African Studies Seminar: “Clean my Chinese wife”: Intimacy and identity politics of Nigerian migrants in Southern China

yu qiu

Conveners: Sebabatso Manoeli and Thomas Hendriks

Speaker: Yu Qiu, University of Cambridge

In the Nigerian community in Guangzhou City (China), a metropolitan city that witnesses the influx of African migrants and the growth of transnational trade between China and Africa, many Nigerian males have established intimate and marital relationships with Chinese women in lower social classes. Based on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork in this community, this talk discusses that these Nigerians are engaged in teaching their Chinese intimate partners about personal hygiene, cleanliness and manners in private and public spheres, using idioms of “dirty” and “clean”. It argues that such practices are understood in two inter-related aspects. One is that idioms of “dirty” and “clean” not only concerns with the physical body but also are connected to inner spirits and moral characters. Expressed in a way different from that in the Nigerian traditional religious belief, these idioms gain their values and give new meanings to certain life experiences for Nigerian migrants. When it comes to interactions with their Chinese partners, practises centred on “cleaning the Chinese wives” help the Nigerians create a safe and ethical spousal relationship against the hostile host society. Second is that this intimate education is a form of identity politics and a soft resistance against the largely unexamined racial stigmatisation in contemporary China where black Africans have long been considered dirty and uncivilised (both in the cultural nationalist discourses and the racial politics in late socialist China). A care examination of this newly emergent form of intimate education given by the Nigerians sheds light on the complexities of interpersonal relations and ethnic-racial tensions faced by the African diaspora in Asia.

Yu Qiu is Post-doctoral fellow at International Institute for Asian Studies and African Studies Centre, Leiden Universit