Swap­ping Sto­ries

Sino­african peo­ple­to­peo­ple ex­changes spread to screens big and small

Beijing Review - - WORLD - By Li Jing

An en­thu­si­as­tic young man from Cameroon launches into a Chi­nese song in a lo­cal park, draw­ing ad­mir­ing glances from fel­low karaoke fans.

“Wel­come to Bei­jing, where ev­ery­one has an ex­tra­or­di­nary dream, where we dare to try to make mir­a­cles,” he sings.

The per­for­mance was filmed for the big screen as part of the doc­u­men­tary Africans in Yiwu. The singer is Serge Hervea, a Cameroo­nian stu­dent at the Col­lege of Cul­ture and In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion of Zhe­jiang Nor­mal Univer­sity, lo­cated in east China’s Zhe­jiang Prov­ince.

“I re­ally like singing and lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. But singing Chi­nese songs is not just a hobby for me, it’s also a way to show that I live well in China,” he says.

Shot over a two-year pe­riod, Africans in Yiwu is the work of Chi­nese and African di­rec­tors: Zhang Yong, Di­rec­tor of the African Tele­vi­sion and Film Re­search Cen­ter (ATFRC) at Zhe­jiang Nor­mal Univer­sity and Ho­dan Os­man Abdi, Deputy Di­rec­tor of the ATFRC from So­ma­lia.

The doc­u­men­tary con­sists of six episodes fea­tur­ing 19 Africans liv­ing in China, in­clud­ing Hervea. They re­count the ups and downs of their lives in China, and more gen­er­ally talk about mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism through topics such as ed­u­ca­tion, mar­riage, busi­ness, pub­lic wel­fare, food and art.

Re­flect­ing re­al­ity

Abdi first ar­rived in China in 2005. Now, 13 years later, she holds a PH.D. in com­mu­ni­ca­tions from Zhe­jiang Univer­sity and is a sil­ver-award win­ner of the third edi­tion of the Chi­nese Bridge Chi­nese Lan­guage Pro­fi­ciency Com­pe­ti­tion for For­eign Col­lege Stu­dents. In ad­di­tion to be­ing a pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute of African Stud­ies of Zhe­jiang Nor­mal Univer­sity, Abdi is now also a pres­i­den­tial ad­vi­sor to the So­mali Gov­ern­ment.

“My dream is to be­come a cul­tural mes­sen­ger to help Chi­nese bet­ter un­der­stand Africa and Africans bet­ter un­der­stand China,” said Abdi.

The doc­u­men­tary serves pre­cisely this pur­pose. Abdi and her team fol­lowed the pro­tag­o­nists for two years to present their lives in the most re­al­is­tic way pos­si­ble. “Through th­ese sto­ries, we hope to in­spire pub­lic re­flec­tion, not just give per­sonal opin­ions,” ex­plained Abdi, who hopes the film will al­low the Chi­nese pub­lic to gain a more ob­jec­tive view of African peo­ple.

The doc­u­men­tary was screened at the 2017 Zanz­ibar In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val and was fea­tured as an open­ing film at the 2017 Lusaka In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val. It also won the award for best online doc­u­men­tary film in China in 2017.

Con­vinced of the use­ful­ness of cinema in ex­plor­ing and show­cas­ing this topic, Zhang did not wait long to get back be­hind the cam­era. “We told the life sto­ries of Africans in China in

Africans in Yiwu. This time, we wanted to tell the story of Chi­nese peo­ple liv­ing in Africa," he told

Bei­jing Re­view.

Thus, he took the same ap­proach, but in a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion. His sec­ond doc­u­men­tary,

TAZARA: A Jour­ney With­out an End, shows the im­pact of the Tan­za­nia-zam­bia Rail­way, a flag­ship pro­ject in Sino-african co­op­er­a­tion. For 38 days, the film crew—made up of film-

Film pro­ducer Zhang Yong takes a photo with some of the Mas­sais he in­ter­viewed for his doc­u­men­tary in Tan­za­nia on Jan­uary 4

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