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Sino-African people-to-people exchanges spread to big and small screens
By Li Jing | VOL.10 September 2018 ·2018-08-29
Zhang Yong, Director of TAZARA: A Journey Without an End, with some of the Massai people he interviewed for his documentary

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.

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