At least in the governmental level, promoting “people-to-people exchange” between China and Africa was mentioned all the time. However, most of the people-to-people interactions between Chinese and Africans are not through government initiatives of sending a group of African students to a Chinese university in Zhejiang Province, or dispatching a medical team from a Chinese hospital to the hinterland of Congo.
Daily “people-to-people interaction” can be violent and nasty.
On 19th June 2012, the day this blog entrance is being written, “more than 100 Africans protested…outside a police station in China’s southern Guangdong province after an African man died in police custody”, reported by Reuters. This has caused severe traffic jam in the area, and through the photos we can find armed police trying to maintain the order around a large group of Africans in the middle of the road.
This is not the first time Africans rioted on the street of Guangzhou, the city which hosts more than 200,000 Africans (see my blog post series in July 2011). In 2009, a similar incident happened – over 100 Africans protested against the Guangzhou authority after a Nigerian man was killed in an immigration raid led by the city’s police. In one of my blog entrances, I narrated my experience of witnessing many African demonstrators standing against the angry city policemen.
How should we look at this new social problem in China, a country so homogenous in its racial profile now confronting with international migration issues?
In these years increasing number of scholars have involved in researching the African community in China. The most famous work is the published book by the University of Hong Kong researcher Dr. Adams Bodomo after thorough study of the community. Dr. Bodomo showed deep concern of Chinese police’s incompetence and brutality while dealing with African migrants in Guangzhou. He urged African diplomats to raise this issue to the governmental level talks with China, such as Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
However, if the real issue is racial discrimination, can government initiatives really solve the problem?
For years, I was terrified to find how Chinese people describe Africans. If you randomly go to a Chinese online discussion forum (or called BBS, a social media platform), you probably will be horrified by hearing how people comment on the Africans in their mind. I translate some into English here:
“A large number of blacks caused many social problems in China, such as fights, rapes, drug trafficking, seducing Chinese girls, spreading AIDS, and child of mixed parentage after marring Chinese women. This is hideous!”
“China belongs to the Chinese. The ancestors leave us land for yellow skin and black hair Chinese people to settle down. We can’t let it become a colony of alien’s breeds.”
“I want to throw up when I see these blacks…I can’t believe they are going after our Chinese women! They are going to spread AIDS in our city now!”
Please refer here and here for links to the online bulletin boards where these messages were posted (in Chinese).
Generally speaking, today, no matter whether a Chinese actually encountered an African in his or her life, the impression has already been pre-occupied with negative images over the Africans from the media, movies and some shallow knowledge of the colonial history. They often think Africans are ugly, poor, crazy, uneducated and violent. Most of the Chinese would never want to deal with them. I believe in the mind of some policemen in Guangzhou who have probably been tired of dealing with the illegal activities incurred by the African community, ”African people must go back and give a cleaner place back to us.”
The situation is laying a clear picture in front of us. On one side, government officials talk about people-to-people exchange and praise the historical friendship between China and Africa. On the other side – the grassroots side – Chinese people continuously impose their discrimination against Africans through words and actions; and Africans under such suppression have no choice but to riot and strive for their basic human rights in China. Or thousands of miles away, some African government may even decide to raid the Chinese trader communities in order to retaliate.
What a messy picture of misunderstandings! When will the vicious circle stop?
UPDATE: Jun 20th, 2012
Additional thoughts: I hope to let the Africans in China know this. When protesting in the public, it is really not wise to block the road to cause traffic congestion. Chinese people are not used to public protest, and they wouldn’t tolerate a group of foreigners (especially Africans who they dislike) to block the traffic in China for any justified reason. Given the discrimination against Africans amongst the general public, what Africans were doing on the 19th June will only increase Chinese’ antipathy against the African communities in Guangzhou. I have already seen Chinese commenting on this incident online, and the comments are generally negative, nationalist and racist. We shouldn’t let this trend to continue.