Anyone who lives, holidays, or has spent any amount of time in Tenerife, will, I’m sure, have noticed the multitude of Chinese restaurants, all you can eat buffets, food supermarkets, bargain stores and of course, Chinese people. With estimates of total world Chinese population ranging from a little less than 20% to almost 30% this shouldn’t come as a surprise. And with an estimated 35 million Chinese nationals and immigrants living outside China, this means most places will have a Chinese community, but I was still curious. The answer may be closer than the Land of the Dragon, many of our Chinese residents and neighbours may have come from Africa.
China – The Facts
First of all to help to explain why so many Chinese people leave their homeland, here are some interesting facts:
Although at least 20% of world population is Chinese, China has only 7% of the global arable land and fresh water, in fact, half of China is uninhabitable.
Although it’s economy is 2nd only to the U.S. And by 2036, it is estimated will be the most powerful economy in the world, most of its residents are poor and since the 1978 economic reforms, over 400 million people have been rescued from poverty.
Two thirds (60%) of Chinese live in rural areas with contaminated water supplies,150 million are migrant workers, constantly moving to find work, yet 16 of the top 20 most polluted cities on Earth are in China, with extremely high cancer and respiratory disease related deaths.
China is a one-party state with the Chinese Communist Party reigning supreme since 1949, in controls domestic and foreign policy as well as the media and legal systems and employs human censors and monitors that block citizens from viewing information online, viewed as critical or a threat to security and Facebook is restricted and has been blocked along with some 2,600 other websites.
So, regardless of your views on the policies of the People’s Republic, you can see why many people choose to leave their homeland in search of a better future – but why Africa?
There is evidence of trade between the two countries as far back as the First century and the Silk Road, but its modern Africa-China relations I’m talking of here.
Since 2008, the Chinese government has sent millions of workers, mostly from rural areas to Africa to work on railroads, factories and construction sites (amongst other things) in the hope of profiting from the vast reserves of naturals resources that can be found in the continent. China now trades with Africa more than any other nation on earth. And China needs trade relations like this not only with Africa, but also countries in the Middle East, Latin America and Central Asia, as China is a net energy importer, reliant on obtaining it’s oil and natural gas from outside sources.
From Africa to the Canary Islands
So, having established why there are many Chinese immigrants in Africa, what brings many of them here?
Unfortunately it seems that many of the Chinese-run factories in Africa that seem to offer hope for a better future for those leaving their homeland, end up just being more of the same, hardship, poor working conditions, a lack of workers rights and low wages. So it’s hardly surprising that many workers, disillusioned with work conditions in Chinese run African industrial roles, choose to seek a better life on these holiday islands.
Of course I’m not saying that every person of Chinese descent that you encounter during your time on Tenerife has escaped slave labour in some overworked African factory I’m sure there are many people here for many different reasons, but whatever they are, I for one am thankful for the added cultural diversity it brings to this multicultural archipelago.
The above article by Marc Craig was first published in TENERIFE WEEKLY
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