Black Ghosts: A Journey into the Lives of Africans in China by Noo Saro-Wiwa - review by Raffaello Pantucci

Raffaello Pantucci

Eastern Promises

Black Ghosts: A Journey into the Lives of Africans in China


Canongate 256pp £14.99

There is a charming naivety to Noo Saro-Wiwa’s travelogue. Focused primarily on trying to capture the experiences of Africans living in China, it becomes a tourist adventure through the country, the author wandering around various Chinese cities and exploring the place in all its vastness. Saro-Wiwa records lots of wide-eyed experiences, some of them tinged with racial epithets, though not so many as to make the reader recoil in horror. 

Unlike a lot of current writing about China, Black Ghosts does not linger too heavily on the politics of the country, except when it touches on the community she is trying to engage with. So, while we hear about the mistreatment of Uyghur minorities and the Chinese Communist Party’s overbearing policies towards its own people, this does not become all-consuming. Where politics does properly come in is when she turns to the mistreatment of, and fickle policies towards, Africans in China. But even here, often there is an effort to make sense of the underlying logic of what is going on. This makes the book refreshing to read at a moment when much discourse about China is so polarised that it is impossible to understand what is going on within.

This is not a scholarly study of the African experience in China. It is impressionistic at best, based on numerous vignettes developed from random conversations Saro-Wiwa managed to strike up around the country. Her lack of Mandarin means that these are almost entirely with English-speaking Africans, but she

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