African Logistics Agents and Middlemen as Cultural Brokers in Guangzhou

Gordon Mathews


This article begins by asking how African traders learn to adjust to the foreign world of Guangzhou, China, and suggests that African logistics agents and middlemen serve as cultural brokers for these traders. After defining “cultural broker” and discussing why these brokers are not usually Chinese, it explores this role as played by ten logistics agents/middlemen from Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As logistics agents, these people help their customers in practically adjusting to Chinese life, and as middlemen they serve to grease the wheels of commerce between African customers and Chinese suppliers. This is despite their own ambivalent views of China as a place to live. They play an essential role in enabling harmonious relations between Africans and Chinese in Guangzhou, even though they see themselves not as cultural brokers but simply as businessmen.

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