Bride and prejudice: Afro-Chinese marriages in Guangzhou
Jennifer Tsang and Eman Okonkwo at their wedding in Guangzhou in April. Photo: Jenni Marsh –
Posted on June 3, 2014 by Brigitte Read 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. The article was first published in the Post Magazine of South China Morning Post Jennifer Tsang and Eman Okonkwo at their wedding in Guangzhou in April. Photo: Jenni Marsh Eman Okonkwo’s foot-tapping at the altar is not a sign of nerves.
The groom’s palms aren’t sweaty, there are no pre-wedding jitters and certainly no second thoughts. Today he is realising a dream imagined by countless African merchants in Guangzhou: he is marrying a Chinese bride. Seven days earlier, 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 is nevertheless delighted. “Today is so special,” beams the Nigerian, “because I have married a Chinese girl. And that makes me half-African, half-Chinese.” In Guangzhou, weddings like this take place every day. There are no official figures on Afro-Chinese marriages but visit any trading warehouse in the city and you will see scores of mixed-race couples running wholesale shops, their coffee-coloured, hair-braided children racing through the corridors. While Okonkwo’s dream of becoming Chinese through matrimony is futile – the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau (PSB) denies African husbands any more rights than a tourist – his children, should he have any and they be registered under Tsang’s name, will possess a hukou residency permit and full Chinese citizenship. T
he relationship with Africa that China has so aggressively courted for economic gain – 2012 saw a record US$198 billion of trade between the pair – is producing an unexpected return: the mainland’s first mixed-race generation with blood from a distant continent and the right to be Chinese.
“Chocolate City” or “Little Africa”, as it has been dubbed by the Chinese press, is a district of Guangzhou that is home to 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). –