摘要:- Organizers - Foreword by Li Zhigang - Excerpts from Li Dong's diary - Discussion of selected photographs - Afterword by Wang Shaobo

 Documentary Photographer: LiDong 

After working in petrochemical engineering for 15 years, Li Dong turned to documentary photography. He is interested in the striking social and economic transformations in China’s recent history and the emergence of migrant communities as the “new Guangzhou residents”.

In March/April 2014, his exhibition was shown in Guangzhou, which was the first time to provide a glimpse of Baohanzhi Street and its African residents by a documentary photographer. The exhibition generated vibrant discussions among members of the public, academics and artists, and resulted in media coverage and internet debates.  It has been documented in China Daily, Global Times, South Reviews and National Geographic.


DocumentaryPhotographer Li Dong’s Exploration of African Street in China



By Dr. Zhigang Li, Professor of Urban Studies and Planning, Sun Yat-sen University


People’s Republic of China is becoming the new destination of international immigrants. In history, “travelling to the West” or working abroad was the dream of modern Chinese. Now, “the flow of immigration to China” is becoming a phenomenal topic of the more and more globalizing world, particularly in Guangzhou, the second hometown of Mr. Li Dong.


Guangzhou, with a long international trade tradition and as the so-called “world factory”, attracts around 200,000-500,000 Africans, living and doing business. There emerged a famous “African Street” named Baohanzhi Street. The street, with crowded people coming and leaving, is located in Yuexiu District, one of the oldest districts of Guangzhou. It is an international place, for not only Guangzhou but also the world. Even the owner of the melon store there says he sells ‘the cheapest melon in the world’. The reason why Li Dong chose Baohanzhi Street to do his photography is its “internationalization” - it is a key habitation of Africans in Guangzhou.




The busiest time at Baohanzhi Street is from four p.m. to three a.m. of the next day. At night, booths surrounded by standing stores make the street look very busy and crowd. The Africans who are travelling between markets are drinking beer and chatting on the street, enjoying their colorful night life, against the shadow of post-reform yet worlding urban China. A few hours later, in the morning, people should go to work and school, the street becomes as quiet as if it is still sleeping.


It was difficult to taking pictures of the Africans, as they pay more attention to protecting their privacy and portraiture right. Li Dong moved into an only five-square-meters rental room in Baohanzhi Street, and got familiar with his neighbor, Molly, an African trader, by chatting. After becoming friends, Molly told Li Dong such problems as the visa issue, as many other Africans who have similar problems choose to stay in Guangzhou as illegal immigrants. With the help of Molly, Li Dong got into the African group, drinking beer and chatting with them in the street. But, he also used to wandering around with his camera. The inhabitants were resistant first but gradually get used to his photographic work. On the commercial area and the street, he could avoid misunderstanding as long as he smiled or tried to explain to the targets. And then he lived and worked in this street for two years.




Between March and April in 2014, a photographic exhibition <The African street in Guangzhou> with the theme of “Integration and Segmentation” was held in Guangzhou, indicating the end of Li Dong’s two years photographic work. It is obvious that life was not easy for African immigrants in the street. Li Dong used to take romantic and artistic photos with themes such as water. But now he turns his attention to documentary photography. Compared to the artistic photography focusing on beauty, the photography concerning cultural ecology and existence is more meaningful. The series of Africans on Guangzhou streets is the practice of this idea. There are many meaningful topics in China, and it is a time photographers can make a history.

 Li Dong argues that a good topic should include three aspects: first, it should be a topic of the time; second, it should be concerned with social issues; third, it should be academically valuable. The topic of Africans includes all the three aspects. Compared to academic study, photographic work with its impact presentation on vision is easier to understand and more straight forward. It can attract viewers more easily from different fields, and make it possible for its issue to be discussed by the public.


On the exhibition of Africans in Guangzhou on 27th March, Li Dong organized an interdisciplinary seminar covering journalists, scholars, photographers, and residents from the Street. On the seminar Li Dong said:” I am just a photographer, not a scholar studying sociology or humanity. Therefore I can only judge issues from instincts, and touch, feel and present the truth.” But, comparing to academic studies, documentary photography can bring about more people’s interest, and lead scholars and publics to exchange opinions together, and thus make people pay attention to those social issue that have been neglected or covered. As such, I believe such work as Li Dong’s African Street will not only record an important moment, it will also change the history, and make it better.

 Excerpts From Li Dong's diary

 May 26th, 2013

After having carried some books there, I officially moved into Baohanzhi Street. I was familiar with this street, knowing that it would be lively after 5 o’clock in the afternoon, so I went out to the street with my camera after taking a few minutes rest. In the first few days, I would just try to get merged into this place, by taking some photos with intuition.

March in Guangzhou is a season of rain. It is humid, hot and rainy all day long, and things are easily to get mildewed. When I was walking in the street, dense clouds gathered after the rainfall. Such a gloomy and humid day was just consistent with the style of this north-south main road. So, when I saw the skyscraper beside the TV station far away, I knew it would be a very good view for telling the environment and the location. Once I was in a position and had set the camera ready, some Africans appeared in the foreground. As it was supper time then, there were Africans walking on the street back home to prepare food or going out for dinner.  And as they have to pass through this street on their way home, I could take photos of those travelling African passersby at any time.
At 6 o’clock the street was still not very busy and lively, but just a few hours later at 10, dozens of people showed up, particularly in several Muslim Halal restaurants.
The settlement and trade of Africans in Baohanzhi Street was first brought about by the settlement of Muslims from Xinjiang and Ningxia who opened Muslim restaurants and Nang bread bakeries. Actually, the most popular are owned by Kashmiris. For example, the one on No.51, which was with a barbecue stall outside the entrance and a 3-floor restaurant inside, is one of the the busiest due to its authentic Muslim food and central location on Baohanzhi street. The barbecue stall was always surrounded by many African people and also attracted customers to the watermelon stall next door.
The Ankara restaurant is the most exclusive one on the street, and stands out due to its costly style. A strange thing I noticed is that the street is full of four or five fruit stores, and they all seem to have a good business…


 May 29th, 2013

Although I have been walking on this street for two years, I still do not know how the situation at dawn looks like. Driven by my curiosity, I woke up at 5am in the morning, and went out to the street with my camera. It was dark at 5, and a few Africans were still drinking bear, chatting loudly and excitingly in front of a store. They were much vigilant to me, and if I tried getting involved with them arbitrarily, it may backfire. So I just glanced at them, slammed the security door and swaggered off to the business district.
However, at the entrance of the business district, all the shops were closed, except a shop that sells so-called Nang bread for 24 hours as well as a Muslim vendor from Ningxia who was still selling dumplings. The sellers have kept kneading the dough and baking Nang bread day and night, and they definitely make good money. I walked inside the vegetable market. Sellers were busy with their work, dealing with the delivered vegetables, getting rid of the stale ones and placing the rest neatly. There is a vendor selling a kind of fried bread sticks outside the market. Local Cantonese do not like it because they think those fried things may cause internal heat, which is not good for health in Guangzhou’s hot and humid climate. I like it but I can rarely get such fresh ones. I think it may sell well because there are many inhabitants from the north of China.

It was 5.30am. A few Africans were walking into and out of the street. And then, just past 6, the sky began to lighten up, and more and more people showed up gradually. There should be many people going to work or school at this time; but it was few at this kind of place. Obviously, the main inhabitants here are not white-collar employees or permanent residents. So the scene common in other parts of the city, of elderly people getting up early and escorting their grandchildren to school, was rare in Baohanzhi Street. However, there were still a few.
I stayed at a breakfast stall taking photos of grandparents taking their children to school. Suddenly, an African wearing a stars-and -stripes shirt walked toward me; his shirt attracted me. He knew I was taking photos and shunned, obviously he was unwilling to be photographed. So I placed myself in front of the breakfast stall and turned around, taking pictures of the street cleaners. It seemed, he was attracted to the breakfast. And as he was buying some soybean milk, I pressed the shutter, only once, and then looked in his surprised eyes and gave him a friendly smile. After a period of irregular contact, I knew he was an international student of South China Agricultural University. Once, at 2 in the morning, he tried to introduce me to an African prostitute in a telephone booth, saying that only 400 yuan could be ok.


Afterword by Wang shaobo
  on compte pas mal des oeuvres au sujet des noirs, elles incarnent également des elements des photos de LIDONG comme fatigue, decadence, accablement et lutte, un état de vagabondage au monde. Mais ces noirs dans le photos de LIDONG sont solidement ancrés à notre terre. Lorsqu’ils boivent de la bierre devant un bistrot, achètent les collations devant un éventaire, marchandent au marché aux légumes, ils ressemblent plutot à une crème glacée au chocolat noir fondue dans nos mains jaunes, douce et fraiche. Malgré quelques jeunes noirs qui portent le T shirt Just kill it!, qui sombrent dans l'alcoolisme en pleine rue, et qui sont embarqués par police en tant que clandestins, ils parviennet en fin à s’y installer
 ces oeuvres de LIDONG sont issues d’une observation perspicace sur le sentiment humain universel: il ne cherche pas à concrétiser le protagonist. Dans la phoho où un noir regarde paisiblement l’opéra Pékinois par la television dans une salle avec une photo de MAO ZEDONG pendue au mur, on sent que cette scène est tellement Assurant et authentique comme si c’n’était plus dans un pays étranger, ils croit sincèrement qu’ici Mao zedong leur apportera advantage de bonne chance que Jésus; oui bien sur quand les gens decrivent les africains comme victims de geurre,de pauvreté et de maladie,  Mr LIDONG met l’accent sur la dignité et la puissance imparfaites,  en focalisant sur leur tentative de developpement dans les dures conditions.
 La situation actuelle de la vie des noires nous sert d’un miroir : la situation d’autrefois de Chinatown des immigrant chinois à étranger a été celle de rue noire d’aujourd’hui . les noirs nous servent d’un miroir devant lequel nous ne nous distinguons plus, mais nous tentons toujours de bien discerner notre image. Je pense que le village de Terre nécessite la présence de Rue noir en Chine. Elle reproduit non seulement la scène de Chinetown et de Rue Latin, mais aussi la confrontation et entrelacement des civilisations, ce que Mr Lidong préfère à refleter.  Il pose en meme temps une question : comment bien discerner dans le miroir noir la parite adverse, connaitre l’univers et se faire reconnaitre : de quelle facon pouvons nous créer une conjoncture gagnant avec les africains et les immigrés étrangers
Emergence en soi disant pacifique signifie la prospérité commune pour tous, aussi vous que nous, non pas celle occidentale de facon de pillage à l’époque. Je pense que c’est cela le sens de photographie de Lidong et la raison de l’afficher au monde