"Take My Card": Analyzing the Business Cards of Nigerian Entrepreneurs in Guangzhou

Publication Date

Spring 1-1-2020

Document Type



African-American Studies

Publication Title

Material Culture






In the last three decades, Guangdong Province has become an important international hub for West Africans seeking to create economic opportunities in the export of Chinese-produced goods to Africa. Nigerians, among the first to settle in Guangzhou, a city in southern China known for its manufacturing sector, in the 1990s, played a key role in establishing trading communities that remain popular among itinerant African commercial traders today. However, as tightening immigration restrictions, increased local and state surveillance, rising visa renewal costs, and everyday discrimination raise the stakes of doing business in China, Nigerian entrepreneurs in Guangzhou find themselves having to operate even more strategically in the marketplace by leveraging a number of resources in their favor. One of these resources is the ability to promote oneself as a professional proprietor of a legitimate businesses, an image that relies heavily on the design and production of business cards which are essential multitools in the business practices of Nigerian entrepreneurs. This article analyzes the function, imagery, and meaning of business cards collected from Nigerian entrepreneurs in Guangzhou, China between 2009 and 2014. Through a close reading of language, clip art, religious iconography, and partnerships with Chinese associates on business cards, new understanding is gained about the relationship between the localized and culturally specific design knowledge and choices of Nigerian entrepreneurs and their ability to solicit clients, advertise goods and services, project aspirations, and protect one’s success in a volatile marketplace that is largely informal, somewhat unregulated, and always precarious.