Journal of African American Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 52–64 | Cite as

The African Traveller and the Chinese Customs Official: Ethnic Minority Profiling at Border Check Points in Hong Kong and China?

  • Adams BodomoEmail author


Stronger government-to-government relations between Africa and China in the first two decades of the twenty-first century have led to an increasing presence of African travellers at Chinese border check points. This is a novel situation involving cross-linguistic and cross-cultural communication dynamics that we need to understand from different research perspectives: linguistic, socio-economic, and legal, among others. Academic studies are already detailing some misunderstandings between Chinese customs, immigration and public security officials and African travellers and immigrants, who are clearly a visible minority group, both at border check points and in the wider Chinese communities (Bodomo 2010; Bodomo and Ma 2010; Bodomo 2012). A number of questions may be asked towards understanding the cross-cultural dynamics involved in this novel situation. What are Chinese immigration and customs officials’ experiences with African travellers and how do they see and handle this visible minority ethnic group? What are, in turn, African experiences with Chinese immigration, customs, and public security, officials both at border check points and in the wider Chinese communities in places like mainland China and Hong Kong? To answer these questions, a profile of the most frequent African visitors to Hong Kong and China is constructed, based on research among Africans in China, particularly Guangzhou. An outline is then made of what Africans think of Chinese customs and immigration officials as a whole, what kind of treatment they expect on arrival in China and how they prepare for it. It is then claimed that the most fundamental issue that causes friction, unhappiness and sometimes lack of cooperation from African travellers at immigration and customs check points in Hong Kong and other places in China is not so much due to linguistic and cultural misunderstanding as it is due to stereotyping and, in extreme cases, (un)conscious racial profiling. Finally, it is proposed that the best way for Hong Kong and other Chinese customs personnel to serve African immigrants is to apply immigration rules using systematically fair, just and colour-blind strategies.


African traveller Chinese customs officer Racial profiling 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of African StudiesThe University of ViennaViennaAustria

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