I am not surprised by the report that Nigerian employees of Chinese companies are being treated as punching bags. China is one of the flagbearers for authoritarian system with scant regard for human rights of workers, especially those who are dark. The Chinese’s attitude towards people of dark skin dates back to China’s mainly agrarian past. According to Hung Huang, a Beijing-based fashion magazine publisher and host of a nightly current affairs talk show, “Straight Talk,” her generation was “taught world history in a way that black people were oppressed, they were slaves, and we haven’t seen any sign of success since.”
In China, as Diallo Abdual, who came to China from Guinea on business and later overstayed his visa, has said: “The security will beat you with irons like you are a goat.” “The way they treat the blacks is very, very bad.” In the words of C. Chike, a Nigerian businessman in Guangzhou, Southern China, who is married to a Chinese woman and has been in China for many years exporting wigs and extensions made from Chinese hair to Nigeria: “Chinese don’t like Africans. They don’t like black skin,” Chike said. “China trying to embrace Africa is a political statement. The question is, how do they treat black people?” (Washington Post, Nov. 14, 2009)
To be candid, historical and contemporary evidence, documented in recent studies by Frank Dikoitter, in “The Discourse on Race in Modern China,” portrays blacks as small-brained racial inferiors who were only as civilized as “stupid peasants” (yunong) in China. So, if in traditional Chinese culture, as Dikoitter has noted, the most attractive man was a “white-faced scholar” (baimian shusheng) whose freedom from manual labour at once implied a high status, potentially leisured life and light complexion, and if Chinese language associates blackness with negative qualities, as in heixin (black hearted), heiren (black person, but also one who lacks a residency permit), heishi (black market), hei gui (black devils), heishehui (gangster organization) and heihua (bandit argot) (pp. 38-39, 49, 91-92), how can we expect Nigerians workers to be treated fairly, and with dignity in Nigeria when such treatment is not available for the blacks living in China and also for China’s own minority groups, including Tibetans and Uighurs — or anyone who is not ethnically Han Chinese?
Dr. Ajetunmobi is of the University of Portsmouth