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Out of Africa and into China, emigres struggle
Thu Aug 20, 2009 8:24pm EDT
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By James Pomfret
GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - Sweating heavily and yelling at Chinese police officers, a group of Nigerians dragged the lifeless body of an injured compatriot up to a Guangzhou police station, blood dripping from a deep gash on his head.
Around them, a crowd of over one hundred Africans chanted, some holding sticks as others smashed potted plants and blocked traffic, demanding justice from the Chinese police after officers chased the man out of a high-rise window in a tightening security crackdown on illegal overstayers in the city this year.
"They don't like black people to stay in China any more. They want us to go," said Frank, one of the Nigerians at the protest on July 15 that was filmed by witnesses.
"They treat us like animals," added Frank, an illegal overstayer, who wouldn't give his name for fear of reprisals.
The spontaneous protest -- a rare direct confrontation between foreigners and authorities in China -- is a vivid reminder of the challenges faced by Beijing's stability-obsessed Communist Party as it engages with the world and builds up trade links abroad.
In the past few years, tens of thousands of African and Arab traders have thronged to export hubs like Guangzhou and Yiwu in eastern China to seek their fortunes -- sourcing cheap China-made goods back home to massive markups in a growing, lucrative trade.
But just as mass Chinese immigration abroad has fanned recent social tensions in Africa and other places, the influx of large numbers of foreigners, particularly Africans, into China is altering the social fabric of cities like Guangzhou and proving a headache to authorities.
While this rising tide of foreigners has brought vast economic gains, the edgy cosmopolitanism of melding cultures and liberal ideals has been laced with racial and social tensions, along with the problem of illegal overstayers resorting to crime.
"While most black people are engaged in valuable trading activities, others are staying illegally, working without valid permits or smuggling," said Peng Peng, the research director of the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, a provincial thinktank.
"How to manage this is becoming a very big problem."
Guangzhou's African community began swelling in the late 1990s with a trickle of traders from Mali, but in the past five years, numbers have nearly tripled on a wave of Nigerians to around 20-30,000 according to Peng, though reports suggest there could be as many as 100,000 if overstayers are factored in.
While Africans have moved to other cosmopolitan Chinese cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing, those in Guangzhou are most conspicuous -- filling the streets in a district known as "Little Africa" replete with ethnic shops, eateries, and export malls crammed with all manner of goods including fake designer jeans, wigs, bright African textiles and VCD players.
But the influx has also caused unease among local Chinese.
Some neighborhood committees bar Africans from living in residential complexes, while Internet forums such as Tianya buzz with heated, at times xenophobic, discussions of "black person" issues in the city. Continued...
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