A centre for Asian and intercontinental immigration and export-oriented production, Guangzhou city is at the forefront of China’s global interactions. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this article examines informal governance mechanisms that co-ordinate the circulation of goods and capital between China and Africa. The question addressed is: What roles do mobility and sojourning play in governing trade relations? The analysis is informed by research from three fields: economics scholarship on the trade–migration nexus, ethnographic studies of informal trans-border trade, and historical accounts of long-distance trade in pre-colonial and colonial eras. These traditions point to different ways in which the mobility of people and goods are interlinked. In the case of China–Africa interactions, the flow of goods has increased in tandem with the number of visits by African itinerant traders. The empirical discussion demonstrates that the emergence of intercontinental movements of goods and people between China and Africa was predicated on the brokering role played by African sojourners in Guangzhou. Of particular importance was informal hospitality and logistics infrastructure set up by Africans in the late 1990s, which subsequently evolved and adapted. This infrastructure has facilitated the mobility of people and goods and increased the pace at which trading capital circulates.