Saturday, March 3, 2012

Africans in Guangzhou (1): Yuexiu Market-Chocolate City

Africans in Guangzhou (1): Yuexiu Market--the Dynamic "Chocolate City" At the end of the 90s in the 20th century, the first batch of Africans came to Guangzhou, their first stop being Canaan clothing market [Clothes Trading Center]. Now, however, with Canaan clothing market as the center, many goods for export markets have sprung up in the surrounding one kilometer area. The people of Guangzhou have gradually come to call this area “Chocolate City”. China has been the biggest trade partner of Africa and the trade volume exceeded $110 billion in 2010[i]. Besides the purchase of oil and minerals done by Chinese government, a lot of Chinese goods also flew into local markets in Africa. We often see western media blaming on the negative economic impact of these low quality Chinese goods on the local markets in Africa.
When Nelson, a Nigerian, arrived in Guangzhou, he lived a typical “luggage bag” life—-carrying several tens of thousand of yuan here to purchase goods and then afterward stuffing them all in a few large luggage bags to fly back with him to Africa. “If I’m lucky, I can get on the plane without it being overweight and having to ship it.” Nelson says that the money for the his airplane ticket and for the goods to be purchased was pooled together by his entire family, that he must earn money, otherwise he will be looked down upon when he returns to Africa. Photo is of Nelson at a motorcycle parts store selecting goods.
Many Chinese shop owners say they don’t like to do business with Africans because they drive such a hard bargain and pay less than other foreigners or Chinese clients. Favour decides not to buy after she cannot get the price she wants at a shop in Guang Da, one of the largest wholesale markets in Guangzhou. San Yuan Li marketplace
But pay attention to the assumption of this argument: because the goods are made in China, the goods must be brought to Africa by Chinese merchants or Chinese government.
Is this assumption true? Africans in Guangzhou (1): Yuexiu Market--the Dynamic "Chocolate City" By JINGHAO LU on July 9, 2011 11:03 PM| 0 Comments| 0 TrackBacks China has been the biggest trade partner of Africa and the trade volume exceeded $110 billion in 2010[i]. Besides the purchase of oil and minerals done by Chinese government, a lot of Chinese goods also flew into local markets in Africa. We often see western media blaming on the negative economic impact of these low quality Chinese goods on the local markets in Africa.
But pay attention to the assumption of this argument: because the goods are made in China, the goods must be brought to Africa by Chinese merchants or Chinese government. Is this assumption true?
Guangzhou's African Community
One of the biggest cities in China, Guangzhou locates at the southern coast of China, near Hong Kong and Macau. People here are crazy about eating. They like to go for "morning tea", which looks like a brunch. Everyone orders a pot of tea and countless delicious steamed food. Old people usually sit here for a whole morning, chatting with each other while refilling their teapot endlessly. Not known by many outsiders, also in this city, more than 100,000 Africans work and live here[ii]. Many are undocumented immigrants. Most of them come and purchase Chinese goods in large quantity from the manufacturers all over China, and ultimately ship the goods back to their motherland. Within a whole week, I spent my days and nights with these Africans, trying to figure out what is happening since the wind of globalization blew into this part of China. Guangzhou people gave the African community a distinctive name--"Chocolate City", directly referring to the skin color of these residents. This community is around the Xiaobei Station area, an extremely crowded trade center of many Chinese commodities--wigs, electronic products, apparels, shoes and many others. More than a dozen of specialized market buildings are here. Each is several stories tall and as wide as a U.S. high school building. Africans can be found everywhere, walking on the street, trading with others inside the buildings or chatting in Chinese and Middle-East restaurants. This is my first impression of the Chocolate City. Inside a Market Building Every specialized market building looks messy. In an apparel market, the ground was covered with trash and wrapping tapes. Loud music was played--sometimes African highlife music, sometimes African American raps, and sometimes Chinese love songs. Shops and shops are so close to each other, making it hard to walk through the corridor. Jeans, shirts, suits, ties, bags, shoes, perfumes and flags were hung on the wall outside of each shop. Buyers come from all over the world, mainly from Africa, Middle East and other regions in China. There were, however, not many buyers in the market today. Shop owners were chatting to each other, no matter what nation the other comes from. Nigerian shop owners on the ground floor Most of the Africans here were nice to me. They grabbed my hand and asked me to sit. They praised that I appeared to be nicer than many Chinese they encountered. To them, a lot of Chinese merchants were wicked and wanted to cheat them. They also complained to me that business was uneasy. The immigration regulation was tough, dollar is getting weak, and sometimes police will disturb them. Also, all the African shop owners do not really own their shops because foreigners are not allowed to do so. They actually rented the shops from Chinese. What is more, not every African is approachable. Some looked at me cautiously. I know many Africans in Guangzhou are illegal immigrants (I will explain this point in my later entries). They probably thought I was a Chinese police because Guangzhou police often raided the market without their uniform in order to make their inspection effective. African kid, Chinese kid, Chinese business owner, Chinese safeguard Besides Africans, I also talked to more than ten Chinese shop owners. All of them said they like Africans. Increasing number of African merchants means more business opportunities. Plus, many of these Chinese business people are not from Guangzhou, but instead from central Chinese provinces like Sichuan, Hunan and Hubei. They are immigrants themselves, and thus they are more sympathetic to the foreign immigrants. In this market I found Chinese shop owners made friends with many Africans within the region. A couple of them told me they had visited or planned to go to Africa as a result of the invitation from their African clients. More than that, I met at least five cases of interracial marriage, with one from China and the other from Africa. Usually the husband comes from Africa and the wife comes from a city other than Guangzhou. But there were exceptions. I also saw mix-blood babies walking around and playing with their African "uncles". A mix-blood child with her Chinese mom in the market
In all, Chinese-African Relationship within the Market looks good. I ended my day by eating African food at an African restaurant on the first floor of this apparel market. The owner is from Africa, and most of the customers are also Africans. Muslims join together for annual festival
GUANGZHOU -- Festivity was in the air as more than 10,000 Chinese and foreign Muslims celebrated Eid al-Adha or the Qurban Festival at four mosques in Guangzhou Tuesday. The Huaisheng Mosque and the Abu Waggas Tomb had to hold prayers twice on Tuesday in order to accommodate the number of worshippers. Among them were many African Muslims celebrating the festival with their brothers and sisters from China and other parts of the world. "This is my third Eid al-Adha in China. The festival here is just like that in my country, though I was only able to understand a small part of the imam's exhortations in Chinese," Sissoko Adama, a businessman from Mali, said. Sissoko said he came to Guangzhou because of the good environment for international trade. Like many other Africans in the city, he exports clothes, shoes and other commodities to Africa. "Though we are going through a financial crisis, I thank God my business is still doing well," he said. Guinean Conde Bangaly, 39, also has a company in Guangzhou. A devoted Muslim, he prays at the city's mosques almost every day, and Tuesday offered a sacrifice to celebrate Eid al-Adha, which means Festival of Sacrifice. "I killed a sheep as a sacrifice to Allah. I do it every year, whether in Africa or China," Conde said. He has been living in Guangzhou for the past five years. Since 2000, there has been a surge in the Muslim population in Guangzhou, most are engaged in trade or in the halal food business. The Guangzhou Islamic Association estimates the number of Muslims living in Guangzhou to be between 50,000 and 60,000, though the actual number may be higher. About half of the Muslim population comprises foreigners, with Africans being the largest group. The Xiaodongying Mosque, near Huanshi Middle Road where the offices and apartments of most Africans are located, has become a mosque dominated by them. Bai Lin, an imam at the mosque, said Africans account for about 70 percent of the worshippers. As the mosque is small, many have to pray on the sidewalks outside, he said. "The African Muslims in Guangzhou usually come from western African countries such as Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Niger. Most of them are very devout and humble," Bai said. Although language and religious differences make it difficult for most African Muslims to integrate into Chinese society, some of them are succeeding. Conde for example, has married a Chinese woman Wei Qiuhua, and is planning to buy an apartment in Guangzhou. The couple met two years ago in Guangzhou. Wei said at first her parents were against their marriage, but they later relented. "I have converted to Islam because I love Conde," the 24-year-old said. She has taken the Muslim name of Jamila. The wedding will be held today in Wei's hometown of Shanwei in southeast Guangdong. "Many of my relatives want to toast our marriage with a sip of wine, but I have told them it will be a wedding banquet without alcohol because we are Muslims," Wei said. They will hold another wedding ceremony in Guangzhou, where Conde will invite his African and Chinese friends. They are also planning to hold a ceremony in Guinea when they visit his parents next year. "I don't know whether we will live in China for the rest of our lives. Everything is decided by God," Conde said. ->buy clothes and computer parts ->Canaan market The Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences has estimated that there are around 30,000 legal migrants from Africa in the city. Its senior researcher Dr Peng Peng said the number of Africans arriving grew by around 30% to 40% annually between 2003 and 2008, but now appeared to have peaked. Local media have suggested there could be 100,000 African residents in total. The Red Guest House of Yiwu The red vinyl banner hanging from the front of Canaan market, a multi-storey wholesale emporium of cheap jeans and hair extensions, begins promisingly "Welcome to Guangzhou" and concludes, less warmly, "Please have your passport ready for checks by police". This southern city in China's Guangdong province has drawn hundreds of thousands of immigrants from across Africa in the last decade: from Burkina Faso and Somalia, Ivory Coast and Ghana, Tanzania and Angola. The banner and the dwindling numbers of traders here attest to an immigration crackdown that has alienated many and left young men injured and languishing in detention, community leaders say. Between 30,000 and 100,000 Africans, mainly young men, are living here. Most are traders lured by the cheapness and variety of goods made in the surrounding Pearl River Delta. In complexes such as Canaan, they purchase nappies, tractor parts, luxuriantly floral shirts, stock cubes, mobile phones, air conditioners, and pirate DVDs. In the Chinese-run cafes around the buildings they eat plantains and fufu as well as rice. Scant funds, don’t care about brands, loves to bargain, likes low-end products are characteristics of the large groups of African businessmen. Over time, these characteristics have led to Chinese businessmen to discriminate and become impatient with them. “[They're] the most practical in doing business the most practical, whereas you can see those European and Americans and Arabs are just different,” a Chinese seller said. Nevertheless, the trade market’s business is very flourishing every day, and the African demand for cheap goods have allowed the processing factories around the outskirts of Guangzhou to prosper. Photo is of a Chinese seller wiping the nose of an African buyer’s infant; using “friendliness” to get business. In Xiaobei, not far from the trading market, is Guangzhou’s largest African neighborhood. Many Africans coming to China for the first time will stay here, living with several or even over a dozen people in a room, beginning their “gold rush” here. Why have they collectively chosen Xiaobei? One long-term researcher of Africans in Guangzhou says: “This place has Guangzhou’s first proper Muslim restaurant.” And in Africa, those who believe in Islam are the majority. Photo is of an African youth eating at a food stall. The expansion of the African’s export business has also spawned African restaurants, African logistics, African intermediaries and other supporting businesses. African businessmen have also brought African laborers and African service staff. Photo is of locals who are no longer unused to seeing Africans.

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