Mak­ing Con­nec­tions

Sino-african peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes spread to big and small screens

ChinAfrica - - OPINION - By Li Jing

on the screen, an en­thu­si­as­tic young African launches into a Chi­nese song in a mu­nic­i­pal park, un­der the ad­mir­ing glances of a few 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 said to the cam­era.

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) and Ho­dan Os­man Abdi, Deputy Di­rec­tor of ATFRC com­ing from So­mali.

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

Re­flect­ing re­al­ity

Abdi set foot in China for the first time 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 and 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 19 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 Africans.

The doc­u­men­tary was screened at the 2017 Zanz­ibar In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, and 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 liv­ing in Africa,” he told Chi­nafrica.

Same ap­proach, but dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion: his sec­ond doc­u­men­tary, TAZARA: A Jour­ney With­out an End, aims to ob­serve the im­pact of the Tan­za­nia-zam­bia Rail­way, a flag­ship project of Sino-african co­op­er­a­tion. For 38 days, the film crew - made up of film­mak­ers and re­searchers from Africa, China and Europe - trav­eled along the iconic rail­way.

Launched on De­cem­ber 30, 2017 at the Dar es Salaam Train Sta­tion, the start­ing point of the Tan­za­nia-zam­bia Rail­way, the doc­u­men­tary presents tes­ti­monies of more than 40 peo­ple who took part in the con­struc­tion of the rail­way.

“The con­struc­tion of the Tan­za­nia-zam­bia Rail­way was the first time so many Chi­nese set foot in Africa. Over­all, more than 50,000 Chi­nese en­gi­neers and tech­ni­cians were dis­patched to the con­ti­nent at the time,” said Zhang.

Open to traf­fic in July 1976 af­ter six years of work, the rail­way starts in the Tan­za­nian cap­i­tal of Dar es Salaam and crosses all of south Tan­za­nia up to Kapiri Mposhi, a dis­tance of 1,860 km.

“The doc­u­men­tary TAZARA: A Jour­ney With­out An End aims to re­flect how the rail­way con­trib­uted to lo­cal de­vel­op­ment, as well as the prob­lems that one finds there in an ob­jec­tive way. We hope to put for­ward so­lu­tions rather than par­tial crit­i­cisms,” Zhang told Chi­nafrica. The doc­u­men­tary, which was co­pro­duced by The Travel Chan­nel, also seeks to high­light the re­gion’s beau­ti­ful land­scapes, with an aim of pro­mot­ing tourism de­vel­op­ment along the rail­way. The first three episodes will be aired for the first time on tele­vi­sion in early Septem­ber, to co­in­cide with the open­ing of the 2018 Bei­jing Sum­mit of the Fo­rum on China-africa Co­op­er­a­tion (FOCAC).

Big project, small screen

At the FOCAC Jo­han­nes­burg Sum­mit in De­cem­ber, 2015, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping an­nounced to launch 10 ma­jor China-africa co­op­er­a­tion plans for the fol­low­ing three years.

One of these projects deals with peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes, stat­ing that China would build five cul­tural cen­ters for Africa, fa­cil­i­tate ac­cess to satel­lite TV in 10,000 African vil­lages and pro­vide 30,000 schol­ar­ships to African stu­dents wish­ing to study in China. In ad­di­tion, China made a com­mit­ment to spon­sor­ing vis­its by 200 African schol­ars and study trips by 500 young Africans to China ev­ery year, as well as train­ing 1,000 me­dia work­ers an­nu­ally. In or­der to im­prove con­nec­tiv­ity and tourism co­op­er­a­tion, the project also plans to help open more di­rect flights be­tween China and Africa. These prom­ises were not empty words. Chi­nese dig­i­tal TV broad­cast­ing com­pany Star­times was quick to set in mo­tion the project to help 10,000 African vil­lages ac­cess to satel­lite TV. Af­ter more than two years of prepa­ra­tion, the project was launched in a num­ber of African coun­tries in 2018 and is ex­pected to be com­pleted by the end of the year.

“It’s a project that ben­e­fits African ru­ral res­i­dents. It will not only en­rich their cul­tural life, but also deep­ens China-africa cul­tural ex­changes,” said Star­times Pres­i­dent Pang Xinx­ing.

On May 13, the project was launched in Mozam­bique, pro­vid­ing satel­lite tele­vi­sion to more than 500 vil­lages. A month later, on June 7, the project ex­panded to Kenya, where more than 16,000 house­holds in 800 vil­lages ben­e­fited from free satel­lite tele­vi­sion ser­vices.

Ac­cord­ing to Joe Mucheru, Kenyan Cabi­net Sec­re­tary in the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Tech­nol­ogy, the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the project ac­tu­ally helped Kenyans, es­pe­cially those in ru­ral ar­eas, “gain a win­dow to the out­side world.”

Like Abdi, Zhang and Star­times, thou­sands of Africans and Chi­nese con­trib­ute to Sino-african ex­changes. Since the 18th Na­tional Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China in 2012, more than 300 ac­tiv­i­ties and co­op­er­a­tion projects have been im­ple­mented in the field of peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes.

* Com­ments to:

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Zhang Yong, Di­rec­tor of TAZARA: A Jour­ney With­out an End, with some of the Mas­sai peo­ple he in­ter­viewed for his doc­u­men­tary

Zhang Yong films land­scape along the Tan­za­ni­azam­bia Rail­way

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