Between 1515 and the mid-nineteenth century, more than 12 million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic to work as slaves. On their trip to the Americas, two million enslaved men, women, and children died. Aside from the transatlantic slave trade, the Chinese empire’s ships traversed the Indian and Pacific oceans. According to historians, before the 1500s, these ships transported human cargo from Africa to the Chinese coast.
Today, the history of African slavery in China is hardly recognized since it is not taught in schools or shown in novels or films in the same way that it is in the West. Meanwhile, African slavery in China was as harsh as it was in the United States in the 1800s.
According to Areo Magazine, the first Africans came to China in 813 A.D. as presents from the King of Kalinga in Java to the Tang emperor. They were young boys and girls that were given to the monarch along with rhinoceros. The Chinese referred to these child slaves as Zangzi, which was the name given to the Eastern African coastline region. It is unknown what happened to these child slaves who vanished from history.
Other African slaves, however, would later appear in the families of Arab merchants working as personal property in Guangzhou, which had a large Arab population at the time. Rich Chinese men then began to seek the services of African slaves. According to Aero Magazine, “this necessitated a supply route commencing in East Africa, traveling the Indian Ocean, stopping in India, and finally crossing the Malaccan Straits to reach Chinese port cities.” The expedition took about six months, and shipwrecks were a frequent hazard.”
Many of the abducted African slaves died before reaching their destination. Those who made it to China had to adjust to a new environment, and those who struggled did not survive.
The majority of African slaves imported to China worked hard labor, such as dock work and lugging large items. Some worked as gate attendants as well. The Chinese began referring to the growing number of Black Africans as Kunlun throughout time. That was the phrase they used to refer to their southern neighbors, such as the Malays and Khmers, who had darker skin and were considered inferior. Other slave owners referred to their African captives as guinu, which means “devil slaves.”
Historians are still trying to figure out what happened to the African slave population after the 11th century. “A combination of issues such as supply chain interruption, sickness, death from overwork, and a non-existent birth rate could have led to the community’s collapse after a few decades,” Areo Magazine notes.
When the Republic of China was created in 1912, slavery was formally abolished. Nonetheless, historians claim that the practice of buying and selling people, particularly minors, was still widespread.
Because of China’s past with slavery, most Chinese people began to regard persons with a black complexion as inferior, as evidenced by their sentiments toward Africans. According to accounts, during the epidemic in April 2020, Chinese officials removed hundreds of African residents and businessmen from hotels and residences on suspicion of possessing the new coronavirus.
The Africans said they were simply being targeted as part of a COVID-19 testing effort. The Africans, who were located in Guangzhou, China’s southernmost metropolis, described the development as racist. Guangzhou has one of China’s largest African communities. African traders, particularly those in the informal sector, import the majority of their commodities from the region.