 100,000 in the community. They come from Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon, Liberia, and Mali. Amongst these, Africa’s most populous country Nigeria claims first place.
They primarily live in village-districts in the city of Guangdong (like Dongpu, Dengfeng Jie, Yongping Jie). They do their business in a few large-scale China-Africa commerce malls.
The stalls in these commerce malls don’t have much in terms of decoration; at most, there will be a black plastic model at the front door. Samples are piled up the ground, and hung up on the walls and placed in display cases. In one building, the warehouse and sales offices are one and the same. Stall owners pile their blue jeans on the walk-way itself. When it gets busy, you have to step over the piles of pants.
Williams came to China a year ago, and opened a hair salon in one of the malls. Everything in the salon, from wall paper to sofa to the customer’s chairs, are all the same color: bright red. His customers are all the same color: black. “Chinese salons don’t understand African hair styles, so they all come to my store.” He says boastfully. Although his “design” (of hair style) often just involves a total shave. “
Africans especially trust, and depend on their fellow people; that’s why we call each other ‘brother’ and ’sister’.” Mall management Chen Lianren told the reporter that every store opened by an African becomes a focal point, and attracts many of his fellow countrymen, increasing the traffic flow for other stores in the mall. For that reason, they lowered the rent for African tenants.
Unlike the always migrating Cote, Williams and other Africans with an economic foundation all share a “Chinese Dream”. They hope that by struggling for 4-5 years, they will be able to open a trade company or service center, and make large profits from servicing the rapidly growing Chinese-African trade. Based on published research, more than 20,000 Africans are long-term residents in Guangzhou (more than six months).
The lives of many Africans never extends out of the 20 kilometer “Chocolate City”. Just about all African visitors can’t name a single tourist spot in Guangzhou, and can’t name many Chinese friends. They don’t open accounts with Chinese banks, and few purchase bus passes, even though it’s their primary mode of transportation. If all of the Africans in Guangzhou evapored overnight, they would leave almost no mark in “Chocolate City” or Guangzhou. “My daughter asked me what I saw in China.” A Nigerian getting his hair-cut said, “I answered, jeans and black people!”