Lights, Camera, Action: Capturing Black Girl Magic in China
“What started with one person asking me for a photo turned into two people, then three, then a huge crowd or line with 15+ people waiting.Family photos, selfies, even pictures of me posing alone—the more pictures I allowed, the more pictures people requested”
Can you imagine people waiting in line to take pictures with you? Yeah, I couldn’t either, but that was my experience as a 20-year-old Black woman living in China. During my junior year of college, I traveled to Shanghai for a four-month study abroad program centered around China’s economy and culture. I studied everything from the country’s most common business tactics to the Mandarin language. Before I left, and even after I returned, everyone had one question: Why China? The answer was simple. I was eager to experience the unfamiliar. I had already studied abroad in South America and Europe, and I was ready to travel to a new continent; one that would challenge me. What I realized, though, was that my culture was just as unfamiliar to them as theirs was to me. While Chinese natives in Shanghai seemed to be pretty accustomed to foreigners, I had a very unique experience in Beijing.
While visiting the Great Wall of China and several other popular landmarks in Beijing, I was constantly approached for photo-ops. Although I was warned about the “fandom,” I had no idea that it would be so intense. What started with one person asking me for a photo turned into two people, then three, then a huge crowd or line with 15+ people waiting. Family photos, selfies, even pictures of me posing alone—the more pictures I allowed, the more pictures people requested. This was happening for one reason: most of the Chinese natives had never seen anyone who looked like me.
From my very dark skin to my natural hair, the Chinese natives in Beijing admired me as if I was the eighth wonder of the world. I think this experience is incredibly common for Black people traveling abroad, but everyone deals with it differently, and understandably so. I, personally, was able to embrace the Chinese natives, mainly because they were so welcoming and respectful. No one touched me, or my hair, no one led with stereotypical questions or assumptions and no one overstepped any boundaries. They were simply in awe of my Blackness, and how could I blame them? We’re magical.
To any Black person thinking about visiting China, do it! Despite the cultural barrier, my experience was amazing, and as long as you know what to expect, yours will be too. The world is so much bigger than us, and the best thing you can do is explore it. Very few things in life are as fulfilling and as gratifying as traveling abroad.
Arianna G., New York City
Follow Arianna On IG : @aria.thepublicist