African students head to China in droves despite racist reputation
In less than 15 years, African student numbers in China have grown from just under 2,000 to close to 50,000 in 2015. Source: Shutterstock

Jobs, factories, Hong Kong – they’ve all gone to China. Guess who else? African students.

In less than 15 years, African student numbers have grown from just under 2,000 to close to 50,000 in 2015. That’s a mighty 26-fold increase.

According to The Conversation (via Quartz), the Asian powerhouse in 2014 was host to more than 40,000 African students in a year, surpassing the United States and the United Kingdom, the newly translated online archives of the Chinese Education Ministry show.

While Asian students are still the biggest cohort on Chinese campuses, Africans now make up 13 percent of the student body, up from just two percent in 2003 and seeing year-on-year growth faster than any other regions.

The Chinese government’s targeted focus on African human resource and education development is said to lie behind this dramatic growth.

China’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation has promised, since 2000, financial and political support for African education at home and in China. Thousands of scholarships have been awarded and many more pledged to come.

Nations are closer. People, not so. Source: Reuters/Wang Zhao

China is a country whose citizens are reported to be irrationally racist toward darker races.

Earlier this year, a politician’s proposal on how to get rid of African migrants went viral. The proposal, which unfortunately found much support among Chinese netizens, read in part as follows:

“Black brothers often travel in droves; they are out at night on the streets, nightclubs, and remote areas. They engage in drug trafficking, harassment of women, and fighting, which seriously disturb law and order in Guangzhou … Africans have a high rate of AIDS and the Ebola virus that can be transmitted via body fluids … If their population [keeps growing], China will change from a nation-state to an immigration country, from a yellow country to a black-and-yellow country.”

If it’s not love for their African peers, then what is China doing forging closer ties with the continent?

The answer is soft power. Government officials want to influence the next generation of African scholars and elites, making them more malleable to China’s internal or external policies in future.

As for the African students, they get a more affordable education in return, business connections and language lessons in what sets to be the world’s lingua franca in the future.

Post-graduation, most students head back as Chinese visa rules make it almost impossible for international students to stay on after completing their studies.

Until then, they face being thrown into a washing machine by Chinese women so their skin turns paler or deemed the source of “pollution” of “thousands of years of Chinese blood”.

We wait with bated breath to see whether these same students later shape an African continent and its policies that will be favourable to China.

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