In the article below independent historian Robin Loftin explores the past, present, and possible future relationship between the world’s most populous nation and people of African ancestry.
Africa and China have had contact for more than a thousand years. Some scholars assert that the contacts began as early as 4th century A.D. but convincing evidence is sporadic or lacking. Beginning with the Tang dynasty (618 A.D. to 907 A.D.) documented evidence of contact and trade exists showing a relationship between China and the city-states of east Africa. This relationship has evolved over the centuries and led to a migration of Africans to China to study, trade, and act as diplomats. At least one account indicates that Du Huan was the first Chinese to visit Africa, probably in Nubia, during the 8th century A.D.
Since the 7th century, Africans have maintained a consistent commercial relationship with China. During the Tang Dynasty, Arab traders brought African slaves from east Africa to China. They comprised one of the many commodities in the Arabs’ large-scale maritime trade with China. During this era, the first Chinese cultural perception of African people developed. These “dark-skinned” people were known as Kunlun. They were described as lower class, ignorant, scary, and dangerous. Although there were far more enslaved Chinese, some wealthy Chinese preferred the exotic Kunlun slaves.