Black, British and making moves in China
Jonathan, Beijing, TeacherSource: What does BHM mean to you? To me black history month is quite special. It gives people the opportunity to learn more about black history and black culture – but the things you learn in black history month (esp at schools in the UK) are quite limited. Black history means everything to me – when you step beyond slavery and Dr Martin Luther King, then you start to step a lot deeper into black history and how far reaching and incredible it is. Everything I do now is so everything they did then wouldn’t be in vain. So black history means absolutely everything to me. On being black in China Being black in China is the same as everywhere that doesn’t have a black-majority. It’s not particularly easy, we know that. Every day I wake up I know that I’m a black person. That means interacting with Chinese people knowing that they may not necessarily think the most of you. They may not think you’re deserving of the job that you’re in, or that you’re intelligent. Or they struggle to find the beauty in dark skin. That becomes difficult at times because you bear that with you along with your normal problems. Doesn’t mean that everyone out here is horrible. It’s almost polarized. There are people who will look at you with disgust and there are people who will go out of their way to make sure you’re okay. If you’re lost they will go out of their way to walk you where you need to go. If you can’t get a taxi they will take your phone and use it to call you one. People have treated me like family knowing that I’m so far away from home. It’s quite polarized, people can really appreciate your difference or struggle to understand. Living in China is an incredibly surreal experience. You get to do so many different things. It’s good to open your mind, learn what it’s like to be black in other parts of the world. Learn how to treat people. There are so many benefits to getting out of your comfort zone, you get to meet people that you wouldn’t have otherwise. And as an added bonus, as expats we earn a decent wage in comparison to what things cost. On black icons There are too many black icons to mention here. First and foremost though is Dave Chapelle. My favourite types of comedy is when the artist brings real issues to the table but sugar coats it in comedy so it’s not raw truth. Dave Chapelle does a lot to unravel the system that is around us in a subtle way. He talks about the problems he’s faced because he’s black and tries to warn us by telling us what to look out for. Someone that I’m particularly proud of is the grime artist and philanthropist Stormzy. He’s stepped beyond his profession as a grime artist and delivered tangible services to the black community. For example, he has delivered full scholarships to at least three students to study at elite Western Universities.
Black, British and making moves in China
42, Beijing, TeacherSource: My experiences in China have been interesting to say the least. I love the food most of the time and I enjoy the hustle and bustle of this busy city as it reminds me of my hometown London. Being black in China can grate on my nerves but I keep reminding myself to be open minded and positive, even when some encounters leave me with a bitter taste in my mouth. I am a mother of 2 girls (aged 21 and 14) and I feel the need to model to them how they should approach new experiences and cultures. My youngest is here with me in China and she absolutely adores it, which makes life just that bit easier. I also feel that I too need to work on being accepting of others if that is what I would like to receive myself. A year in and I’m still posing for impromptu and sometimes obtrusive pictures with a smile because I feel like I should set a good example of people with my skin colour. At the same time I do understand the exasperation of some of my friends here who sometimes get annoyed with it all. I have been fascinated with China for a while now. I would recommend China to someone who is willing to give it a chance, open to learning about a different culture and not easily ruffled. China is not for the faint hearted but if you give it a chance it can open up so many doors for you. On black icons My favorite Black icon is Michaela Coel because she is inspirational, driven, down to earth and as funny as they come.
From politics to journalism, and media to law, Black people in Britain are carving out a space for ourselves and paving the way for future generations. It should then be no surprise that we’re doing the same overseas, with China being an increasingly popular destination for the particularly adventurous.
As ever, Black experiences in China are varied – even amongst Black Brits. We are, by no means, a monolith. But what encourages Black Brits of different backgrounds, ages and professions to pack up everything and move some 4000+ miles away to the middle kingdom…and what meets them when they arrive?
By now, most people know a few things about China that make it a challenging place for Black people – largely racially homogenous society, traditional beauty ideals that promote whiteness, the list goes on.
If you’re not directly from the African continent or America, most locals find it hard to place you. And at a time when questions like ‘英国有黑人吗?! 不可能!’（Are there black people in England? That’s impossible) are still commonplace, being both black and British can seem like an uphill struggle …or a great conversation starter – if not both.
In this article, Black Livity China explores the experiences of 18 diverse Black Brits, with a cumulative total of 75 years in China – would they recommend China to other black Brits considering it? What does it mean to be black in a Chinese context? And what, if anything, does it take to survive and succeed here?
To read their responses, scroll through below, or find a summarised version in the gallery above!
Jonathan, Beijing, Teacher
What does BHM mean to you?
To me black history month is quite special. It gives people the opportunity to learn more about black history and black culture – but the things you learn in black history month (esp at schools in the UK) are quite limited.
Black history means everything to me – when you step beyond slavery and Dr Martin Luther King, then you start to step a lot deeper into black history and how far reaching and incredible it is. Everything I do now is so everything they did then wouldn’t be in vain. So black history means absolutely everything to me.
On being black in China
Being black in China is the same as everywhere that doesn’t have a black-majority. It’s not particularly easy, we know that. Every day I wake up I know that I’m a black person. That means interacting with Chinese people knowing that they may not necessarily think the most of you.
They may not think you’re deserving of the job that you’re in, or that you’re intelligent. Or they struggle to find the beauty in dark skin. That becomes difficult at times because you bear that with you along with your normal problems.
Doesn’t mean that everyone out here is horrible. It’s almost polarized. There are people who will look at you with disgust and there are people who will go out of their way to make sure you’re okay. If you’re lost they will go out of their way to walk you where you need to go. If you can’t get a taxi they will take your phone and use it to call you one. People have treated me like family knowing that I’m so far away from home. It’s quite polarized, people can really appreciate your difference or struggle to understand.
Living in China is an incredibly surreal experience. You get to do so many different things. It’s good to open your mind, learn what it’s like to be black in other parts of the world. Learn how to treat people. There are so many benefits to getting out of your comfort zone, you get to meet people that you wouldn’t have otherwise. And as an added bonus, as expats we earn a decent wage in comparison to what things cost.
On black icons
There are too many black icons to mention here. First and foremost though is Dave Chapelle. My favourite types of comedy is when the artist brings real issues to the table but sugar coats it in comedy so it’s not raw truth. Dave Chapelle does a lot to unravel the system that is around us in a subtle way. He talks about the problems he’s faced because he’s black and tries to warn us by telling us what to look out for.
Someone that I’m particularly proud of is the grime artist and philanthropist Stormzy. He’s stepped beyond his profession as a grime artist and delivered tangible services to the black community. For example, he has delivered full scholarships to at least three students to study at elite Western Universities.
Charmaine, 42, Beijing, Teacher
My experiences in China have been interesting to say the least. I love the food most of the time and I enjoy the hustle and bustle of this busy city as it reminds me of my hometown London.
Being black in China can grate on my nerves but I keep reminding myself to be open-minded and positive, even when some encounters leave me with a bitter taste in my mouth. I am a mother of 2 girls (aged 21 and 14) and I feel the need to model to them how they should approach new experiences and cultures. My youngest is here with me in China and she absolutely adores it, which makes life just that bit easier. I also feel that I too need to work on being accepting of others if that is what I would like to receive myself.
A year in and I’m still posing for impromptu and sometimes obtrusive pictures with a smile because I feel like I should set a good example of people with my skin colour. At the same time, I do understand the exasperation of some of my friends here who sometimes get annoyed with it all. I have been fascinated with China for a while now.
I would recommend China to someone who is willing to give it a chance, open to learning about a different culture and not easily ruffled. China is not for the faint hearted but if you give it a chance it can open up so many doors for you.
On black icons
My favorite Black icon is Michaela Coel because she is inspirational, driven, down to earth and as funny as they come.
Malaika, 21, Beijing, Student Experience Officer
I am a ‘Student Experience Officer’ in China. I am a student at the University of Huddersfield and I am currently spending my placement year in Beijing.
On being Black in China
Being Black in China isn’t easy, the general public will never let you forget that you’re a foreigner. Anywhere I go I am constantly stared at, pointed at and every single day people take pictures of me and touch my hair (box braids) without asking.
(Malaika in her capacity as a student experience officer for Huddersfield University)
However, being black in China also means that I am able to help normalise black women having a seat on the table and being seen in professional environments. I see myself as a pioneer who can help to educate the Chinese about black British women and bring our cultures closer together.
Hopefully, my presence in China can inspire other black women to consider working here and help to normalise black people traveling to this country.
I would definitely encourage other black brits to work in China, there are a lot of opportunities in here and China is developing fast. Other amazing black women have set up groups and events in China which are exclusively for black people, so there are a lot of spaces where we can socialise. China is becoming the leading country for business and so I urge black women to consider working here.
On black icons
My favourite black icon is Stormzy because he is a self-made musician who is unapologetically black and uses his platform to inspire and uplift young black boys and girls.
Andre, 29, Beijing, Teacher/App Developer
My experiences in China has been pretty good. I have made a few friends, met some great people and had many different types of food. Its also allowed me (and others I am sure) to learn more about themselves and what they could do.
As a black person in China I think that we do have a bit of a duty to be ambassadors for not only other people of our skin color but also for our nationality too. As you probably guessed people often think that you are African immediately. So its always cool to challenge their belief system a bit (because they often generally dont know). I will say that being black in China is just a part of your identity and not the whole “you” and having a good understanding of that before you come is necessary.
You can find out more about me and my chinese company Hungry English, by downloading our app from itunes or Google Play.
Iyabo, Beijing, teacher
A little bit about me
The youngest of 7 children from a wholesome Nigerian family in East London, life was upbeat. After working in inner London schools for a number of years, I decided it was time for a drastic change. I decided to combine my love for travel and passion for teaching in January 2016. After securing a position in an international school in Beijing, I moved over to embark on my adventure.
Being black in China
Initially, the move was a shock to the system! Getting around in taxis, making banking trips, even ordering water was a palaver. But I soon adjusted. Honestly, I didn’t realise how much the colour of my skin would be a major factor. It was little things like stares, people coming over to touch my skin or hair and constantly taking photos of me.
Through networking groups such as BWB (Black Women in Beijing) and GGI (Girl Gone International), I began mixing with a variety of people from all over the world and in a multitude of professions. It is now my third year in Beijing and I have finally found my feet. To be honest, majority of time, I love this city! I am able to live an exciting life with many opportunities to travel and do the things I enjoy. Moving to Beijing has also enabled me to learn a lot about myself, I am stronger, more resilient and confident than I ever thought I was.
Would I recommend China to other black people?
Most definitely! However, be prepared. It will not be an easy ride! The easiest mundane task becomes a struggle. On the other hand, you can live a very comfortable and successful life here, but you will have to endure the struggles. The choice is yours!
On black icons
My favourite black icon would have to be Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is a Nigerian novelist, a fashion icon, inspirational speaker and feminist heroine. She is an absolute inspiration to us all!
Nathan, Shanghai, Teacher
Prior to my two year stint in Shanghai there were many reservations coming from a number of people in my social group who did not have positive perceptions on how black people are welcomed in China. This did not discourage me as I have learnt that you have to see things at first hand before listening to anybody else. I was extremely excited and did not have any expectations.
Shanghai was a major culture shock for a variety of reasons. Firstly, as a vegan it was incredibly hard to go out and find something suitable with exception of garden salad. Secondly, the weather that welcomed me was extreme. Humidity was approximately 90 per cent and around 35 degrees Celsius. Lastly, which is probably what people would expect is that I had contrasting interactions with the locals.
Some locals could not hide their delight when they saw me and would often say hello and practice their English with me. Others looked scared and sometimes walked across the road which is not an isolated Chinese issue as our brothers in the United Kingdom and the United States can vouch for. Additionally they would take photos and at times it is not a problem however if you are taking pictures slyly rather than just asking it can become annoying after a while. After factors that I had to adapt to street conduct which includes the excessive spitting and motorcycles on the pavement.
It is very easy to draw upon the drawbacks of China, however I have left the country feeling that I have left a piece of myself there. I learnt more about their rich history and mark my words you will not be able to fathom how beautiful their culture is. Secondly, the locals whom I did build some kind of relationship with were unbelievable and some of the most kind hearted people I have ever met. Shopkeepers I will never forget to my neighbours who always looked out for me even though there was an obvious language barrier.
Most notably, the biggest thing that I leave from China is the language. I love the language and will continue to learn it whilst I am in the United Kingdom. Language reduces barriers with the Chinese. Speaking just a small bit of Mandarin almost made me feel that the locals forgot I was a black man. They appreciate when you speak even a little bit of their language which was motivating for me personally as a black man to reduce any apprehension they had about me.
I will definitely be returning to my second home. It is all so easy to focus on the negatives and there is definitely scope to debate about to what extent the Chinese are discriminative towards black and white expats, however there is also a beautiful side to the country that I will never forget and will definitely be teaching my future kids about. All in all regardless of the drawbacks I loved China and would not hesitate to live there again.
P.S- There are many vegan joints that I found in Shanghai.
Bukky, Beijing, Teacher
I’ve lived in China for about 5 years. The decision for me to come to China was one of the scariest, bravest things Iʼve done looking back on it, but it changed my life for the better. When I first decided to come to China, I didnʼt really know what I was getting myself into. Iʼd say the only impression I had of China, was gathered from my childhood days watching Jackie Chan movies. The reality was totally different. China today is very modernised with a lot of traditional characteristics.
First impressions were great, I was shocked to see how developed and lively the city of Beijing was. Lots of western resturaunts, bars, coffee shops, nightclubs etc. I was mainly concerned about finding a gym, lucky there was one right near the apartment I was renting.
Beijing is home to a huge diverse international community, so itʼs really easy to meet new people, make friends and mingle – people always seem to go to the same spots.
China has changed a lot from when I first arrived, back then there was no UBER, bike sharing apps etc. Nowadays every thing you need can be downloaded from the app store. Dry-cleaning, food delivery, taxi, bike sharing, mobile payments, name the problem and thereʼs probably an app for it in China. China is changing really fast, I also find life really interesting here. I get to meet interesting people all the time.
On being black in China
Some people like the attention and might actually enjoy it. The reality is it will get pretty annoying if people are always staring or constantly taking pictures, but more recently I feel I donʼt really notice this type of behaviour anymore. Itʼs happening less and less. China is changing every year, I really do believe itʼs totally different to what it was when I first arrived in 2013. We tend to receive more negative attitudes than white people but I tend to ignore the negatives and focus on the positives. Once people get to know you the colour of you skin isnʼt important. They will like you for you.
If you are looking to teach here, you have to know there is a preference for white teachers if you’re applying to work for a training centre. On the other hand if you choose a public school job or an international school the colour of your skin isnʼt as important, itʼs more about the qualifications. I went down the public school route and do some private teaching too, no complaints here. Prove yourself, work hard and take your job seriously and youʼll be fine.
On black icons
Barack Obama – for me during his presidency was the reassurance that no matter what people thought of you and you skin colour, you can achieve far beyond their expectations. To me he depicts Black excellence. He made me strive harder to change negative stereotypes of black people in China.
Would I recommend China to others?
If you’re considering coming to China, I would say go for it. There are lots of challenges but itʼs a great adventure. China has a rich culture and so many beautiful places to explore. You can come here to study or work, you wonʼt regret it, moving here to Beijing was the best decision Iʼve made.
Mariam, 27, Taizhou/Suzhou, Graduate
[On being a cultural ambassador, by default]
I have spent a total of three years in China. Six months were spent in Taizhou and two and a half years were in Suzhou, both of which are in Jiangsu province. If you are wondering which city it is that I enjoyed the most, I hope that the time spent in each helps to answer that question.
Although I’m currently back in Europe, I thought it useful to share a little of my experience, in the hope that it would help someone out there on the big wide web. My journey to the Far East started off in 2014; where I embarked on an English teaching adventure with the British Council’s ELA Programme. It was a great year and I highly recommend the programme to others. Out of 95 candidates, only two of us were melanated women, so it would be great to spread the word about this opportunity within the community (tell a friend!).
As a result of that initial first year in Suzhou, I ended up accepting an opportunity to study Mandarin Chinese at SUDA (Suzhou University). I look back at my first and second year and a half with very fond memories; I made friends with both Chinese and other foreign nationals. One of the best things about my time there is that I have left the land knowing the language. It’s something that is worth investing in, as it helps you to connect with the people of the land.
One of my favourite books is ‘All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes’ by Maya Angelou and in it, Maya, very aptly captures an ache that you will often grapple with as a human being. “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
In my case, that ache was a little louder in China than in other places that I have travelled to so far. Strangers often asked questions regarding my melanated skin and my Afro hair. I didn’t just represent myself; often I represented a whole continent. It is good to be questioned because you learn to give answers with great confidence and a strong sense of knowing, so put on your travelling shoes my Kings and Queens and travel as far as you can, but when your feet are sore and you grow weary from travelling, remember the way back home. The place where you don’t have to wear travelling shoes, the place where you can walk with barefeet and not be questioned for it.
Miatta, 34, Beijing, Business Development Manager/Kente & Silk Co-Founder
[On Africa-China relations]:
Being black in China is an exciting opportunity. I can engage with Chinese people as well as a diverse global community. I can learn so much, through various cultural experiences and relationships I have access to. Through sharing and collecting information, there is definitely a means to create new things here.
Two years on, and I still get stared at and asked for pictures because I am black. Sometimes I believe this is done out of an eager curiosity, other times it does fall down to racism. But, I thank God, as this is an opportunity to drive the reality of ‘who I am, through opening positive communication, while still trying to point out what is acceptable and unacceptable.
I am really grateful that I have been able to build meaningful business and relationships here. It’s been interesting bridging cultural gaps and acknowledging cultural differences, through initiatives like Kente & Silk Africa Week. This youth-driven series of events were a unique opportunity to share African culture in China, that went beyond government to government discourse. We were overwhelmed by the success and the support we had on our mission to use African Culture and Entrepreneurship, to transform the status quo of Africa–China relations for the better. Kente & Silk are now working on several upcoming projects, including Africa China Tech Social Impact (ACT SI) with some of China’s best technology players. We are also planning a bigger and better Africa Week 2019! We are both excited and grateful for all the support to date.
On black icons
I could list well known game-changers like Linford Christie and Kanya King as my favourite black British icons, but my biggest Icon is my sister, Madonna Momoh. She is the CEO and Founder of Sababu Films – a Filmmaker*, Writer, Producer, Mother, and an extraordinary talent who has contributed to my life with such beautiful impact.
She is the talent behind the much anticipated 2018 documentary on Notting Hill carnival which can be viewed here on the official Sababu YouTube account
Apart from my mother, she is probably one of the strongest women I know – full of talent and tenacity.
I believe that we are all created to be special. So, if you are thinking about China, know your value and come with an open mind. There are limitless opportunities here if you apply yourself and are willing to start connecting with useful resources and people in China. I am always willing to help people navigate their way into building a career out here, if I can.
Michael, 31, Beijing, Academic Leader and Teacher
[On breaking stereotypes]
I moved to Beijing in August 2013 after teaching in South London for three years. I was originally moving to Chicago but eventually decided on Beijing as I hadn’t been to Asia at that point.
I’m now in my sixth year in Beijing and honestly, have no idea when my time here will come to an end. For the most part, my time in Beijing has been relatively smooth. Being a tall black man, I have gotten used to the stares by Chinese people and put it down to their curiosity than anything else. I have been fortunate enough to not have experienced overt racism here but I have had friends who have.
Whilst I was brought up to not see race in my household, I know that cannot be said for everyone and I truly believe God led me here.
With regards to black British icons, of which there are many, a few I admire include Idris Elba, Trevor Nelson, Ashley Walters (I still jam to So Solid today!), Richard Blackwood (we went to the same barbers in Norbury) and of course Trevor McDonald, a national treasure.
I’d definitely recommend young black Brits to visit and even move to Beijing. It’s a great city from which there are amazing travel opportunities, there is an ever increasing black community here…and you can get PAID!
Nura 28, Beijing, Memberships Affairs Officer, Co-founder of SistaSista and HotPot Entertainment
[On living in a proverbial HotPot]
My experience here has been exciting and full of learning curves. Like any other expat I’ve been through ups and downs. I have achieved a lot and continue to do so. I enjoy living in a versatile, developing and thriving city, meeting people from various cultures is a big plus!
I would recommend other black British nationals to come and experience China because there is so much to learn and the life experiences to be had is so unique and worth having
Being black in China has its challenges but its not unique to China, as a lot of us have experienced all over the world. All in all, the pros of living here outweigh the cons.
On black icons
Kingslee ‘Akala’ Daley is someone I have respected for so long, and especially in my adult years. He is a poet, political activist, musician, journalist, author, and educator with the belief of using poetry, literature and other creative ways to educate young people to become more socially, politically, and culturally aware to build a better future.
Taf, 27, Shenzhen, Teacher
On being black in China
My experiences in China have been mostly positive. From the food, to the culture, to the weather, to the people and the technology here.
Being black in China means you stand out and get a lot of attention. Growing up as the only black kid at school I’m used to that kind of attention; I’m just something different to what they’re used to. I see this as an opportunity for representing black people. For most Chinese people I’m the first black person they’ve ever interacted with. They’re always surprised when they find out I’m British because they think black people are either from the USA or the African continent.
I would fully recommend China to other black people because it’s full of experiences, change and opportunities. No matter who you are there’s something for everyone here.
On black icons
My favourite British icon is Idris Elba because he is the perfect example of strength and sophistication.
Delisa, Young and old enough, Beijing, Early Childhood Educator
On personal growth
I have been coming to Beijing since 2010. I have now lived here continuously for four years. My first time in China was as anyone can imagine – an amazing experience! I was an exchange language student, blindly entering into an unknown world, but I’ve not regretted this step.
One thing I am grateful for was not having any expectations when coming to China for the first time; hence why I would recommend anyone coming here to do the same. China and the western world are miles apart in not only a language but in culture as well.
I love being independent and not having to rely on anyone for help, if I can avoid it; I was able to maintain my independence here by learning the local language. Those who do not know the language but still manage to live here, I commend them as China can be challenging when you do not speak Chinese.
As an educator, being black is a good thing, as many foreign figures seen on TV or in magazines or books are white, so I feel privileged to be in a positive role where I can impact the lives of so many children and their families.
Andrew, Qingdao, Designer
On making waves
Living and running a design business in China for over 7 years has been one of the greatest challenges I have undertaken. China is not for the faint hearted, moving at such a pace it will intimidate even the most competitive and ambitious of people. I was raised in London and attended university in the same city. It took a tremendous leap of faith to uproot myself from a familiar multicultural environment to pursue my dreams.
I moved to Qingdao, a small (by Chinese standards) costal city with a homogenous culture and its very own local language acutely different from Mandarin.
Being black British with a fluent grasp of Mandarin contested preconceived ideas about my own identity. I however remained cognizant of my end goal, driven by my passion for design. Moreover, I had a Chinese business partner (a former class mate) and his supportive family and friends to guide me through the cultural landscape.
I embraced the language, the food, and the culture, which ultimately led me to understand the people I was living and working with. It was evident that I was different, but I chose to construct cultural bridges from whatever cultural barriers or obstacles I was presented.
I’m fortunate for having lived in China. My experience here has galvanized an additional layer of depth and strength to my character, undoubtedly shedding new light to my own broader black consciousness. I no longer look at the world or myself in the same way. I now draw upon my African heritage, Western education and Chinese cultural and business experience.
On black icons
My favourite black British icon is Sir David Adjaye, a black British Architect of Ghanaian descent. He has managed to not only design visually stunning architecture but also remains culturally and politically sensitive; weaving through complex narratives and struggles of the black diaspora throughout his work. Whether it’s the Stephen Lawrence center in London or the recent National Museum of African American History and Culture. David Adjaye, for me, successfully (seemingly effortlessly) amalgamates what it means to be an African, British, creative, and intellectual.
Leeza, Guangzhou, Business Woman and Motivational Speaker
My name is Leeza Gordon, I have lived in China for 2.5 years. I am a business woman as well as motivational speaker. My experience in China has been positive.
I believe that this has a lot to do with my attitude and mindset. Plus, I tend to weigh the situations I encounter and have always come to the conclusion that it isn’t that serious.
I was homeless at the age of 15, put myself through school, music college and finally law school. So the stares and the asking for photos doesn’t phase me. All the local Chinese people embrace me and refer to me as ‘beautiful’.
Since being in China I have managed to grow three business including founding DFG, essentials oils, and products for black people’s skin. I have had some amazing opportunities to work on some amazing collaborations with global friendships, an art exhibition with Knotforsale, and now I am one of the main partners in the the second African Fashion Show international which was held this past weekend in Guangzhou and Shenzhen hosted by DFG. The opportunities that I have had would not be possible in my home country.
My advice that I would give to anyone that is coming to China is to come with an intention to do something with your life. A lot of people just come here to ‘take’. So if you can give back to the community do so. Secondly, learn the language and you will have a completely different experience. I am just now starting my lessons. If you are looking for a place to grow as a person then China is definitely the place for you.
On black icons
My favorite black icon is Oprah because she is a good role model. People have said so much about her and she keeps on scoring regardless . I really want to meet her one day. I keep putting that into the universe every opportunity I get.
Lisa, 20s, Beijing, Student
On being black in China
Imagine for a moment that you are me. I am around 5’7 -tall, dark, curvaceous and I have a big afro. In the UK where I live, these are things that you are conscious of but British culture insists that it is rude to stare. This is NOT the case in Beijing! They will stare, you will challenge them and stare right back with the hope that they will stop. That won’t always happen. More than that, you will never be truly sure which part of your Africanness offends them.
A few months ago during a friends visit, I realised how far I had come and how much I had grown. The curious faces did not bother me, I did not feel offended when my unsuspecting eyes were met with a bemused stare or shrieks from an unnerved young child.
Living in Beijing taught me that racism can be racism, but sometimes it can be ignorance. There is a misconception that “ignorance” refers to a person who is passive and actively ignores. That is not true. Ignorance is incomprehension. Often it is that we cannot understand things that we have not been exposed to. It was my experience that I was the first black person that a lot of my Chinese friends encountered. Insecurities are perfectly normal and come with the territory of living in a foreign land, especially where you defy nearly all the appearances of a stereotypical native.
But, I urge you to allow these people the pleasure of sharing in your culture and in your company. Be patient. Be encouraged to present the best version of yourself and your culture in a way that is educational and beneficial to those that are watching you. Do not be disheartened, do not be easily offended and do not give up.
A significant part of this journey whilst living abroad, is making sure that you use the tools that are available to you, and secondly, always be willing to help another “alien” when they are in need.
One of the most useful resources is WeChat. The black community online in Beijing is fantastic and allows you a space to whine with people in similar situations as yourself. To the creators and contributors of these groups and organisations, thank you for creating spaces where we can be black without remorse:OPOPO, 011 Brunch, Chisanyama, Black Life Beijing 2.
I would recommend visiting China to other Black British people because the experience is strangely enriching and also you get to see many beautiful natural sites.
On black icons
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an African heroine who is very clear about where she stands on Gender, Feminism and Race. Everything about her from the way she walks, dresses and speaks emulates her ideologies. Even the work she produces, tackles these familiar themes including growing up black, being black in white spaces, the becoming of age, womanhood. From watching her and listening to her, I am encouraged to pursue more of me and to grow in that light, despite the world trying to cast darkness.
Warren, Shenzhen, Teacher/Meili Co Founder
My name is Warren Campbell and I am a Black British male currently living in China. I moved to Shenzhen from London in early January 2018 to continue my work as a teacher and set up my own company.
My time living in China has had its share of ups and downs; thankfully for me I am experiencing a greater extent of the ups than the downs Thus my continued residence here. I would recommend China as a place to experience for any black person hoping to explore the world in search of more opportunities.
On being black in China
Being black in this world is already a difficult task as the odds are stacked against us – China is no oasis to this narrative. In my experience at times it has been greatly hurtful and depressing living in China, as although renowned for obtaining technology surpassing many other countries the thoughts and ideologies remain raw and primitive. With the correct balance of friends, self-belief and determination I was able to over come this and I believe that if you approach China with this same mentality then you can really reap the benefits that this country has to offer.
Recently with the help of my friends back in the UK I have been able to launch a hair company. We provide extremely affordable, yet great quality human hair. I have been witness to multiple family and friends purchase hair for incredibly inflated prices in the UK or online and seen that the hair was made or sourced in China. So now living at the pulse it was only natural to create @meili_hair.co as my platform to challenge and resolve this issue.
Upon the launch we gained a massive influx of feedback and support that was unpredicted, highlighting to us that we definitely were doing something right. And now less than a month later we have received just under 50 orders and are now creating a website to help navigate the traffic and enquiries as our originally UK based hair company is currently receiving orders worldwide.
This is one of my proudest take aways from China and I still have a while left here and many other business ventures to explore. All in all being in China has made this possible and I am very thankful and excited for my future here.
On black icons
If I had to pick a favorite black role model it would be the late James Avery and his portrayal as Uncle Phil in The Fresh Prince. If I had to pick a favorite UK celebrity I would choose everyone in the grime scene I grew up listening to who were ruled and overlooked but now they are overbooked and exploring various different paths and ventures that were unfathomable to think of when they begun.
Yinka, Beijing, DW tutors founder
If I cast my mind back far enough, I believe my desire to travel to China began almost 10 years ago as a consequence of the Olympic Games. I remember being in awe of the seemingly impossible architecture on display, the nation’s commitment to excellence in the games and the passion of the people.
Fast forward to 2016 and I’m interning on a desk in an investment bank looking at Commodities, with China being dominant player from the demand side. I would study the country daily, familiarising myself with the industries driving the country’s insatiable demand for raw materials and discovering more about day to day life here too.
Inspired by both of these two experiences, I felt compelled to apply for a scholarship programme with the British Council and embark on an adventure of a lifetime.
Launched in 2013 by the British Council, the Generation UK-China programme sends students from across the UK to live and work within the Middle Kingdom. Following my successful application, I was sent to live and work in Beijing where I learned the ins and outs of the Beijing startup scene – second only to Silicon Valley and gaining ground quick! Technology in Beijing is most definitely the lifeblood of the city, permeating every single aspect of daily life. For example, whereas in the UK mobile payments are still quite fragmented across the range of different suppliers (Apple pay, Android pay, Google pay, Paypal etc.) the duopoly present in China – Alipay or WeChat pay – meant transactions were much smoother and cash had effectively been rendered useless. Most of my colleagues didn’t even carry wallets! And each day promised to deliver some sort of new technological marvel whether it be some new form of rentable personal transport (imagine motorized Boris Bikes!) or a new viral app taking over the city. Technology was king there.
Despite their clear technological advancements however culturally, Beijing was a strange melting point of old and new traditions fighting for dominance within the Tier 1 city. On the one hand you had classic Chinese architecture in all its glory all over the city. Temples and courtyards all designed in the style which we are all accustomed to because of films and documentaries. But juxtaposing these relics of a time now lost you had massive skyscrapers made of glass and steel hungrily engulfing any real estate available – so much so that a lot of the low level tenements (hutongs) that residents had occupied for years were being torn down at the orders of the government to make way for new, more modern buildings. In a country which has enjoyed double digit GDP growth for over 10 years and that within the space of 30 years turned small rice villages such as Shenzhen into almighty metropolises and titans of industry, it was to be expected that certain things would be sacrificed along the way. Whether the Chinese people themselves were all for this rapid pace of change I honestly couldn’t tell you because I don’t speak Mandarin.
Language was by far the biggest challenge I faced. I think we enjoy a certain privilege globally as English language speakers because on the whole the language is universal, so rarely if ever, are we placed in an environment where we are misunderstood. Here in Beijing however, that is not the case – Mandarin is the only language that matters and English, for most people, is irrelevant. So in terms of being able to give you a deep insight into the inner workings of the Chinese mind set I’m definitely not the foremost expect.
What I can say however is that there is a deep sense of pride in all the country has achieved thus far and there is confidence in everything the nation will go on to achieve.
I could see myself returning to China in the future. The vibrancy and energy in Beijing is like no other and I feel like I am yet to fully experience everything this amazing city has to offer. When reflecting on my experiences here, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of being open minded and flexible.When comparing this to the much slower paced way of life back in the UK and the more conservative approach to change, Beijing feels as if it is moving at light speed and I’ve quickly come to enjoy this intense way of life.
My personal project: D.W. Tutors
D.W. Tutors is an educational consultancy I created whilst at university. Frustrated with what I saw as institutional problems across the private education industry I decided to launch my own venture to address these issues. Since our inception in 2016, we’ve had the pleasure of working with dozens of students in both the UK and China to achieve their academic aspirations. At present, we have a number of live projects with educational consultancies in Beijing, providing them with university application support, careers workshops and online tutoring and mentoring.
In this Black History Month UK special, we’ve explored the varied experiences of only a handful of the scores of black Brits in and across China.
Some have argued that Black History Month effectively relegates black history to a period of 31 days and stops us from celebrating/centering black history for the rest of the year – as if the month is sufficient; others celebrate and support it as a time for intensified study and as a renewed call for attention to be paid to said history.
BLC calls for people to take a further step and consider the histories and experiences of all black communities as the history of one is inevitably linked to that of another.
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Runako Celina is the co-founder of Black Livity China. She holds an MA in International Politics and African Studies from Peking University. She spent two years working for China's largest Digital TV platform broadcasting in African countries and currently lives and works in Beijing. During her time at Peking University, she sat on the committee for the Peking University Africa Think Tank.