Gordon Mathews, "The World in Guangzhou: Africans and Other Foreigners in South China’s Global Marketplace" (U Chicago Press, 2017)


When we think of globalization and global cities, we might be inclined to think of New York or London. Yet in recent years, Guangzhou, the central manufacturing node in the world, has acted as a magnet for foreign traders. Anthropologist Gordon Mathews (with Linessa Dan Lin and Yang Yang) chronicles the experiences of traders from developing countries in The World in Guangzhou: Africans and Other Foreigners in South China’s Global Marketplace (University of Chicago Press, 2017). Mathews questions whether China will become multicultural and provides detailed accounts of foreign traders (primarily sub-Saharan Africans) involved in low-end globalization in an attempt to answer this question. These traders buy knockoffs or copies of branded items in China and then ship them home to sell to consumers, who cannot afford the more expensive goods offered by other nations. During their time in Guangzhou, these entrepreneurs negotiate the serious challenges of living and working in a foreign country. They forge business and personal relationships, seek profits with the hopes of returning to their home countries wealthy, and practice religion. Some traders overstay their visas and try to evade the police until they choose to return. The Chinese state’s policies regarding visas and permanent residency make it increasingly difficult for traders to maintain long-term business and settle down in China. Based on these experiences, Mathews concludes that China may become multicultural, but it will not be anytime soon. The World in Guangzhou is a purposefully readable book intended for a broad audience and a thorough, scholarly work of anthropology that will appeal to those interested in globalization, contemporary China, East Asian Studies, African Studies, and business.

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Laurie Dickmeyer

Laurie Dickmeyer is an Assistant Professor of History at Angelo State University, where she teaches courses in Asian and US history. Her research concerns nineteenth-century US-China relations. She can be reached at laurie.dickmeyer@angelo.edu and on Twitter @LDickmeyer.

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