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Encountering Africa at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century: Racial Attitudes of the Chinese in Guangzhou, China

A talk by MIN ZHOU (Professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies)

Monday, March 07, 2011
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Unlike many countries in West, China has never been a nation of immigrants. Human movements into, or out of, China have been strictly controlled. Even as China is becoming increasingly globalized at the turn of the twenty-first century, international migration into China, much less immigrant resettlement, has remained insignificant on the national landscape. However, major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai and certain smaller cities such as Yiwu have witnessed the growing presence of international migrants. In Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in southern China, there has been a rapid increase of black African residents since 2000--estimated numbers may be as low as 60,000 or as high as more than 150,000 (depending on who does the counting). These newcomers are not the usual lot (e.g., diplomats, students, or professionals working for foreign firms or multinational corporations), but rather independent merchants and traders doing business with local Chinese merchants and small business owners. Moreover, they do not live in upscale quarters reserved for foreigners but in neighborhoods among local residents.

The encounter of a racially different group of foreigners at the local level offers an opportunity for exploring the conceptions of race beyond the black-white paradigm. This talk focuses on examining the racial attitudes of Chinese toward black Africans and intergroup relations in a society where there have not been prior histories of slavery, colonization, and racialization. It addresses three broad questions: How are Africans perceived and received by the residents of Guangzhou? What influences positive and/or negative racial attitudes? What is the nature of Chinese-African relations in China and how does do they differ from those in America? Data are collected from a questionnaire survey, in-depth interviews, and systematic field observations. The talk considers four thematic categories: 1) values—principals of equality and political ideology; 2) perceptions of race— aesthetics/personality/social desirability; 3) attitudes—social distance, prejudice and stereotyping, reception, and support for state policy; 4) behavior—interracial contacts and interactions. Preliminary analysis shows that on average Chinese hold negative attitudes toward foreigners and that their negative attitudes are stronger toward black Africans than toward white Europeans and Americans. Factors influencing these attitudes vary, depending not only on the usual demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, but also on the types and levels of intergroup contacts, familiarity with African cultures, exposure to American  and other Western cultures, and government policy (further analysis is still ongoing).

Min Zhou is a Professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies, Walter & Shirley Wang Endowed Chair in US-China Relations & Communications at the University of California, Los Angeles.  Dr. Zhou’s research areas are in: International migration, race & ethnicity, Asia America, and urban sociology.  Her latest book is Contemporary Chinese America: Immigration, Ethnicity, and Community Transformation (Temple University Press, 2009). She has currently working on two research projects in China: Black Africans in Guangzhou; and Chinese immigrant transnational organizations in the U.S. and their impact on development in China.  Email:; webpage:


Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies, Asian American Studies Center

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