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Africans in Guangzhou face special scrutiny amid coronavirus-fueled xenophobia

So far in Guangzhou’s Yuexiu District, there have been just 16 confirmed cases of foreigners from African countries with COVID-19. But for the black community there, what’s more terrifying than the virus itself is the rising tide of discrimination driven by both coronavirus-fueled xenophobia and deep-rooted prejudice against black people in China.

On April 6, Sanheli, a neighborhood in Yuexiu that is known as “Little Africa” due to its sizable population of African migrants, became the subject of a social media frenzy after a since-deleted Weibo post claiming that Yaotai village, located in the neighborhood, would be completely locked down for 14 days. “Some specific groups of people will be targeted for testing during this period of time,” the post read.

Officials have denied that any such lockdown is in place. The post was written by a random Weibo user who didn’t mention the source of his information, but it sparked rumors that there had been a resurgence of COVID-19 driven by outsiders.

As speculation ran rampant, Weibo users began to suggest that the local African community was to blame for Yaotai’s rumored lockdown. Some of them pointed out that the measure came on the heels of an ugly incident in Guangzhou last week, when a Nigerian man who had contracted COVID-19 allegedly attacked a nurse while trying to flee a hospital.

“It seems that the incident has caused more damage than all the locally transmitted cases that China had to deal with in the past two months,” Weibo user @不吃猫的鱼 wrote in a post, which included a photo showing a street in Sanheli blocked by barricades.

The Weibo user’s complaint struck a chord with a vast number of Weibo users. As of Tuesday evening, a day after it was posted, the message had received about 23,000 comments and more than 547,000 likes. Meanwhile, as similar complaints piled up, people on Weibo started to coalesce around the hashtag #广州三元里 (#GuangzhouSanyuanli) to spout racist, bigoted, and hateful rhetoric about Africans in Guangzhou.

In a typical Weibo comment, one wrote (in Chinese): “The black people in Guangzhou constitute a serious problem for the city. They are lazy and unhygienic. Many of them are drug addicts or thieves because they don’t have much in their savings. I wouldn’t be surprised if a second outbreak occurred in Guangzhou.”

Meanwhile, the information office of Guangzhou’s government said (in Chinese) in a press conference yesterday that since five Nigerian migrants tested positive for COVID-19 this week, the city had launched a “comprehensive investigation” of potential coronavirus transmission in the expatriate community. “Put frankly there is increasing fear and worry in the region about a second wave of cases,” Maximus Ogbonna, president of the Nigerian community in China, told the China-based website Black Livity. “Because many associate this with foreigners, they are testing to make sure they are clear.”

But the local government has also sought to quell the eruption of irrational fears over the African community in the city.

As of April 7, more than 32,000 people traveling from overseas had been put under home quarantine or sent to designated facilities for 14-day isolation. Those holding foreign passports constituted about 6,300 of those people. “The pandemic in Guangzhou is under control,” a government official said. “There’s no need to panic about the situation as long as you properly implement protective measures.”

The spokesperson also tried to strike down rumors of a Yaotai lockdown, saying that vehicles and residents were free to enter and leave the village as long as they have valid health codes issued by local health authorities. In denial of speculation that there were about 300,000 African migrants in Yuexiu, the spokesperson said that the district was home to roughly 3,500 foreigners, and that most of the foreign residents there were from the U.S., followed by Mali, Nigeria, Canada, and Australia.

When it comes to imported coronavirus infections, a health official at the meeting noted that of the 111 imported cases discovered in Guangzhou, 86 were Chinese citizens flying back from overseas. Among the rest, 16 were from African countries such as Nigeria and Congo.

But for the many who called for all African migrants in Guangzhou to be deported, the official explanations weren’t enough. “This is not just about their health risks in the time of coronavirus. They need to leave the country for good!” a Weibo user commented.

The expatriate community has been increasingly targeted on the Chinese internet as of late, but Africans in Guangzhou face casual racism on a regular basis. Last month, when China’s Ministry of Justice unveiled a new set of regulations designed to loosen residency restrictions for some foreigners, it was met with fierce opposition underpinned by a groundswell of bigotry and racial stereotyping about black people. And in 2018, several hotels in Guangzhou were found to turn away guests from African countries for no particular reason.

Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.

19 Comments

  1. Raheel Reply

    what goes round comes round our brothers and sisters come back home this is our motherland Africa because even us we going to start chasing these aliens(Chinese virus ) from our countries enough is enough

      1. Rock Reply

        The desire to attain material wealth is the temptation of the devil and we all at times fall in to this deception, but when I understand the influence of materialistic desires and the consequences associated my path is closer to my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ through experiences guided by the Holy Spirit and Scriptures. Amen

  2. Joseph k Bundotich Reply

    It is so unfortunate that some people think my black skin is synonymous with a dark brain., and worse, Corona virus!
    Idiocy has found a new meaning in china.
    Big shame on the bigots

  3. Recks mauyo Reply

    How dare they put the blame on africans when they are the real manufacturers of the virus by consuming everything on earth even snakes, nonsense

  4. Hendrina Reply

    It is not only Africans being targeted but also South Africans. And believe me I would know as I have family in China. But the irony of this is that if it wasn’t for China none of these people would have contracted the virus. So rather than passing blame everyone should stand together and fight this virus.

  5. Vivian Reply

    Why don’t you start by getting the fuck out of Africa, if you don’t want Africans in China we equally don’t fucking want you here too. Nasty people.

  6. idh Reply

    Africans have been very accommodating to foreigners for centuries. Always accepting them and allowing them so much freedom that the foreigners end up being their colonialists and economic masters. If this trust is broken by racial harming/hurting of Africans abroad, it could set of foolish retaliatory back in Africa which is not a very good trend.

  7. Chris Omaris Reply

    Y’all Chinese are a bunch of short versions of pokemon if I ever see any Chinese in my neighborhood, amma kill them quicker than Corona virus.

  8. Mary Reply

    Then why are these Chinese coming to our countries to exploit our natural resources. They leave no stone unturned. Causing land pollution deforestation air pollution and leaving our beautiful Africa like a desert. We will chase them out of Africa too

  9. Lamide Johnson Reply

    May Almighty GOD bless that man that opposed them ! As old as I am and as a Nigerian ,I watched this with my family and immediately my wife and children busted into tears, I couldn’t help it as well.. how can you treat people like *hit because of their skin colours or what ? You cannot treat people like Animals , if you need specimen for tests ,use your own people … So collecting people’s passport automatically means they cannot travel , Why ? Why? It’s high time Nigeria should wake up ! Truly we have these Chinese in our country infact alot of them and we don’t discriminate , so why CHINA ? It’s UNFAIR !

  10. Tom Jones Reply

    I was over this back in 1982-83 when I was in the military. I know these people are some racist as people. They tried to get me to eat their food but I knew they mixed their food with bats & rats. I always felt they the were trying to infect me with something that y today I have never at any of their food. I can guaranteed u they are affecting the food with rat & bat to Africans who live over their because they want it to spread all over Africa so they can take their country. They have no natural resources over in their country. They have already affected European countries & America know they want Africa these people want world dominance.I say to Trump u have been Hoodwinked & bamboozled by the Chinese. The only way to rectify & make the situation right is to drop the bomb on these people.

  11. Abdul Rahman Reply

    What the heck is wrong with these Chinese people,you aliens should incase you don’t know,then let me remind you aliens that your population and businesses in Africa is 5 times of those of our brothers and sisters in your country China, so if you guys are trying to harm our people in your country,then also remember that your people and your business will be destroyed in our countries too. Long leave Africa and God bless Africans

  12. Paul Reply

    China wants to become one of the super powers in the world. This will be one of the worse misfortunes of the world. They ve no value for humanity.
    See how they treat their own people then you know for sure how will treat the rest of humanity.
    This is not about Africans but abt who Chinese are and above all, their government. They won’t stop on Africans as we shall see in the future.

  13. katja Reply

    Fuck China. Honestly , these disgusting people can turn you into a racist. They have no respect for anything living. They want to hunt every single animal into extinction, they abuse other humans and violate their rights and yet they think the world has to take this sitting down just because they are everywhere and there are so many of them? No way. All countries should boycott China and Chinese products. That’s the only way to teach them to stop being so inhumane.

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