Transient: A Descriptive Concept for Understanding Africans in Guangzhou

by Dong Niu


“Africans in Guangzhou/China” seems to have become a buzzword in international studies and China studies in the last decade. While there has been a large body of academic papers on Africans in Guangzhou, they described the daily lives of Africans with a common assumption that Africans are “immigrants.” This perception is at odds with the Chinese legal system and Africans’ self-definition. Based on continuous ethnographic fieldwork and following sporadic interviews with Africans in Guangzhou, this article argues that the classification and definition of migration produced by scholars should be used in the specific context of the destination countries, with consideration of the viewpoints of legal settings and the researched groups themselves. This article introduces the concept of “transient” in China, a typical non-immigration country, to describe Africans in Guangzhou who travel between Africa and China without desire to integrate into Chinese society and without possibility to be integrated into Chinese society.

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Dong Niu is a Postdoctoral Researcher, School of Public Policy and Management, Tsinghua University. His research focuses on foreigners in China and social work with immigrants. His recent chapter “‘Unequal Sino-African Relations’: A Perspective from Africans in Guangzhou” appeared in the edited book China and Africa: A New Paradigm of Global Business