Protests in China
African residents in Guangzhou protested in front of a local police office on June 19. Traffic stoppage and physical altercations may have brought out local riot police.

African immigrants living in China's southern city of Guangzhou are livid after news surfaced that a Nigerian man has mysteriously died in police custody.

So upset, in fact, that hundreds of them protested in front of a local police station on the afternoon of June 19, blocking traffic and eventually drawing the deployment of riot police. The demonstration dissipated after a scuffle between the police and the protesters, though it remains unknown what specifically led to the violence or which side was ultimately responsible for instigating it.

The Nigerian man in question was first brought to the station the day before, after entering into an altercation with a local Chinese moped driver. Chinese nationalistic news service Global Times reported that the dispute may have emerged over a disagreement on a payment of as little as 5 yuan -- less than a U.S. dollar.

Guangzhou police say that the dispute occurred in the early afternoon and both persons where then brought into local police custody, and during that time, the Nigerian man unexpectedly and inexplicably passed away. Local authorities reported through their micro-blog that They were taken to the police station for investigation, but the foreigner suddenly fell into a coma at around 5 pm and died after receiving medical treatment at the station. Police claim that an initial medical report showed no obvious injuries.

The depiction of the events on Chinese micro-blogs and that presented by local African residents offer a much different interpretation, though largely unverifiable and likely inflamed by supposition and bias. Versions vary, from those alleging that the moped driver called in friends to beat up the passenger, to those claiming the passenger was acting out in an extreme fashion, to others who are hinting at the idea that police themselves may have assaulted the man and are ultimately responsible for his death.

A local Nigerian resident named Matouvu told The Nanfang, a private English-language news site for foreigners in southern China, that the initial altercation between the moped driver and the Nigerian man first occurred in the early hours of June 19. However, the resident was not identified as an original witness and her account is qualified as coming from other sources.

The Global Times reports that the Nigerian ambassador to China flew to Guangzhou on Tuesday to speak with local authorities.

With the increasingly close economic relations between China and African nations, growing numbers of immigrants from the continent are travelling to China to seek out opportunities for work and education. Large numbers of West Africans are making a home in the Guangzhou region, with the Sanyuanli district as a popular destination.

The new migratory developments of course carry their own frictions and uncertainties, especially between two groups that are in general culturally unacquainted with one another. Comments from many Chinese netizens on the recent event reveal a not-too-subtle expression of racist sentiment against African immigrants. Nevertheless, Chinese investment and economic links with Africa are unlikely to dissipate, which means this unprecendented trend in world history is likely to be resilient.

A photojournalism report on Chinese Web portal NetEase in September of 2011 claimed that while 20,000 Africans were now legally and officially registered as residents of Guangzhou, a full 200,000 may actually be living in the city, many on expired visas. That means the African resident population in Guangzhou could account for as much as 2 percent of the urban population. The Xinhua news agency estimated that there were some 750,000 Chinese working and living across Africa in 2009.

For a video of the demonstration, see: