Why are there so many African immigrants in Guangzhou? Today we met with Dr. Liang at Sun Yat Sen University to discuss his research on the growing population of African immigrants in Guangzhou. Dr. Liang stated that there are more than 580,000 African immigrants, concentrated in 3 distinct neighborhoods in Guangzhou. Why Guangzhou specifically? It is a rich province and more importantly a major port city that offers opportunities to access the wholesale market. He referred to Guangzhou as the world’s factory, which makes it easy for Africans to buy and sell wholesale goods. The region’s Muslim history as well as the warm climate and weather also make it an ideal area for Africans to settle.
Nigerians make up the majority of African immigrants. Through snowball sampling, Dr. Liang was able to access both legal and illegal immigrants to interview for his research. He found that one third are female and this group was more likely to have immigrated legally in contrast to the men who were mostly illegal immigrants. His research showed that as the immigrants increased their social capital in Guangzhou they were more likely to stay in the area and growing social networks allowed more African immigrants to follow.
What I found most interesting in Dr. Liang’s research was his comparison of the reception of immigrants in Guangzhou and Moscow. The 2 cities are similar in population size and ethnic distribution (the major ethnic group makes up more than 90% of the population in both cites). Additionally, in both cities, immigrants do not settle in the city center, but in the surrounding area where there is less state power. The key difference between Guangzhou and Moscow is the number of anti-immigrant protests that have erupted in the last few years. A statistical analysis of immigrant protests revealed that protests were more likely to occur in Moscow, specifically when the African immigrant population exceeded 4 percent. In Guangzhou in contrast, there have been very few incidents like this. Why? The local government ensures that the African immigrant population is dispersed across the city in order to promote integration and avoid social conflict. The more that these populations interact with the locals, the less likely ethnic conflicts and protests are to occur. Dr. Liang’s research found that after at least 5 interactions, the locals have more positive impressions of immigrants. The government’s intentional efforts to keep migrants moving around different neighborhoods in Guangzhou, therefore encourages migrants to build their social capital locally, integrate into their new context, and most importantly prevents the possibility of ethnic conflict.
Dr. Liang’s research is insightful. It is rare to see black people in China, but not in Guangzhou. His research is important in helping to shed light on the settlement and reception of a budding community in China.