Being black in China isn’t new or rare: being black in China does make our personal care a little harder to maintain. With the right contacts, research before going there and some ingenuity you will be okay. If you are visiting for more than two weeks, this will be useful for you to read.
Periods and tampons
Let’s start with the monthly messy stuff, periods. Periods are similarly not talked about there as they are a conservative nation, meaning you won’t find tampons easily. The main reason is that inserting a tampon is believed to be similar to a sex act and is not encouraged. I read about this before moving and thought it was not possible, I brought my own just in case, and I did not see any in the supermarkets. I quickly learned that Shanghai and other major cities are different from Hong Kong. Hong Kong is often said to be the most Western part of China due to it being a past British colony. (If you can recall the bravery the university students exemplified when protesting in 2019/2020 democracy and judiciary rights, only they would hold a protest.)
To my amazement when I did find the section of my local supermarket, there were at least two walls of sanitary towels, pads and liners for you to choose! I had never seen so many options until I was there. I read everything, the drop symbols and any other imaging to make my choices. Funnily after my first pad run, I had accidentally bought night pads that went more or less from the top of my underwear to up the backside (it kept me so snug and covered that loving it felt wrong)! It was a simple mistake, a fun one to tell my mom about, who said I bought an adult nappy.
Black hair products
As a woman with natural hair, I knew that buying hair products in stores would be incredibly difficult unless L’Oreal and other big brands create them for us, and stores place them at the front. Likewise, if your hair is permed, you will be safer bringing your own perm kits until you meet black communities that offer this service. I carried a lot of hair products with me because I learned about it. In my five months there, I never saw black hair products in stores. Expect to do the same and get used to pure oils and hair butter. Taobao is the best online store: it’s an Amazon but better and has everything for a fair price. Chinese friends can order for you if you need help. In the first month, I needed a muscle balm because I thought I sprained my knee, and my housemate ordered a pain relieve called Deep Heat, from Australia. It arrived within a week: this helped me avoid a hospital visit and struggling with the language barrier.
One way to find black hair products and even specific foods (like plantain) or seasoning (Adobo, Maggi, etc) is to join black women groups on WeChat. WeChat is the most efficient messaging service that includes so much more. You can: pay bills, order flights and food, set up newsletters and e-commerce stores, social media, see company marketing (like your phone company giving new sim offers), join chats (black women only, day trips, job board), transfer money and more within one app. If you have a hustle, like hair braiding, this is how you can be paid for it out there too (they are working on ways to legalise it for taxes but, until then many people use it). This app is how you can search for hair braiding, hair braiders, wigs and weaves, even start selling wigs and weaves! Wechat is in the top 3 essential apps you need even if you are there for five days. Everything is connected. I found hairdressers by asking my Black friends there and in the “Sisters of Shanghai”. Some people can point you to other city groups of Black women for help and to make friends. It’s a wonderful community which helped me a lot. Alternatively, when you meet Black people there, ask them where they get their hair done and how much it is, it is all usually relatively priced.
Face and body cream
On the line of products, be mindful of buying creams and lotions. The East sees fairer skin as best. I don’t mean to startle you or have you in a conundrum, they can love our black skin (it’s not always weirdly looked at) and still see white skin as ideal. Yī bái zhē bǎi chou is a Chinese proverb that says white skin removes all ugliness. You can read about their beauty ideals as we don’t have time to devour such a topic. Please read the products carefully as bleaching agents and skin lightening are in many products. A few ingredients to watch out for: Hydroquinone, mercury, calomel, mercurio, and mercurio chloride. Use Google translate, the picture option to scan the ingredients if in Mandarin. If you are competent with the Chinese alphabet and have that option turned on with your phone, use Baidu (Chinese version of Google, pretty good).
Lest we forget our deodorant
Lastly, is good old-fashioned sweat. Deodorant isn’t as popular or strong (long-lasting and reducing odour) because they are marketed for their biggest consumer, Chinese. They typically perspire less, and they think that sweating is okay as it detoxifies the body, so not everyone uses it! Again, Taobao is your friend and any online groups, but if you use a specific brand, buy quite a few of them to bring with you and look at whether they ship to China.
These are some of the important things to consider before your trip. Bring your tampons, hair products, body creams and lotions and deodorants. You can buy hair from China easily, so your braids and wigs will still be beautiful. When you connect with a black community- navigating and sourcing your hair needs will be made easier. Keep your eyes open and ask questions: China is a big world in itself!
Top apps mentioned: Baidu, Taobao, WeChat and Google Translate.
What's Your Reaction?
Kirah is a blogger, educator (special needs) and traveller. Her passion for seeing more of the world increased after qualifying to teach English to Adults (CELTA) where her journey began in Spain. She is presently on country 32 (of 25 independent territories) and is always ready to catch flights and experience new cultures.