The Bridge is not Burning Down: Transformation and Resilience within China’s African Diaspora Communities

by Adams Bodomo

Abstract

Guangzhou, along with many other Chinese cities like Hong Kong and Yiwu where Africans visit, live, and engage in trading activities, is known for its ubiquitous pedestrian bridges. It is not uncommon to see many hawkers illegally displaying temporary stalls on these pedestrian bridges where they sell goods to mainly Africans and other foreign traders. From around 2012, the city security personnel, which has previously mostly turned a blind eye to these structures and activities, suddenly started clamping down on Africans on a regular basis as they became a prominent group of customers on these bridges in downtown Guangzhou—resulting in the sudden disappearance of Africans on these city center bridges and other prominent open door markets. This has led to some journalistic reports claiming that Africans were leaving China in large numbers. But if these Africans have all but disappeared from the pedestrian footbridges where are they now? Are they leaving China “in droves” or are they regrouping elsewhere in Guangzhou and other parts of China? How many Africans are in China and from which African countries do they come? What do they do in China? How are Africans responding to this and other unfavorable policy transformations such as an increasingly heavy-handed clamp down on illegal immigration? How resilient are African communities in China? This paper is built around, first, addressing these and other empirical questions towards an understanding of various categories of actors within China’s African diaspora communities before turning to examine the theoretical implications of seeing these African diaspora communities as bridge communities for strengthening Africa-China linguistic, cultural, and trade relations.

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Adams Bodomo is Professor of African Studies at the University of Vienna. He founded and directed the University of Hong Kong African Studies Program, where he was Associate Professor of Linguistics and African Studies 1997-2013. Prof. Bodomo is the author of ten books, including the first book on Africans in China, and about one hundred journal articles in Linguistics and in African and Asian Studies journals