Landscapes of aspiration in Guangzhou’s African music scene : beyond the trading narrative

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Journal article

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Journal of Current Chinese Affairs

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G I G A Institut fuer Asien-Studien


China, Guangzhou, Africans in China, music, landscapes of aspiration, aspirations


This article is an exploration into the personal aspirations that converge in Guangzhou’s African music scene. I argue that despite being often traversed, articulated, fuelled, and constrained by economies and economic discourses, aspirations are not necessarily economic or rational calculations. I contend that the overarching trading narrative about “Africans in Guangzhou” has left little space for issues of agency, emotion, and aspiration to be considered in their own right. Drawing on a year of continuous ethnographic fieldwork, I show how aspirations are crucial arenas where the rationales behind transnational mobility are developed, reproduced, and transmitted. Indeed, aspirations can be thought of as “navigational devices” (Appadurai 2004) that help certain individuals reach for their dreams. By bringing the analysis of aspirations to the fore, I intend to provide a more complex and nuanced landscape of the multiple rationales behind African presence in Southern China; promote a better understanding (both conceptually and empirically) of how individuals navigate their social spaces and guide their transnational journeys; and draw attention to the incessant frictions and negotiations between individual aspirations while on the move and the constraints imposed by more structural imperatives.

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Published by GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Institute of Asian Studies and Hamburg University Press. The Journal of Current Chinese Affairs is an Open Access publication. It may be read, copied and distributed free of charge according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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Castillo, R. (2015). Landscapes of aspiration in Guangzhou’s African music scene: Beyond the trading narrative. Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 44(4), 83-115. Retrieved from https://journals.sub.uni-hamburg.de/giga/jcca/article/view/915