Since the 7th century, Africans have maintained a consistent commercial relationship with China. During the Tang Dynasty, Arab traders brought African slaves from east Africa to China. They comprised one of the many commodities in the Arabs’ large-scale maritime trade with China. During this era, the first Chinese cultural perception of African people developed. These “dark-skinned” people were known as Kunlun. They were described as lower class, ignorant, scary, and dangerous. Although there were far more enslaved Chinese, some wealthy Chinese preferred the exotic Kunlun slaves.
African slavery in China peaked during the Tang and Song (960 A.D. to 1279 A.D.) dynasties but the number of African slaves taken to China during this 608-year period is unclear. By this point Chinese perceptions of the Kunlun became more complex. These perceptions ranged from strong and mysterious to frightening.
In the article below independent historian Robin Loftin explores the past, present, and possible future relationship between the world’s most populous nation and people of African ancestry. Africa and China have had contact for more than a thousand years. Some scholars assert that the contacts …
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