Chinese and Zambian artists perform at the Opening Gala of China-Zambia Culture Year (GUO XINGFU)
As the Chinese saying goes, friendship between people is the foundation of inter-state relations. During the past 55 years since the establishment of the diplomatic relations between China and Zambia, the cultural exchanges and people-to-people ties have been strengthened.
While visiting China in September 2018, Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, reached an agreement on holding the
China-Zambia Culture Year in 2019, when the two countries celebrate the 55th anniversary of the diplomatic relations.
The opening gala of the China-Zambia Culture Year was held in Beijing on April 21, and attended by Luo Shugang, Chinese Minister of Culture and Tourism, and Charles Banda, Zambian Minister of Tourism and Arts.
After the gala, Charles Banda sat down with ChinAfrica to share his views on bilateral cultural exchange in recent years. His excerpted views follow:
ChinAfrica: In your address to the opening gala, you stressed on the protection of the intangible cultural heritage. Why?
Charles Banda: It is very important that we preserve our culture. Culture is manifested in different forms. Intangible culture is that which you cannot see or touch, while tangible is that which you are able to see or touch. When we talk about that form of culture which you cannot touch, it is very easy to lose it if we don't practice it. You have to practice this type of art and culture time and again and pass it on to others. When you stop telling your children the stories which you were told by your grandparents, you have killed a certain aspect of culture.
People learn about storytelling or songs from our cultural heritage, for example. There was a song that was sung around 1980, and I heard some young men singing it again today [at the opening gala] in a different version, but carrying the same message. This kind of practice should go on. We should pass it on to every generation. So, all I can say is that there is a need for us to ensure that we maintain our intangible culture because that is where our identity lies. People will identify you and me through what we know about ourselves and what we tell people about us, and that can only be done by those who are able to narrate their stories. That's why intangible culture is so important.
Are there any cooperation projects for cultural exchange between the two countries or will there be any such projects in future?
The major projects we have right now include an educational exchange program under which we send our students to China. So far, we have sent about 60 students who are in the field of culture and arts. Apart from that, we receive delegations from China which showcase Chinese culture in Zambia, at least two to three times per year. We have different events being commemorated in Zambia, for instance, the Spring Festival celebrations. People from different regions come and tell us how they celebrate the Spring Festival, which is very important, and it's helping us understand the Chinese people better as they live in our communities in Zambia.
What do you think of China-Zambia cooperation in tourism industry?
First of all, I will give you some statistics. In 2017, there were about 1.6 billion outbound tourists world over, and out of that, about 150 million are Chinese, making China the biggest tourist source.
You have the largest number of people that travel overseas, followed by Spain with 88 million outbound travelers and France with 82 million. So, whoever wants to do business in tourism, the first target should be China, because out of the 150 million outbound tourists right now, only 62 million visited Africa; and out of the 62 million who visited Africa, unfortunately, Southern Africa did not have a fair share. Zambia, for instance, only received 20,000 Chinese tourists which we believe is not good enough considering that the market potential is so huge.
But we are not lamenting, all we are trying to say is that maybe there is something we haven't done right by way of marketing the tourist resources of Zambia. Once you visit Zambia, you will see it all. We have the Victoria Falls in Zambia; we have got wildlife where you have all the Big Five; you will see the giraffe, the rhino, the elephant, the lion, the cheetah and the buffalo. And I want you to know that even when you talk about Safari, tourism Safari, it started in Zambia.
Others have taken a leaf from us and have performed better than we have done because they realized early that tourism was a business while we were treating tourism as a social sector. But for the past three to four years, from the time President Edgar Chagwa Lungu came to power, he has transformed the social sector into an economic sector, meaning that now tourism in Zambia is a business. I think this is the reason why we are out here to tell you what we have and to invite you as a Chinese community to come and see what is Zambia.
This year marks the 55th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between our two countries. What's your view of the cultural exchange between our two countries in recent years?
I will tell you that we are very proud to have been the first country in Southern Africa to establish diplomatic relations with China and we have received greater benefits from cooperating with China right from the start. I'm sure you know about the Tanzania-Zambia Railway. In 1965, there was a conflict in the Central African region where we were blocked. You know we are a landlocked country, so we had no way out of Zambia to the sea to transport our copper. China came to our aid and built the railway line from Kapiri Mposhi to Dar es Salaam, measuring 1,800 km, to help us gain access to the sea.
So, our relationship has come a long way. I want to mention that the railway line in our understanding has become a cultural symbol of cooperation between Zambia and China, and that is not the end. If you come to Zambia now, you will realize there is a lot of infrastructure development and the major partner helping us out on that is China, so our relationship is growing from strength to strength. We are coming into culture tourism because we want to understand your culture. You should also understand us and when you understand someone's culture it means you know them. So we want you to know us better not only from the political level, or leadership level, but also from grassroots level. So we are inviting Chinese artists to come to Zambia as often as they can.
What are your expectations for this culture year between the two countries?
My expectations are that this should not be the end. It should be the beginning of the collaboration between Zambia and China. We should collaborate further in the area of culture, and I'm happy that the Chinese Government has merged culture and tourism together because culture and tourism go hand in hand.
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