CCTV New Year Gala Promoting Africa-China Friendship

By Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi Source:Zhejiang Normal University website Published: 2018/2/17 23:58:36

Ehizuelen Michael Mitchell Omoruyi

The Executive Director of the Center for Nigerian Studies at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University

Source: Zhejiang Normal University website

The commentary was first published on the website of Zhejiang Normal University

Unlike Western New Year celebrations, Chinese New Year is never on a fixed date - and the festivities for 2018 started with an "Icebreaker" Chinese New Year Dinner.  During the dinner, Ambassador Liu Xiaoming said that "in both China and Western nations, the dog is regarded as a symbol of loyalty, courage, good luck and helpful to others. The Ambassador further stated that "the barking of the dog sounds similar to "prosperous" or "wang", in the Chinese language. For the Chinese people "wang" is their hope for their nation and for the future. I concur with the Ambassador that is why I am saying there is no better word than "wang" to describe the extraordinary progress in China-Africa relation in the past years. Just as the Ambassador was thinking that was how the organizers of the recent CCTV's annual New Year gala, which draws over 800 million audiences was also thinking. There was no better way to express a joyful beginning in Africa and China cultural relations than showing a skit titled "Same Joy, Same Happiness" which was meant to celebrate the rich cultural exchange between Africa and China in the past years. It features actors in monkey and giraffe costumes. I think it is necessary to go beyond the media accounts to get a fuller understanding of what these animals' means in both African and Chinese cultural context before tagging the CCTV's annual New Year gala program as racism. 

In terms of using animals, they were trying to provide an opportunity for the Chinese people to understand African rich wildlife culture which in turn, will act as a way of promoting China-Africa cultural relations. These animals that were used in the skit have their significant meaning. Monkey, particularly have played a significant role in Chinese culture for over two thousand years. The animal is perceived as smart and powerful; people often offer sacrifices to monkeys to pray for rain and even for sons, and they have become an interesting part of Chinese culture.  Chinese people love monkey. The Monkey (with a big 'M') is the ninth of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. Many Chinese try to give birth in a year of the Monkey, as they believe that this will make their babies clever. In China saying "Your kid is like a Monkey," is perceived as praise.  The Chinese character  "猴" (hóu /hoh/ 'monkey') is pronounced the same as "侯" ('high official'), and the association dates back hundreds of years into feudal times. In traditional African cultures which existed prior to the influence of the colonial people, Apes and Monkeys were held in high esteem. Observing all the creatures in nature. Apes and Monkeys were seen as one of the most intelligent animals representing friendship, and so Apes and Monkeys became anthropomorphic symbols of wisdom. 

However, the coming of the colonial people into Africa changed all these beautiful qualities about the animal. No wonder Raymond Zhou assert that "human ambivalence towards monkeys is the root of all the contrasting qualities attributed to the animal". As for giraffe, the animal represents an elegant and graceful spirit. The long lean legs symbolizing 4 pillars of excellence in life. With keen and gentle intention the giraffe symbolizes achievement because they are able to reach the tops of trees that most animals never even see. It also symbolizes peace, individuality, protection, communication, perception, and above all the animal is referred to as 'Africa's gentle giant". All these qualities were what the organizers were trying to illustrate by using these animals to tell the narrative of Africa and China cultural exchanges. Through cultural exchanges, Africa and China friendship is now in full bloom and gathering further pace. The wide-ranging cultural display at the gala was an indication of all-around, balance and sustainable development of the new type of China-Africa strategic partnership as well as intercultural dialogue on an equal footing, and safeguard world cultural diversity.  

The program also depicted the opening of the Chinese built-speed railway in Kenya which is part of the Belt and Road Initiative.  It was a way of showing the opportunities in the Belt and Road Initiative which is in contrast to the confrontational policies of the Cold War years, the New Silk Road policies are focused on economic and cultural cooperation. It  also aimed at setting new norms in international relations, with the goal of creating mutually beneficial "community of interest" and "community of destiny" that will help to put to an end not only to the bullying of weak states by strong ones, but to "all the other political and economic inequalities of the old order." In addition, the year 2017 ended as a game changer for China-Africa relations in terms of infrastructure development. Africa's scare infrastructure is one of the major problem hindering African nations from attaining their development goals. Therefore, the coming of China has created a new dynamic in the awakening of fast-growing African "lion economies" and has consequently revived the hopes of African industrialization. Speaking of revival, thanks to the Chinese mega-projects inaugurated on May 31, 2017 - the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) which was constructed to benefit Kenya and regional integration overall. The project has created an avenue for more diversified economic structure and infrastructure investment binge. East Africa's largest economy -Kenya has maintained a growth rate of approximately 6 percent due to infrastructure boom across the continent, giving rise to a motley of mega-projects that create jobs and boost economic growth while cushioning an economic slowdown the East African region faces. Also, the mega-project created potential avenues to bolster local content and skills transfer. For example, CRBC sponsored 25 Kenyans to study degree courses in railway engineering and management at China's Southwest Jiaotong University. This will help the Kenyan students understudy the Chinese and eventually take over from them, therefore engendering much-required sustainability. 

So, showcasing the Chinese built-speed railway in Kenya is a way of promoting China-Africa economic achievement which represents the giraffe as an animal of achievement in the area of infrastructure development. Furthermore, it is normal for Chinese actors to dress up like foreigners when performing a foreign play, after all, it is also applicable to other stage programs in other parts of the world. Also, the program was broadcast on the Lunar New Year gala. If there was any racism, then it would have already been cut. China-Africa relations is building on the momentum of inspiring the world, building on the momentum of helping the world build a harmonious society daily, produce great people who live positively to influence others and produce people who go all-out towards achieving shared prosperity. As people from Africa and China idea develop in tandem with economic growth, there will be cultural awakening, and African and Chinese people will soon be able to appreciate each other great architecture and culture.  To broadcast a show like that on the Lunar New Year gala permits more people to learn about African culture and art. I hope this development will attract more Chinese and African people to embark on the journey of promoting art and cultural exchanges between Africa and China from generation to generation.

(Source: Zhejiang Normal University  website)

The commentary was first published on the website of Zhejiang Normal University


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