Thursday, February 14, 2019

How To Celebrate China's Valentine Day

A couple holding their marriage certificates pose for photos at a marriage registration center on 14 February 2019 in Qingdao, Shandong Province of China.(Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
On the annual day of love, known across most of the world as Valentine's Day, traditions are fairly straightforward. Whenever 14 February comes around, chocolates, flowers or other gifts are often exchanged to show affection. However, in Asia, the event is celebrated with slightly different twists -- some even celebrate a lack of love. From reversing roles to celebrating star-crossed lovers or getting married en masse, here are some of the most interesting Valentine's Day.

The Qixi Festival, also known as the Double Seventh Festival or Qiqiao Festival, is the most romantic of all traditional Chinese holidays. It’s a time to celebrate star-crossed lovers with grand romantic gestures, boxes of chocolates and longing for true love.

Chinese shoppers have been spending more for their loved ones ahead of Valentine's Day, igniting the festive domestic market. Gift-givers, in the hope of wooing their love interests, are increasingly turning to online shopping, as data from major digital retailers showed a roaring demand for flowers in the days before Feb. 14. Sending flowers is a time-honored tradition to celebrate the romantic day. In just three days, 500,000 roses and tulips from plantations in southwest China's Yunnan Province have been snapped up on Alibaba's group-buying service Juhuasuan.

Meanwhile, orders for flowers grew by 69 percent on Alibaba's Taobao marketplace, with orders for roses up 220 percent. Flower sales soared 339 percent on another e-commerce giant over the same period. Preserved fresh flowers, bouquets in boxes and mixed-color roses were the top three best selling products. Shoppers are also linking their Taobao accounts with those of their sweethearts as a new way to spread their love. Over 12 million couples have linked their accounts together over the past year, according to Taobao. Alibaba officially rolled out the new function "relative account" on Feb. 1, 2018, which allows its users to pay for each other.

Young men of Bouyei ethnic group carry their girlfriends on the backs as they compete in a rice paddy race to celebrate the Bouyei traditional's Valentine's Day at Wangmo County on 05 October 2018 in Qianxinan Bouyei and Miao-Guizhou China.Photo: He Junyi/China News Service.
For Xie Minchao from the eastern city of Suzhou, it is heart-warming and special to fulfill his girlfriend's wishes online. Xie linked his account with his girlfriend's just ahead of Valentine's Day. "We work in different cities and talk about new and funny things with each other every day," he said. With their accounts now connected, they can share real-time information on the Taobao app. Every time Xie found a cool product on Taobao, he would forward the link to his girlfriend, asking for her advice. It has been a great conversation starter for the couple. Sometimes he would purchase the items of the links she sent to him. "It's ceremonial that we help fulfil each other's wishes," he said. Couples exchanging presents this year prefer premium brands.

      Modern Chinese younger lovers celebrate Valentine Day every year same as Qixi Festival. 
Leading online retailer reported a 76.5 percent rise in sales of imported cosmetics, with MAC, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior on the best-selling list. The percentage of males who bought imported lipsticks went up from 38 percent to 58 percent in the past few days, according to Many shoppers picked up presents like Givenchy Le Rouge lipsticks, chocolates and music boxes with a "gifts" function on the Taobao app, sending out their sweet surprises online. People are also expressing love by emptying their partner's shopping cart. saw a huge increase in orders for products like Dyson hair dryers, four-leafed clover bracelets, skin care products, and smartphones.

Valentine's Day gifts of special interest -- a handcrafted book with personal photos or useful household supplies -- are also more attractive to Chinese consumers. In their everyday conversation via the Taobao app, Xie knows what his girlfriend wants. He plans to surprise her with a four-leafed clover necklace. Besides 14 Feb, lovers across China celebrate the traditional Chinese Valentine's Day, or the Qixi Festival, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The coming Lantern Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, is also an important day for Chinese couples. In ancient times, young men and women usually went out into the streets and met each other on the day when the curfew was lifted.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Romantic Affairs Of Ruth and Seretse Khama Defied Odds

Ruth and Seretse Khama with ex-President of Botswana Ian Khama and his elder sister Jackie.
The information in this article belongs to Bamangwato royal archives that contains over 30,000 pieces of special works that done over the past decades. The story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, one of the greatest tales of love in the twentieth century, whose love story defied two governments and rocked the world as the couple's interracial affairs were constantly dramatized on the big screens and portrayed in films in Britain and beyond.

Sir Seretse Goitsebeng Maphiri Khama, was a first President of Botswana from 1966 to 1980 and born in British Protectorate of Bechuanaland (Botaswana) from Bamagwato tribal family one of the most powerful African royal families until to-date. Seretse was educated in South Africa before moved to United Kingdom where he met his angel Ruth Williams while attending law school at Balliol College, Oxford University in England together with the Kenyan closer friend Charles Mugane Njonjo. For Seretse being guaranteed opportunity to study at Oxford University which was regarded as royal academy it was a great move done by his worldly-wise uncle, Tshekedi Khama, whom later disowned him for engaging in love affair with a white woman.

The romantic affairs started just one evening when Seretse saw a tall, blond and beautiful white woman in a passenger  “I have met a girl and I think you should meet her! Somebody I should like to be my wife.” Prince Seretse Khama, told his closest friend Charles Njonjo and he couldn't believed what his eyes have seen. One evening in June 1947, Ruth accompanied her younger sister Muriel to the Nutford House hostel of London Missionary Society hospitality that associated with the Congregational Church where Muriel attended school. Seretse already knew about Muriel who introduced Seretse to her elder sister, but no one knew that Seretse was the heir to the throne of Bamangwato kingdom in Bechuanaland (Botswana). All Ruth knew was that this man was studying law at Inner Temple. Ruth later recalled: ''I saw a tall, well built, smiling African with wonderful teeth, broad shoulders and perfect manners.'' They also found they shared a common interest in jazz. Three months after meeting, Seretse gathered up enough courage to ask Ruth out. To be on the safe side, Seretse called Ruth at her office and said, “I have two tickets for The Ink Spots [a popular jazz group]… I’ll get three if you’d like your sister to come along with us.” Ruth sassily replied: “I’d love to come – without my sister.” This was the beginning of the love epic!

Despite Seretse’s strong feelings for Ruth, their relationship developed slowly. “We enjoyed being together, of course, but our relations, though friendly enough, it was quite platonic… I learned that she was the daughter of a London salesman and that she worked as a typist at the famous insurance firm of Lloyd's in London.” said Seretse. After their first date, they gradually spent more time together. Ruth watched Seretse play football, but not boxing as she found that too brutal for witnessing people beating up Seretse in the boxing ring. They chose to meeting during ice-skating but Seretse was not good on the ice. Whenever Seretse had some news – if he’d passed an exam – Ruth was the first person to be told.

In 1940s interracial dating in places like London, the heart of Europe it was a very horrible thing to commit if a person survived from punishment then can't escape from social stigma and rejection. When Ruth begun walking along with Afro-guys, friends and Ruth’s parents would cross the street to avoid meeting her and she was often called a “tart” for associating with Seretse. The attitude was that if a white girl was out with a black man, she couldn’t be respectable. Still, despite the challenges they went through, Seretse felt certainly he wanted Ruth as his wife no matter what: “Ruth, do you think you could love me?” Seretse pull her legs asking her, however she didn’t need to say yes, since he can really see the twinkling lights in her blue eyes and the smile on her face which telling him what he should know. One day they went to a tiny restaurant in Soho to celebrate, and it was there Seretse sealed his mouth on Ruth's lips for the first kiss, it has been almost a year in a secret platonic dates. The controversy of marriage is said to have inspired the film Marriage of Inconvenience and the Book Colour Bar

On time, Seretse recalled how angry he felt when people saw them together and cast aspersions upon their relationship especially the media that always seek to blow out the relationship. The fact that he was royalty made it even worse. “Perhaps the most humiliating of my experiences has been the attempt [by the press] to cheapen my romance with Ruth, to prejudice the public against us by making it seem like a shocking scandal. Ours was no dance-hall or ‘pick-up’ as some people have claimed,” he told Ebony magazine in 1951. Seretse and Ruth, like any dating couple, didn’t know they were falling in love at the time. “But now that I think back on it,” Seretse said in Ebony, “We both must have had subconscious fears of what the future held for us if we allowed ourselves to become serious. There was a feeling in my land – strong feelings about what was white and black – and I suppose both of us wondered secretly what future could there be for us: Imagine an African prince whom regarded as Kgosi and role model of the community ended in hand of a white English secretary.” “But in matters of love the heart is seldom ruled by skin colouring,” Seretse said. “She did love me, and I knew that this was the woman I wanted for my wife – the woman I wanted to be my helpmate in bringing guidance and knowledge to my people in Bechuanaland."

Others, however, saw things differently, and the challenges continued for the couple. When planning their wedding, they were hampered by religious officials who kept saying they needed approval from the local bishop. Once wed, they had to overcome even more obstacles. Telling her father the news of her marriage in 1948, Ruth found she was thrown out of the family home. In London, they couldn’t find housing as some landlords don't wanted a mixed couple living in their property. William Wand, the Bishop of London, he also refused to give a blessing to the nuptials. The bishop actually telephoned the priest that fateful morning of the marriage to tell him not to perform any wedding officiating. As a result, the couple decided to have an informal civil ceremony and few days later, they tied a knot on 29 September, 1948 at Kensington Register Office. After they got married, they lived in a small London flat for a time. Seretse was trapped in foreign soil, in Botswana, Seretse’s uncle, Tshekedi who was kgosi (King) of Bamagwato at the time, said: “If he brings his white wife here, I will fight him to the death.” The British Government was hugely concerned about what an interracial marriage would do to international relations between the UK and South Africa that had just passed a law against mixed marriage.

Seretse and his newly marriage wife went through several wave of social bigotries brought about by their controversial relationship. Bowing to pressure from apartheid regime in South Africa, the British government attempted to stop the marriage proceeding, but never succeeded and then went on to prevent the couple from returning to Botswana. For eight years they lived in hideout in England, until the Bamangwato sent a personal cable to the Queen in protest, due to the pressure from ordinary people in the community who wanted to see him returned.

According to the testimony of the insider, Ruth after left UK she stayed with us in our Joburg family before moving to Serowe, in Bamangwato tribal home. British authority were trying to trick the couple to leave Botswana.  Ruth had refused to sleep after gave birth to Jackie, fighting off the effects of the doctor’s sedative, until Seretse reached her bedside, hold her arms, and the baby. I tell this story now because it so powerfully illustrates Ruth’s iron will and determination. Her father, as furious as Tshekedi about the interracial marriage, had turned her out of their Blackheath, London home. Her missionary sister Muriel and her mother were in England, and so at a time when pregnant women feel vulnerable and want family close by, Ruth was “alone”. But weeks after Jackie’s birth, the couple was forced to go to Lobatse from where they flew back to Britain.

During their five years of cold and miserable exile, the tribe in Bechuanaland, became restless and unmanageable, as they demanded the return of their chief and his wife. For, contrary to Tshekedi’s predictions, thousands of them had roared their acceptance of the couple in the Kgotla – their tribal parliament – where everyone had a voice, even if a meeting went on for days. We ask for bread and you give us stones,” they berated the British who had assumed direct rule in the absence of the “wicked” uncle who had gone into self-imposed exile, away from Serowe. 

During the meeting the riots erupted, people threw stones to one another and the police were called in as the increasingly unruly tribe made its feelings known. A worried Seretse told his uncle he was prepared to renounce his chieftainship if the British would let him go home. The British were embarrassed by the worldwide opprobrium from their cruel treatment of the couple, later the deal was struck. In 1956 the couple allowed to return back home in Botswana with Jackie and little Ian who born in London, him too later became a president of Botswana in 2008. As the winds of change howled throughout African continent, so the British began readying the Bechuanaland Protectorate (BP) as we were called the country back then, before independence. After Seretse returned he joined politics, first he formed a political movement the called Botswana Democratic Party.

The original photo of Ruth Williams Khama and Seretse Khama, Bamangwato clan in Botswana.
Him and Ruth by his side, begun travelling widely throughout all towns, cities and villages of a sparsely populated country the size of France, trying to educating voters. Gaborone, a railway town-station, was chosen as a capital instead of Mafikeng. Queen Elizabeth II later recognised Seretse contribution and was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire). In 1965 Seretse won the elections with an overwhelming majority and Queen Elizabeth II knighted him officially and on 30 September 1966 he became the first President of Botswana. Ruth, as a forsaken Englishwoman who had been cast out by her family completely, and gang stalked by her government for being apparently unpatriotic, she was triumphed, when Botswana got its national independence, during the celebration she stunningly dressed in a red gown with elegant shoulder bare. I rushed home at midnight, jumped on my sister’s bed and told her I had danced with Seretse during the inauguration.

The death of Seretse Khama at a very young age of 59 in 1980 from liver cancer hit Ruth particularly hard. Not only had a great love affair come to an end but so too had her busy and fulfilling life as the country’s first lady derailed. She moved from the large and elegant double-storey State House into a simple bungalow on a family farm outside Gaborone where she lived “alone” with domestic staff. This is the same place where she took me to conduct interviews for her autobiographic book that I had suggested. Seretse had been dead for a year and I sensed the struggle she was having to adapt to her vastly changed circumstances. After the book interviews completed in 1983, we only saw each other less often but she came to stay with us on some occasions.

 One day in September 1999 she rang me to suggest we have tea at Joburg’s Hyde Park Corner, where we spent hours chatting as I caught up on her children’s lives. Thereafter we met often whenever she came to Joburg for the treatment of her throat cancer. When we were out together nobody, except for a few waiters, recognised the slender woman with one pale blue eye and one green. She’d pat the back of her head, in a gesture that became familiar to me, and clear her throat, touching her lips with her fingertips. It’s catarrh, I must keep off sugar,” she’d say. She never lost her English ascent although she did try to learn Setswana, she gave up, telling me she was always too busy to do so.
We were close but she kept her own precarious state of health from me.  It was typical understatement from the former First Lady of Botswana, who led a stable country that discovered its diamonds soon after Independence and wisely managed by Sir Seretse. Madam Ruth died on 22 May 2002. Her funeral service held in Gaborone’s cathedral attended by thousands people include celebrities,politicians and royal families from all over the globe. I drove with members of the Khama family behind her cortege through the capital, its streets lined with sad crowds. That evening a violent hailstorm, unusual for winter, the sky was a surreal and fiery red. Just like the young Ruth’s hair, I thought. As the light faded I felt her direct gaze, heard her soft musical laugh and the clearing of her throat.Days later she was laid to rest beside her belovely husband Seretse in the Khama family graveyard, (united for eternity), on a hilltop overlooking Serowe.

Seretse as Botswana's first president in 1966, the country underwent significant economic and social progress, while Ruth was also politically active and influential First Lady. Ultimately, though, their love triumphed over adversity. The couple were happily remained in their marriage until the death do them apart!  Seretse and Ruth had one daughter, Jacqueline born in 1950 and three sons, Ian Khama born in 1953 at Chertsey, United Kingdom ( Ian too became Botswana President from 01 April 2008 to 01 April 2018), and his twin brothers Anthony Paul (named Anthony after Tony Benn, who had led the campaign to end Seretse’s exile) and Tshekedi Khama born in 1958 and named after his troublesome uncle.  Tshekedi and Tony born in Serowe just after leaving Britain.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Chinese Women Pay African Men To Marry Them In China

    Jennifer Tsang and Eman Okonkwo at their wedding in Guangzhou in April. Photo: Jenni Marsh.
Afro-Chinese marriages boom in Guangzhou: but will it be 'til death do us part'? Guangzhou is witnessing many Afro-Chinese marriages, but the mainland's lack of citizenship rights for husbands and a crackdown on foreign visas means families live in fear of being torn apart, writes Jenni Marsh.

Eman Okonkwo commended that realizing a dream imagined by countless African merchants and immigrants who live in Guangzhou: He is marrying his Chinese bride, after spent several years together. Seven days earlier before the wedding, Jennifer Tsang's family was oblivious to their daughter's romance. Like many local women dating African men, the curvaceous trader from Foshan, who is in her late 20s - that dreaded "leftover woman" age - had feared her parents would be racially prejudiced. 

Today, though - having tentatively given their blessing - they snuck into the underground Royal Victory Church, in Guangzhou, looking over their shoulders for police as they entered the downtown tower block. Non-state-sanctioned religious events like this are illegal on the mainland. Okonkwo, 42, doesn't have a single relative at the rambunctious Pentecostal ceremony, but nevertheless he is more delighted to be next to his wife.

    Chengdu Tiancheng FC, player Youssou Ousagna and Michelle Zhang Nan with a son, Calvin.
While Okonkwo's dream of becoming Chinese through matrimony is appear difficult - the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau (PSB) denies Africans any more rights than a tourist - his children, should he have any and they be registered under wife's name, the child will possess a hukou residency permit and full Chinese citizenship. Guangzhou "CHOCOLATE CITY" OR "Little Africa", as it has been dubbed by the Chinese press, provides home to the population ranging between 20,000 and 200,000, mostly male, African migrants (calculations vary wildly due to the itinerant nature of many traders and the thousands who overstay their visas). Africans began pouring into China after the collapse of the Asian Tiger and other Asian countries in 1997 prompted them to abandon outposts in Thailand and Indonesia. By exporting cheap Chinese goods back home, Guangzhou has became a promised land to many Africans.

It is easy to believe that every African country is represented here, with the Nigerian, Malian and Guinean communities the most populous residents. But the Chocolate city is a misnomer; in the bustling 7km stretch from Sanyuanli to Baiyun, in northern Guangzhou, myriad ethnicities co-exist together. Uygurs serve freshly baked Xinjiang bread to Angolan women balancing shopping on their heads while Somalis in flowing Muslim robes haggle over mobile phones before exchanging currency with Malians in leather jackets, who buy lunch from Turks sizzling tilapia on street grills, and then order beer from the Korean waitress in the Africa Bar. Tucked away above a shop-lined trading corridor, the bar serves food that reminds Africans of home - egusi soup, jollof rice, fried chicken. Whereas Chungking Mansions conceals Hong Kong's low-end trading community, in dilapidated Dengfeng village - Little Africa's central thoroughfare - the merchants, supplied by Chinese wholesalers, are highly visible. And it's in this melee of trade where most Afro-Chinese romances blossom.

Amina Magasaga (left) plays with her friend at Huiling Integrated Kindergarten in Baiyun.
Amadou Issa came to China in 2004. We meet in Lounge Coffee, a hangout popular with African men who like a cigarette with their croissant, while a Celine Dion CD plays in the background. Through the nicotine haze, the 34-year-old from Niger - rated by the United Nations as one of the world's least developed nations - tells me he arrived at Baiyun International Airport with US$300, simply wanting "to survive".

Today, he owns a five million yuan (HK$6.3 million) flat in Zhujiang New Town, Guangzhou's smartest district, drives a car worth US$64,000 and speaks Putonghua. Issa ships 50 to 200 containers home per year - full of construction materials, because "they're the most lucrative" - and makes an average US$2,000 on each container. A friend, Yusuf Sampto - a trader with three shops in West Africa's Burkina Faso - pulls up a chair. They excitably describe stuffing suitcases with "literally millions" of US dollars to move their profits back to China once the goods have sold (they declare the cash at customs, they say). African banks can't be trusted, they explain, and it's impossible for a migrant to open a current account in the mainland. Like most of Guangzhou's successful traders, Issa has a Chinese wife. "She used to work for a company I ordered from, and we became friends," he says. "We had a Chinese wedding and a Muslim wedding. Her name was Xie Miemie but I renamed her Zena." Zena is from Hainan Island and Issa was the first African man her family had ever seen. "Initially, they were unsure about me, but now, when I'm not there, they ask my wife, 'Where is your import husband?'" Issa chuckles. 

Youssou Ousagna also gets along well with his in-laws. The retired footballer moved from Senegal to Sichuan province in 2005, having been scouted by Chengdu Tiancheng FC. In 2007, after an injury had ended his playing career, Ousagna moved to Guangzhou, where he met his Hangzhou-born wife - she worked at the pharmacy from which he picked up medicine for ongoing football injuries. “Initially, they were unsure about me, but now, when I'm not there, they ask my wife, 'Where is your import husband?'” Her parents are both doctors, her sister is a surgeon and her brother a policeman in Guangzhou. This middle-class family have welcomed their African Muslim son-in-law. "communication with the Chinese is a problem," Ousagna says. "I speak a bit Mandarin, so we understood each other. No problem." Outside Little Africa, however, racism remains deep-seated, says Gordon Mathews, a professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who is researching low-end globalization in Guangzhou.

The relationship with Africa that China has so aggressively courted for economic gain. In recent years China saw a record of US$198 billion in trade between Africa and China. Guangzhou is the city that holds first mixed-race generation with blood from two races Afro and Oriental.The Chocolate city or 'Little Africa', Guangzhou is a home of about 200,000, mostly male, African migrants and traders. Africans began pouring into China after the collapse of the East Timor's Tigers rebels in 1997 prompted them to abandon outposts in Thailand and Indonesia. By exporting cheap Chinese goods back home, traders made a killing, and word spread fast. Guangzhou became a promised land.

It is easy to believe that every African nation is represented here, with the Nigerian, Malian and Guinean communities the most populous. But Little Africa is a misnomer; in the bustling 7km stretch from Sanyuanli to Baiyun, in northern Guangzhou, myriad ethnicities co-exist. Uygurs serve freshly baked Xinjiang bread to Angolan women balancing shopping on their heads while Somalis in flowing Muslim robes haggle over mobile phones before exchanging currency with Malians in leather jackets, who buy lunch from Turks sizzling tilapia on street grills, and then order beer from the Korean waitress in the Africa Bar. Tucked away above a shop-lined trading corridor, the bar serves food that reminds Africans of home - egusi soup, jollof rice, fried chicken. Whereas Chungking Mansions conceals Hong Kong's low-end trading community, in dilapidated Dengfeng village - Little Africa's central thoroughfare - the merchants, supplied by Chinese wholesalers, are highly visible. And it's in this melee of trade where most Afro-Chinese romances blossom.

"I know three or four relationships where the couple had expected it to lead to marriage, but as soon as the Chinese family met the African boyfriend, they had to end it," he says. "Marrying a black person is still marrying down in China." Racial prejudice on the mainland hit the headlines in 2009, when Lou Jing, an Afro-Chinese singer, then 20, appeared on an American Idol imitation television show, sparking controversy and drawing racial slurs online. "How can a mixed-race contestant become a Chinese idol?" bloggers demanded. Chinese prejudice against Africans is normally based on three aspects: traditional aesthetic values, an ignorance of African culture and society, and the language barrier.

Generally, though, the African bachelors in Guangzhou are not desperate asylum seekers: they are highly eligible businessmen. Like Ousagna and Issa, they often own a car, have a stable income and speak Putonghua. Forty per cent of African migrants surveyed in Guangzhou for the book Africans in China (2012), by former University of Hong Kong professor Adams Bodomo, had received tertiary education - some even held a PhD. As one Congolese merchant tells Post Magazine, "To start a business in China you have to be quite well-to-do. In the early days, the air ticket alone cost US$2,000."

Despite their eligibility, most African grooms in Guangzhou marry Chinese economic migrants whose disapproving families reside far from the city. In business terms, it is the ideal merger, says Lin, who believes most Afro-Chinese marriages are a cynical play for better business. "Opening a shop is very difficult for foreigners," she says. "You need a Chinese passport or the landlord will ask for a bribe. A Chinese wife can speak to suppliers. It's useful to have a Chinese partner. "Many Chinese women want to marry Africans because they are from poor rural areas, often Hunan or Hubei provinces. Marrying a foreigner is a way to upgrade their social status, because the Africans have money." Instead of taking a factory job, a Chinese woman who marries an African man often becomes head of his wholesale shop, should he open one, and a key player in his export business. Trader and hip-hop artist Pat Chukwuonye Chike, aka Dibaocha Sky. Photo: Robin Fall Pat Chukwuonye Chike - a garment trader by day and Nigerian hip-hop artist known as Dibaocha Sky by night - has a Chinese wife who doubles as a business partner. But, he says, if African men could legally work in China, many might not take a local wife.

"That is my sacrifice," says the married father-of-two. "My wife cannot cook. My mother-in-law helps look after the children, and she is poisoning them against Africa. She's an old woman, she knows the game she's playing. There is crisis everywhere - terrorists were in Guangzhou last week - it is a sin to make my children scared of Nigeria." Africans in Guangzhou fall into two groups: those with valid documentation and those whose visas have expired. For those who have overstayed, a Chinese wife is more than a business partner; she is key to survival. Last August, a major police bust on an African-led drug ring turned life into a daily fight against deportation for overstayers. From dusk till dawn, police checked passports in Guangyuan Xi Lu, the Nigerian annex of Little Africa, where most of the city's over stayers can be found.

Overstayers face a 12,000 yuan fine and must pay for their 6,000-yuan air ticket out of the country. Those with Chinese wives went underground while their spouses manned their businesses. "During this period, Nigerians with Chinese wives survived better," says Lin. While the crackdown proved a Chinese wife's worth, the loyalty displayed points to genuine devotion in Afro-Chinese romances. Pastor I.G., of the Royal Victory Church, has a Chinese wife, and children. One Sunday I ask him, "Is it love or business?" The Nigerian sighs. He feels "slighted" by repeated assumptions his eight-year marriage is economically motivated. He met Winnie, a native of Guangdong province, at church and the pair are united in their evangelic mission ("God knows it's China's time," he says). Winnie, 34, is a pastor at the church's 100-worshipper-strong Chinese arm while he leads the larger African congregation. Their tactile body language speaks volumes about their union. Michelle Zhang Nan, 35, doesn't fit the profile of a trader's wife, either. 

When we meet at McDonald's, she is dressed in an expensive A-line dress and kitten heels. Her three-year-old son, Calvin, trails behind as she carries a tray of Big Macs and milkshakes. A university graduate whose parents are government officials, Zhang lives in Guangzhou but has a prized Beijing hukou and owns a phone-battery retail business. "I liked the way he did business," she says, of falling in love with her South African husband. "If I was married to a Chinese man, I could not be a strong woman like I am today. My husband is 11 years older and he teaches me." She notes that a Chinese man would benefit equally from taking an African wife, but that is unheard of in Guangzhou. As one bootylicious Liberian hairdresser, who works on the third floor of a tower block, says, "Chinese men aren't manly, they aren't sexual to us." (East African prostitutes working in Little Africa, however, report that 50 per cent of their clients are Chinese men who "want to try it".)

But a Chinese wife cannot solve an African migrant's biggest problem, African man his happy families can be swiftly torn apart if the PSB denies a continuation on an African husband's temporary documents. The central government pointedly lacks an immigration department, meaning there is no framework for the assimilation of newlyweds such as Okonkwo. Policy differs from province to province and, compared with those in other Chinese cities, the Guangdong authorities are notorious for their hostile and inconsistent attitude to African migrants. Throughout the two months I conducted interviews, African husbands reported getting a variety of visas. Nigerian businessman Tony Ekkai - who has two Afro-Chinese children - has a "representative office" of his Hong Kong-registered business in Guangzhou, and therefore is entitled to a coveted one-year, multiple-entry business visa. His Nigerian friend Tony Michael, also married to a Chinese woman, with a two-month-old son, is despondently stuck on three-month visas. Six-month, single-entry visas are all Zhang's husband has seen.

Many, like Ousagna, return to their wives' provinces to renew their visas, to evade the capricious Guangzhou authorities. Others - such as Guinean trader Cellou, who has a one-year residence pass - say their country's good political relationship with Beijing helps their visa applications. Guinea was the first sub-Saharan country to forge diplomatic ties with China, and Cellou, who studied business at the International Islamic University Malaysia, spots the glaring double standard: "If my [Chinese] wife stays in Guinea she can get a Guinea passport." African states - home to millions of Chinese, also often undocumented - are watching closely to see how their citizens are treated on mainland soil. After a 2012 crackdown in Beijing on African migrants, Nigerian immigration authorities immediately retaliated, arresting 45 Chinese traders in the northern city of Kano. With so much at stake for Sino-African relations, Beijing is playing a cautious game. Lan Shanshan, a research assistant professor at Baptist University, claims there is a media edict on the mainland to report favourably on Africans in China, hence the state-owned newspaper Guangming Daily's three-part special titled "Friends From Africa, How are You Doing in Guangzhou?"

But a WikiLeaks cable revealed some years ago that the central government is troubled by the intermarrying phenomenon, and quietly funded a covert research about Africans in Guangzhou, specifically their impact on crime, underground religion and tax revenue omission. The American diplomat who wrote the cable to Washington was not privy to the findings. In 2011, the government dropped its poker face with the ground-breaking Guangdong Act, which offered rewards to Chinese who snitched on overstayers; made it illegal for employers, hoteliers or educational institutes to serve illegal migrants, and insisted they report all cases to the PSB or face a 10,000 yuan fine; and expanded police powers so that any officer, not just members of the foreign affairs department, could stop foreigners to verify passports. Even those with valid visas were rattled. 

A Ugandan told Lan, "A visa is not a 100 per cent guarantee here. When police stop you, if you do not look like a pleasant person to them, they may draw the line on your visa and cancel it. They say, 'China gives, China takes.'" In 2010, Bodomo predicted that in 100 years' time "an African-Chinese ethnic minority group could be demanding self-identity and full citizenship rights in the heart of Guangzhou". But that's already happening. Ojukwu Emmanuel, 42, is the man spearheading this campaign. A political heavyweight in Guangzhou, he is the elected head of the Nigerian community (each African nation has an informal community representative) and also goes by the ostentatious title of President of Africa in China. Emmanuel came to Guangzhou in 1997. He has a Chinese wife, a four-year-old son and, in 2012, he formed the Nigerian-Chinese Family Forum, comprised of 200 mixed-race couples and their offspring. His team put together a dossier outlining the contributions to society made by Nigerians and presented it to the PSB, demanding longer and more lenient visas for those with families.

A trader with her Afro-Chinese daughters at the Tang Qi Arcade, in Guangyuan Xi Lu.
A lot of people are having children now and we need to know their future," he says. Emmy Marc-Anthony, Emmanuel's assistant and a former TV actor in Nigeria, says, "We are contributing to the economy, we are bringing money from our home countries and investing here, spending money, and give great jobs to local Chinese." The PSB listened to the appeal; perhaps it was fearful of unrest. In 2009, 200 Africans rioted after a Nigerian jumped to his death from a building to escape a passport check. That was the first time in many decades that foreigners had protested en masse in the mainland. Marc-Anthony now has a three-year resident visa. "Very soon I hope they will give us ID cards," he says. But for those not associated with the Nigerian-Chinese Family Forum - which is the vast majority of Africans in Guangzhou - things aren't getting easier. Last year, the central government passed the draconian Exit-Entry Administration Law. 

Africans who were hoping this highly anticipated law would open up China in terms of immigration and give husbands access to permanent resident status were sorely disappointed. "In reality, rather than changing the rules of the game, the law marked a nationwide change in attitude," says Robert Castillo, a PhD student in cultural studies at Lingnan University. "The Ministry of Public Security, it seems, is serious about controlling the presence of foreigners in the country." Before, Africans could renew their visas by crossing the border into Hong Kong or Macau; now they must return to their home nations to reapply. "With such instability, Africans are forced to be living and renting in China but having savings and investments - i.e. housing - in Africa," says Castillo. "The future of families with one foreign parent is precarious." Pastor Daniel Michael-Mbawike, who founded the Royal Victory Church after leaving Nigeria in 1994, was banned from the mainland for proselytising to the Chinese. Now heading the church from Hong Kong, he has seen families torn apart by the new law. "The authorities are refusing or cancelling visas for no reason," he says, "Brother Abu's visa was suddenly cancelled. He has a wife and two kids but had to go back to Nigeria. Another two girls got engaged to Africans but the men are stuck in Nigeria and trying to get back for their wedding."

Given such inhospitable conditions, 95 per cent of the Africans I interview say they want to leave, though no one has a time frame for their departure. To add insult to injury, while Africans are denied Chinese citizenship, they are still subject to the one-child policy. I.G. and Winnie have three children, Peace, aged eight, Joshua, six, and 1½-year-old Jeremia. "After the second child they asked us to pay 30,000 yuan even though I'm a foreigner," he says, with a what-can-you-do shrug. At the time, the couple fought bitterly over whether or not to oblige. The two eldest children are registered under their mother's name and so have Chinese passports and hukou; Jeremia is tagged onto his father's one-year visa. Unless the family can find another 30,000 yuan or the situation changes, he will not be able to freely attend local schools, will have less access to medical services and, come his 18th birthday, will enter the same visa quagmire his father has waded through for years. But I.G. looks on the bright side. "Maybe one day he will become a Chinese Obama," he laughs. Zhang also dreams big for Calvin. "After middle school he will go to Beijing, where my hukou is, because it will be better for his college application," she says. "I hope he studies hard and gets a very good job in Beijing." As Calvin rampages through McDonald's, pulling trays off tables and trying to urinate into a plant pot, I hope he can live up to his mother's expectations.

Amina Magasaga (right) hugs her friend at Huiling Integrated Kindergarten in Baiyun, China. 

Integrated Kindergarten in Baiyun, Amina Magasaga arrives for lessons. The five-year-old, who has a Chinese mother and Malian father, loves Hello Kitty, speaks perfect Putonghua and is fluent in English. Amina is not unusual at Huiling: her class of 30 includes Uygur Muslims, Chinese, children of African migrants and two other Afro-Chinese students. Her teacher, Miss Ariel, herself a migrant from Harbin, says there have never been any Lou Jing-esque racist incidents at the kindergarten; these children have a new, multi-ethnic concept of being Chinese. But while integration at kindergarten level seems successful, the challenges facing Amina's parents means this little girl's future may not be in China.

As labour costs in China rise - making goods more expensive to export - and hostility to foreigners intensifies, dinnertime debates over whether to relocate to Africa are on the rise. It's a decision that many couples have already taken. Ariel reports that in 2009, there were 27 African children in the kindergarten - more than a third of the total student population. Today that proportion has shrunk to about a sixth. "Sadly, I've heard African men saying if the economy slows down, and business goes bad, they will have to leave, even if their families do not follow them," says Castillo. "People without [options in China] are worried about the prospects of being forced to abandon their families." Undeniably, most African fathers, once they become rich, want to return home. But intractable problems in their birth nations - the terror wrought by Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Kenya, recurring droughts in Burkina Faso - mean that, for many, Africa will still have to wait. What their wives do when that time comes is another matter.

 Guangzhou's Afro-Chinese children - a living legacy of an economic dream - are still maturing: few are more than 10 years old. But when Amina's generation reaches adulthood, they, too, will have to decide, just like their fathers before them, where their land of opportunity lies

Happy New Year 2019



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