From China to Nigeria: Migration of Chinese Industrialists and Nigerian Industrialization in the 1960s

Shaonan Liu, Michigan State University

Beginning in the 2000s, Chinese migrants, together with Chinese products, have greatly influenced the economy of Africa, particularly in Nigeria; but the significant Chinese presence in Nigeria is not a particularly recent phenomenon. As early as the 1960s, an influential yet understudied group of Chinese migrants began to dominate the key manufacturing industries in Nigeria, including textiles, footwear, and enamelware, controlling more than 70 percent of the Nigerian and even the West African market in these three product types.

In this paper, based on archival sources from multiple archives and oral history interviews with Chinese industrialists and Nigerian workers, I will trace the movement of the first generation of Chinese industrialists from China to Nigeria and explore the forces that drove it. First, I will delve into the internal migration of Chinese industrialists from Shanghai to Hong Kong in late 1940s and early 1950s, and how the 1950s witnessed the growing commercial connection between Hong Kong Chinese industrialists and Nigeria. The huge market potential of the Nigerian population in enamelware and textile consumption made Nigeria almost the most important market for Hong Kong Chinese industrialists in these two product types. Second, I argue that the strong determination of the Nigerian state to pursue industrialization after independence led to the decreasing volume of trade between Nigeria and Hong Kong but at the same time encouraged the migration of Chinese industrialists, factories, and technicians to come to Nigeria. In addition, I will explore the historical memory of Chinese industrialists and Nigerian workers on the role of Nigerian state in the 1960s.