Global Times: China-Africa cultural exchanges under BRI enhanced via dramas, tourism

BEIJING, Sept. 4, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- "I like Chinese kung fu movies! I like Jackie Chan!" said Jacinta Muthoni Njuguna, 22, of her favorite Chinese martial arts actor while switching channels in search of Chinese TV series. Njuguna and her family live an hour's drive from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Their household is just one of many now sporting a StarTimes-provided satellite dish.

When the Global Times visited Njuguna's house, the TV in the living room was broadcasting a drama featuring South Korean actor Rain - Jung Ji-hoon. "It is a Chinese TV drama! It is Diamond Lover!" Njuguna said excitedly.

"We can receive hundreds of channels. The Kung Fu Channel is one of my family's favorite channels… Although I haven't been to China, I feel that Chinese people are very friendly and live a happy life through watching Chinese films and TV series," Njuguna said.

The young Kenyan expressed a desire to learn Chinese should she ever get the opportunity to go to China in the future so that she can say goodbye to English dubbing and watch Chinese films and TV series in their original language.

Njuguna's family is among the beneficiaries of the "Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages" project.

At the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2015, China proposed to promote a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between China and Africa via several avenues, including a China-Africa people-to-people cooperation plan and the "Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages" project aimed at the promotion of cultural exchanges.

The project, exclusively being implemented by the StarTimes Group, has successfully completed construction work in 21 African countries, covering 9,512 villages across the continent, benefiting more than 190,000 households directly, and reaching tens of millions of people as of December 2022.

The Global Times has learned that after installing the satellite TV equipment in Uthiru Vocational Training School in Ndumbu village of Kenya, many children who previously dropped out of school returned.

The "Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages" project has opened a window for people living in rural areas in Africa to further understand the outside world, further enriching diverse cultures.

A new popularity

The Global Times also found that films and TV series in the kung fu genre, including fantasy dramas, do have a big market in Africa. Additionally, actors starring in popular series like Eternal Love and The Journey of Flower, like Xiao Zhan, Wang Yibo, Huo Jianhua, and Zhao Liying, have also become household names in Africa.

In 2011, several Chinese TV series, including The Good Times of the Daughter-in-Law and The Happy Life of Jin Tai Lang made their debut in Africa. In 2014, the "Beijing TV Drama Africa Broadcasting Season" was held in African countries such as Kenya and South Africa. Nowadays, African audiences can watch various Chinese films and TV series dubbed in languages such as English, French, and Swahili through the digital TV platform.

The majority of the Chinese TV drama fans in Africa are women aged 20-40 with a particular affinity for strong female leads in TV dramas, such as those found in The Temptation of Going Home, Good Wife, and The Summer of the Xia Family.

"In the Chinese TV drama that I like, there is a fashionable and focused woman. So, I really like Chinese people," said Anne, an employee at a Chinese company in Kenya.

Anne noted that through the Kung Fu Channel, she has learned a lot about Chinese history and culture. "Through modern dramas, I have seen the daily work and life of Chinese people and understood why China has developed so rapidly. Young students especially enjoy watching Chinese films and TV dramas. They want to understand all aspects of China and hope to visit China one day to see if it is as beautiful as it is portrayed in the dramas," said Anne.

Kenyabuzz, an African media outlet, noted that Chinese films and TV dramas are becoming increasingly popular in Africa not only because of service providers like StarTimes but also because both sides share similar values in terms of honor and suffering.

With Africa's economic development, the local population's cultural demands have become increasingly diverse. But some values portrayed in Chinese dramas, including Chinese people attaching great importance to family and responsibility have resonated with and impressed African audiences, Lan Jinpeng, Operations Director of StarTimes Media (Kenya) LTD, told the Global Times.

Moreover, aside from introducing Chinese dramas, the company is also working to localize some Chinese entertainment programs. The dating show "Hello Mr Right!" in Kenya and other African countries has become a hit among local residents, said Lan, noting that the discussions sparked by the show in Africa also share many similarities with the Chinese version and discussions therein.

Lan noted that the continuous development of the Chinese TV industry will also provide African viewers with more choices, helping them to better understand Chinese culture, society, and values, and further contribute to the deepening of cultural exchanges between China and Africa.

Next promising land for Chinese travelers

Rachel Zhou has just finished her 11-day tour in Kenya. She was supposed to have taken this very same trip in 2019, but it was delayed due to the pandemic.

Although she has seen documentaries about the great wildebeest migration, the experience of being up-close and personal with wildlife such as lions, leopards, and zebra has been "very exciting and unforgettable."

At a price of 45,000 yuan ($6,173), travel and accommodation all included, she was able to visit the Maasai Mara near Kenya's southern border with Tanzania, Lake Bogoria famous for its hot springs and geysers, and Lake Naivasha with its flocks of pink flamingos, all popular destinations for Chinese travelers to Kenya.

"It was very sad seeing the last two living female northern white rhinos and the grave of the last male of the species, for the entire specie is functionally extinct," she told the Global Times.

Along with popular travel destinations for discerning Chinese tourists in Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America, many destinations in Africa also offer a unique, world-class travel experience.

When Global Times reporters landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, a lot of travelers, including children from China, were waiting at the gate, with many presumably from northern China by their accent. At the Radisson Blue Hotel in Nairobi, one would have been forgiven to think that the establishment's sole clientele were Chinese.

"This is my busiest season in the last three years," Li Qiu, a local tour guide in Nairobi, told the Global Times.

She has welcomed two group tours from China since the end of July, and her schedule is booked solid until October. Most members of her tour groups are from Western countries, but Chinese tourists are also rising in number, she said.

African countries including Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa were listed among the first batch of countries cleared for group tours by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in February.

A reply letter from the South African Tourism Bureau talked of plans to hold road shows in Beijing and Shanghai in September, the first post-epidemic promotions, and they will have more activities lined up for consumers in Guangzhou and Changsha in the following days.

Despite being a core market for global outbound tourism, Chinese tourism slowed down in the three years during the pandemic, the bureau said.

South Africa not only has abundant wildlife resources including herds of elephants and buffaloes, the country also has a long coastline and abundant marine life. Tourism in South Africa is now expected to rebound strongly. As one of a handful of pilot countries selected by China to resume outbound group tourism, South Africa is looking forward to a substantial increase in the number of Chinese tourists, the bureau added.

Egypt is also a very popular destination. Seven group tours are slated to take place during China's National Day holidays in October, and all but one of the tour slots have been snapped up, Guan Jian, spokesperson of the GZL International Travel Service, told the Global Times.

After being grounded by three years of the epidemic, Air China resumed flights from Beijing to Johannesburg via Shenzhen this year. On August 2, Cathay Pacific also resumed direct flights between Johannesburg and Hong Kong. Both airlines provide direct flights three times a week.

Ethiopian Airlines also resumed flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu in an orderly manner on February 6. Starting from March, Ethiopian Airlines flights from the Chinese mainland to Addis Ababa had fully returned to pre-epidemic levels.

As Chinese investors and tourists flock to Africa, it is widely believed that they will promote exchanges and cooperation between the two sides which will be financially and culturally beneficial, Chinese experts said.

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