This photograph is taken in Guangzhou (the city once known as Canton) at a wholesale clothing market. Most of the people in the market are not from Guangzhou. The market traders are a mix of people from China and from a number of different nations in Africa. The customers are primarily Africans. It is an international place, drawing all toward a common goal: to escape poverty through the international circulation of cell phones and clothing.
Most of those Africans in Guangzhou are working in businesses that facilitate the export of goods back to Africa. Gordon Matthews in his book Ghetto at the centre of the world tells us that Africans go through stages of engagement in the process of becoming a trader with China. The easiest point of access is via Hong Kong and in particular through a single building: Chung King Mansions. The traders come to Hong Kong with money that they have scraped together from friends and family seeking out those with experience. In Hong Kong, they will either buy from local wholesalers, which is a more expensive but potentially less risky option, and ship the good back or taken home as part of their luggage. Those who are more connected or willing to take bigger risks may find a guide who will take them to Shenzhen or, even better, Guangzhou to buy from wholesalers directly. Goods will then be shipped as in the photograph above or again carried home as luggage. Those who successfully manage the first trip, and are able to get their goods home, then survive economically to return again. Many do not.