A couple of Halloweens ago I went to a party and chatted with someone about the upcoming Vancouver Asian Film Festival. We discussed Asian Canadian filmmakers and she mentioned her friend, Bobo Zhao, who was working on a documentary at the time about the growing socio-economic ties between China and Africa.
I was immediately interested in this as I’ve been following Africa-China relations for years now and I am always looking to learn about new diaspora stories. Last year, Zhao’s film, Afrinese, screened at the Your Kontinent Festival. At the time it came out I was sad because (a) I missed the screening, and (b) I feared I might not ever get to see it since film-makers often only show their work at festivals and then never do anything with it afterwards doing a big-time disservice to both the art and the world, by the way.
A year or so later, I thought I would take a chance and see if it got put up online and it did! Afrinese runs about 20 minutes and takes us on Team Zhao’s two month journey through Mozambique, Malawi,Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia, just some of the countries the Chinese have built burgeoning trade routes with in recent times.
China is now Africa’s largest trading partner. As of 2013, annual trade volume had reached $200 billion. From mining to banking to energy to infrastructure, China is heavily dependent on Africa to supply it with the resources it needs to sustain its economy. But it’s not just about business, Chinese culture is also building a presence in African society. Zhao’s documentary gives us a slice of life that isn’t often shown to audiences here or in many other areas around the globe.
A few things about this film that really stood out for me:
What I like most is that it contrasts with all the bad publicity we see about China and its modern-day policies. It’s nice to see feel-good stories about pioneers chasing adventure and opportunity and making a positive difference in their lives and those around them. I’ve heard enough about wealthy spoiled brat kids, bad manners, or how China’s this giant monster with an insatiable appetite that will doom the rest of us.
My favorite part is when they go to the Amitofo Orphanage Care Centre (ACC) in Malawi founded by Buddhist master, Hui Li. Here, students are taught various subjects and are immersed in Chinese and Buddhist culture. They even practice martial arts! We get to see them in action as they perform in front of the camera for us.
As I watched the film crew interact with a number of students it was clear they spoke far better Chinese than most of my friends or myself, people who are still perceived/supposed to know the language of their forefathers. It’s always nice to see diversity like this that can help subvert expectations about the world and its people. We all know how annoying misconceptions can be.
Further, as a Canadian made film, I love how it speaks to the diversity of this nation. English is used but the crew is clearly more comfortable with using Chinese as the mode of communication even when talking to the camera. It’s films like this that we need more of that help solidify Canada’s image as a nation whose people are diverse and whose identity is no longer seemingly monolithic as decades past.
In closing, I look forward to seeing more filmmakers take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to capture the stories of Chinese explorers leaving their homelands behind, following opportunity, forging relationships, and transforming the African frontier and the world as we know it.africa-china relations, amitofo orphanage care centre, asian diaspora stories, bobo zhao, canadian identity, malawi, vaff, vancouver, video, Your Kontinent Festival