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Open Access African Trading Post in Guangzhou: Emergent or Recurrent Commercial Form?

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African Trading Post in Guangzhou: Emergent or Recurrent Commercial Form?

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Abstract In the early 2000s, nationals of Sub-Saharan Africa who had settled in the market places of Hong Kong, Bangkok, Jakarta, and Kuala Lumpur, moved to Guangzhou and opened offices in the upper floors of buildings in Baiyun and Yuexiu Districts. These were located in the northwest of the city, near the central railway station and one of the two fairs of Canton. Gradually these traders were able to create the necessary conditions of hospitality by opening community restaurants on upper floors, increasing the number of showrooms and offices as well as the services of freight and customs clearance in order to live up to an African itinerant customer’s expectations. From interviews carried out between 2006 and 2009 in the People’s Republic of China and in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Dubai, and West Africa, the article will first highlight the economic logics which have contributed to the constitution of African trading posts in China and describe their extension from the Middle East and from Asia. The second part will determine the respective roles of migrants and traveling Sub-Saharan entrepreneurs, before exploring their interactions with Chinese society in the setting up of these commercial networks. It will also look at the impact of toughening immigration policies. It is the principle of the African trading posts of anchoring of some traders in strategic places negotiated with the host society that allows the movement but also the temporary settlement of many visitors. The first established traders purchase products manufactured in the hinterland to fulfill the demand of the itinerant merchants who in turn supply customers located in other continents.

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29. FN1 1)About 50 African migrants (settled storekeepers and visitors) were interviewed in Guangzhou in Baiyunand Yuexiudistricts; some were repeatedly interviewed over two years and in different working situations. Additional interviews were carried out in Bamako and Dakar with the family members of migrants settled in Asia. Interviews were also conducted in Guangzhou with the people in charge of associations of Ghanaian, Guinean, Malian, Nigerian, Nigerien, and Senegalese migrants. Other people in charge of associations (Guinea, Mali, and Nigeria) were also asked questions in Bangkok ( Bangrakand Sukhumvitdistricts) and Hong Kong. Discussions were also conducted with Arab traders and Chinese interpreters in Guangzhou and Hong Kong (Kowloon). But the latter remained reserved, perhaps surprised by my familiarity with African migrants.
30. FN2 2)There is no census of African communities in the PRC; however, according to a report written in 2007 by ‘The Border Administration Office of Guangzhou’, there were about 500,000 foreign visitors in transit in the capital of Guangdong and 15,000 foreigners residing in the city. According to Chinese researchers, there were just over 1,000 African traders in Guangzhou and nearly 32,000 African visitors identified in hostels and restaurants in the city (Li, Xue, Lyons, & Brown, 2007). According to journalistic sources there are more than 120,000 Africans permanently living in Guangzhou ( Les EchosAugust 13th 2008). My own research has shown the recent increase in illegal migration, departures related to the strengthening of police control, and finally the porosity of the status of migrants. It is therefore difficult to establish accurate estimates.
31. FN3 3)My previous research allowed me to locate the commercial routes set up by West African diamond dealers from Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, and Gambia from independence onwards.
32. FN4 4)About ten interviews were held with Malian, Guinean, and Gambian traders in precious and semi-precious stones in Bangkok, in Bangrak district (July 2008).
33. FN5 5)Dyed fabric whose designs are inspired by Javanese batik. These pieces of cotton mainly for African customers were first printed by Dutch and British companies before being manufactured in Africa.
34. FN6 6)Interview conducted in Guangzhou, July 17 2008.
35. FN7 7)This term refers both to age and to the timeline of arrival in China.
36. FN8 8)Interviews conducted in Guangzhou, July 2006 and July 2008.
37. FN9 9)Interview in Guangzhou, July 2006.
38. FN10 10)Interview in Guangzhou, July 2006.
39. FN11 11)Interview with a Guinean trader in Guangzhou, July 2006.
40. FN12 12)Two interviews conducted in Guangzhou, July 2008.
41. FN13 13)Interview conducted in Bangkok, July 2008.
42. FN14 14)Interview with a Malian traveling trader in Bangkok, July 2008.
43. FN15 15)Interviews with three Senegalese traveling traders in Guangzhou, July 2008.
44. FN16 16)Interviews in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, July 2008.
45. FN17 17)Interviews with a Nigerian footballer in Guangzhou, July 2006.
46. FN18 18)Interview conducted in Guangzhou, July 2008.
47. FN19 19)Interview with a Nigerian trader in Guangzhou, July 2008.
48. FN20 20)See the paper entitled ‘Africa town à Canton,’ Alternatives Internationales, n°36, septembre 2007 or the article written by Li, Xue, Lyons, and Brown (2007).
49. FN21 21)Interview with a Nigerian trader in Guangzhou, July 2008.
50. FN22 22)Interview with a Nigerien trader in Guangzhou, July 2008.
51. FN23 23)The local press mentions drug trafficking in these places, a point African informants commented on during my fieldwork: ‘ If you are African, Black African, for Chinese policemen, you’re selling drugs. It is their way of thinking. The policemen suspect and pick up all guys because of their color.’ Between 2007 and June 2008, several hundreds of Africans were arrested for drug trafficking. I did not approach this question head on but obviously if Africans are involved in the business of drugs, they are not the only ones. Other foreign communities as well as the Chinese could feel equally concerned about such trafficking.
52. FN24 24)In the largest church of Guangzhou, the audience is over 90% African, mostly Nigerian.
53. FN25 25)One month after, more than 3,000 Nigerians were arrested because their papers were not in order and they were imprisoned. Someone died trying to escape the police ( Daily Champion, August 11 2008). At the end of 2008, the sentencing to death of eight Africans accused of smuggling drugs in the PRC shook the African community and led also to an upsurge in police controls.
54. FN26 26)Interview with a Senegalese trader in Guangzhou, 2008 July.
55. FN27 27)Interview with a Guinean trader in Guangzhou, 2008 July.
56. FN28 28)Interview with a Congolese trader in Guangzhou, 2008 July.
57. FN29 29)Interview with a Guinean trader in Guangzhou, July 2008.

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Affiliations: 1: UMR Laboratoire Population Environnement et Développement (LPED) Marseille France


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