Growing relations between Africa and China have led to an influx of Chinese migrants in Africa and a growing number of Africans moving to China. Africans come to China not as desperate refugees, but out of choice, and more plan on staying. One of those who has made a home there is Cameroonian Francis Tchiégué, who came to China 10 years ago.
“You know when you have something that you really love, you do not do that for money. But you really like it, then you can happen to really get deep inside. It is personal. It is like love,” said Tchiégué.
Tchiégué sits in a fast-food restaurant in the center of Beijing, brimming with enthusiasm.
“I was really fascinated by all this. You know, for a little kid, five, six years old, when you could see guys flying, kicking, jumping through buildings, high buildings, doing all the things,” he said.
Tchiégué recounted that he became interested in China as a child in Cameroon. With his father, he used to watch movies starring Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. His father practiced the Chinese martial art of Kung Fu, and Francis started dreaming of going to China.
“I wish I would go to China to see how those people live. I am sure that all Chinese people will do practice Kung Fu,” he said. “All of them can jump, all of them can do these things that Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee do, those. So I was thinking, ‘Well, I am dreaming to go and try and study this.”‘
Decades later, he is in China, and has become a master, but not of Kung Fu.
Tchiégué, now 39 years old, became a master of Mandarin. He frequently sings Beijing Opera or performs tongue twisters on Chinese state TV.
In 2009, the Chinese government named him special ambassador for the Sino-African exchange in arts. If he is not traveling around the globe with the Chinese language institute, Hanban, he works as a translator for African embassies in Beijing.
When he came to China 10 years ago as a math student on a Chinese government scholarship, he did not speak a word of Mandarin. He learned by recording himself and memorizing Chinese radio newscasts by heart.
His enthusiasm for the language and the country has convinced him to stay. Today, he lives with his Russian wife and three kids in Beijing.
Tchiégué is emblematic of the current wave of Africans moving to China. Most Africans used to return home after their studies or doing business in China, now a growing number of them want to stay.
Academics say Africans find life easier in China than the first wave, which struggled with discrimination and a foreign culture they found hard to adopt.
Stella Matsinhe, from Mozambique, came to China to study development at Tsinghua University in Beijing. She has graduated and goes to language school to perfect her Mandarin. She wants to find a top-job in China and believes the odds are good.
“You know there is a lot of brain drain, right, and we were always told that we should never forget where we come from, right,” she said. “Our parents, our teachers, our leaders, they always told us. It is something you hear from a very small age in a lot of African countries, ‘Do not forget where you come from.”‘
But Matsinhe is concerned. She said she has heard stories of people like herself who were educated at universities abroad, but upon returning to Africa found themselves stuck and isolated because colleagues without the same opportunities did not want them to succeed.
Matsinhe said she likes China and she feels it is a place where she can develop her full potential.
“Ideally, I have always wanted to stay in Africa. That is where I have always wanted to settle. But if that is not possible right now, China is looking like a really good option,” she said.
At a time when opportunities for a better life still seem to loom abroad, many Africans find China has become a new ground to fulfill their dreams.