Studies have shown that it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine the number and concentration of the African diaspora in China. Before Covid-19, a majority of Africans in China were concentrated along the Pearl River, at the heart of Chinese industry: Guangzhou.
A study by Adams Bodomo, of the University of Vienna, showed in 2019 how difficult it is to count the number of Africans living, working or studying in China. The Chinese state did not. The researcher had, however, made several observations about the African diaspora in China: Africans are greatly marginalized, they have difficulty accessing public care and are constantly harassed by the police.
The African diaspora is concentrated in the south-east of the country, on the borders with Hong Kong. Thus, in the Macau region, going up the Pearl River, and as far as Guangzhou, the African diaspora is much more present than in Shanghai, Wuhan or Beijing.
However, according to more recent research by anthropologist Jing Liu, some 100 Nigerians, for example, previously living in the African district of Guangzhou have simply disappeared.
Shortly after the arrival of Covid-19 in China, foreigners in the region were forcibly hospitalized or confined to their homes, without even the right to shop. Professor Yu Qiu of Peking University reported that " cities with a large presence of Africans have turned into open-air prisons ».
This "quarantine policy" was even more brutal in Guangzhou. Africans saw their passports confiscated, access to the internet and the telephone network was blocked. Even in July 2020, as health measures eased across the rest of the country, Africans in Guangzhou were barred from entering supermarkets, restaurants, or simply working and studying.
New destinations for the African diaspora in China
So, Guangzhou's famous "Little Africa" is now a ghost town. In January 2022, there were 12 Africans living in Guangzhou, compared to more than 000 at the start of 170. A large number of these have returned to their countries, to Ghana, DRC, Nigeria, or South Africa. However, there is a “phenomenon of resilience” according to Adams Bodomo's study, namely a large movement of the African diaspora inside China.
According to Jing Liu, “it's not that there are fewer Africans in China, it's that they are moving further and further away from the southeastern regions”. Indeed, at least 19 Nigerians have declared their residences in the east of the country, from Suzhou, along the Taiwanese coast and to Shantou. The city of Yiwu, south of Shanghai, is now home to more than 600 African migrants, the majority of them Ghanaians, South Africans, Tanzanians and Nigerians.
The study also shows that a majority of these Africans in Yiwu are also… Chinese. Indeed, a migratory wave would have started in 2012, many students, faced with the heavy expenses of studies in China, would have converted into workers, tradesmen or traders.
If the African diaspora in China is therefore more and more comfortable, far from the hell of Guangzhou. It is nonetheless true that China is a typically intolerant country. If African immigration to China is now in its second generation, it is clear that the trend is rather scattered, for fear of gratuitous repression by the authorities.