A quick search on “Africa-China relations” will give you lots of statistics, several instances of handshaking between Chinese envoys and government officials from various African countries, a tiny bit of history, most definitely some talk of neo-colonialism and maybe articles on why Africans should not be afraid of the Chinese. There seems to be a dearth of discussion on the more personal level, on interactions between Chinese people in African countries, or Africans in China, outside accusations of racism or the struggles that come with migrating to a foreign country. There is hardly any talk on the intimacy that is bound to come about when people from different cultures mingle and interact. Or, to put this more bluntly, there is little to no dialogue on how the growing Africa-China economic arrangements - and the increased levels of migration between the two - has lead to more sex, marriages and mixed-race babies.
Is no one interested in where and how the sex lives of African and Chinese people intersect? Or perhaps more time needs to go past so that we can study this in retrospect? On the other hand it may be difficult for some to picture Africans and the Chinese getting down and dirty. We may choose to believe that Chinese people in places like Senegal only hang out with other Chinese people and never with locals unless they are the drivers, cooks or gardeners, leaving no opportunity for any kind of close relationships. It could be that racist stereotypes get in the way of attraction and ultimately sex. Be that as it may, the “intersection” is happening. It’d be strange if it weren’t.
Chinese railway workers flirting with an Angolan woman during their break (Source: "Chinese in Africa" series by Pers-Anders Pettersson)
So far, it’s men who are at the forefront of these relationships, probably because there are more men than women migrating in either direction, so you’re more likely to hear of Chinese men with African women in African countries, and African men with Chinese women in China, than you would Chinese women with African men in African countries, or African women with Chinese men in china, although that happens, too.
But there’ve also allegations of Chinese bosses coercing their female employees to have unprotected sex and thus leading to the birth of “Chinese babies” in Zimbabwe. That probably wasn’t what some netizens had in mind when they started suggesting Chinese men marry African women as a means of dealing with China's male-female sex-ratio imbalance. In the future, perhaps these relationships and the offspring they produce will be a barometer of how well China and Africa get along, and we’ll have hundreds of thousands of Chinese-Africans – or African-Chinese - like Jean Ping, a Gabonese diplomat and key politician who is of Chinese heritage and has been a key figure in encouraging Sino-African trade and relations. He even helped organise former Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Gabon in 2004, and his experience travelling to his father's hometown of Wenzhou was captured in a magazine aimed at encouraging Chinese readers to know and love Africa that sadly seems to have gone offline.
A couple of years ago, a cousin in Lagos regaled me with stories of how his Chinese employers loved going to parties where they would openly flirt and go home with Nigerian women. A 2009 Times article (now archived, unfortunately, but reproduced in full here), informs us that Chinese men are hot catches for Tanzanian women who want them as husbands. Based on an interview with one Zaina, who was 28 years old when the article was published, Chinese men are not fussy, and even though they have been called racist, they like local women, especially those who are small, fat, have big bottoms and paler skin. It doesn’t seem to concern the women that the handful of marriages between Chinese men and Tanzanian women may have come about as a means of circumventing restrictions on gaining residency permits and owning land and companies, or that some Chinese men are using their Tanzanian girlfriends and wives to smuggle poached ivory.
Recently, a multiracial Chinese-African child named Bobby caught the attention of a Chinese reporter due to Bobby's unique situation. Bobby was abandoned by his mother shortly after she gave birth to him (in China), then his father abandoned Bobby when he was six to return to his country Togo. Now eight years old, Bobby has been informally adopted by a “grandmother”, and is living without the relevant documents he will need to go to school or to get a job when he grows up. (For some reason, the article has been removed from the website of the China-Africa Project where it originally appeared). In response to the article, Chinese netizens started asking if “all African men are irresponsible husbands and fathers?”. Well, some Africans must be wondering the same thing when they look at the children Chinese men have abandoned in various parts of Africa.
It’s unfortunate that we have to go by individual cases like this, that we don’t yet have comprehensive data how many China-African marriages have taken place since the recent upsurge in relations between the two parties. Focusing on legal arrangements would be easier that trying to pinpoint how much Sino-African sex is happening as a result of the influx of Chinese workers in African countries, or the growth of African traders and businessmen in China. Maybe by the time we have such information, no one will remain puzzled at Chinese marrying Africans, and vice versa, and when such relationships no longer raise any eyebrows, perhaps we’ll stop reading about babies being abandoned.