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China Now Manufacturing Churches, Alongside iPads, Solar Panels, Automobiles

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Considering that officially-atheist China is already home to the world's largest Bible factory (capable of producing "1 million copies a month, or one Bible per second," according to Shanghaiist, in "90 languages, from Braille to Slovakian to Swahili"), getting into the church-building business seems a no-brainer.

The Christian Century (via Kenneth Tan) reports that, along with roads, bridges, and railways, Chinese companies are erecting churches across Africa.

"We have worked with them before and we have had a very good experience with them," the Rev. Anthony Mwituria of the Nairobi, Kenya Archdiocese says of China Zhongxing Construction, which is currently building a new house of worship named for Maurice Cardinal Otunga. "We issued a tender and they came with the best deal."

It is, according to the Century's Fredrick Nzwili, "one of many church contracts Chinese construction companies have won in recent years as China has expanded its influence in Africa."

Writes Nzwili:

Another company, Fubeco Ltd. (China Funshin), is constructing Our Lady of Rosary Ridgeway's Roman Catholic Church in Kiambu area near Nairobi. The company constructed Luther Plaza, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya headquarters.

"China is now winning contracts to build churches because its corporations out-bid those from elsewhere," explained Jesse Mugambi, professor of philosophy and religious studies from the University of Nairobi.

China is now the leading trading partner with Africa. In 2009, with US$90 billion worth of trade, the country overtook France and the U.K., Africa's traditional commercial partners.

Interestingly, as China looks to Africa for new business opportunities, so many Africans are doing the same thing in China, one section of Guangzhou has been nicknamed "Chocolate City" by locals.

From ChinaSmack:

As it is understood, there are 20,000 Africans who have stayed over 6 months. However, if those who illegally overstay and those who frequently come and go are added together, “the real number” should be around 200,000. This is equivalent to 2% of Guangzhou’s registered population. The expansion of the African’s export business has also spawned African restaurants, African logistics, African intermediaries and other supporting businesses. African businessmen have also brought African laborers and African service staff.

Doctoral student Yang Yang of the Chinese University of Hong Kong adds some fascinating detail [PDF]:

Within and around Guangzhou, I conducted three months of fieldwork, concentrating in the Sanyuanli (三元里), Xiaobei (小北) and Foshan (佛山) districts. These three districts house the majority of the African population in Guangdong province and are distinctly different from neighboring communities. Sanyuanli, where I spent most of my time researching, is a Nigerian- and Ghanaian-based market and has a large population of long-term African middle-men who sell goods to traders coming from West Africa. Xiaobei is mainly populated by Muslims and is a more expensive market, where there are more short-term traders from Islamic areas in Africa and the Middle East, such as Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Northern Nigeria, Yemen, and Jordan. Foshan is a neighboring city of Guangzhou, but its cheap rent and convenient transportation links with the above two trade areas make it a major African residential area, especially for traders who cannot afford hotels or do not hold valid visas.

There are two kinds of markets in Guangzhou that African merchants go to: African markets, where there is a high percentage of African-owned shops, and Chinese wholesale markets, where stores are managed by Chinese locals. The former is a popular trade destination, particularly for short-term traders from Africa, because they can easily find business consultants and shop assistants who speak fluent Igbo, French, and Arabic. As discussed later, there are also many informal agencies in these markets that facilitate the needs of African traders in terms of finance and living. The latter category of markets, on the other hand, mainly accommodate the Chinese buyers and there is much less accommodating to African traders. The language spoken in these markets is Chinese and there are no money exchange stalls for traders who only carry U.S. currency, the standard currency taken out of Africa. Africans who go to these Chinese markets are usually either big clients who can afford hiring Chinese interpreters or localized Africans who have stayed for a lengthy period in China and often have shops/companies in the African market targeting short-term traders.

Most strikingly perhaps, is this: as China builds churches in Africa, Africans in China are importing religion themselves:

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