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Sustaining friendship through cultural exchanges
Post Time:12/04/2017 Browse Number:

  Pupils at Jinhua Quibin Primary School in China’s Zhejiang Province throw their bodies forward and leap into the air in typical African dance routines.

  And the sound of the African drum is loud and clear, making a visitor from the continent momentarily forget they are in far-away China.

  Then there is an array of African traditional musical instruments, ranging from the mbira from Zimbabwe to West African specially designed congas.

  Welcome to Jinhua Quibin Primary School, the first school in China to wholly embrace the teaching of African culture.

  The school has become a symbol of the symbiotic relationship between China and Africa since China embarked on such a special programme in 2015.

  China and Africa have relations that date back centuries ago, but intensified during the liberation struggle by African countries.

  Now, the relations have been strengthened into political and economic ties.

  But it is institutions like Jinhua Quibin Primary School that ensure such relations are expanded to other areas.

  The school has deliberately adopted a special type of education that focuses on African culture.

  I had a privilege to visit the school last year as part of African journalists on a 10-month work and study programme in China.

  The school has embraced all aspects of the African culture, which include face painting, designing of tribal clothing, manufacturing of African musical instruments and designing of thatched huts.

  In the school yard, there are numerous designs displaying African architecture — the round huts and the Eygptian pyramids.

  There are also life-size artefacts depicting animals synonymous with Africa such as elephants, giraffe and zebras.

  The pupils at this school are also taught how to prepare African food and serve it in an African set-up.

  They also design masks out of cardboard plates and most of the designs are taken from different parts of Africa.

  In short, pupils at this school do wonders with African arts, fabric designs, hair weaving, sculpting and African musical instruments.

  The man behind the idea is the Director of African Studies at Zhejian Normal University, Professor Liu Hongwu.

  He has a certificate in African History from the University of Lagos in Nigeria.

  Prof Liu has built his reputation as a passionate scholar on African issues and the school is one such example.

  “We introduced African culture and history at this school because we know today there are more and more people interested in that,” said Prof Liu, while explaining his idea.

  “We hope that our primary school will in the future open more opportunities between China and African countries to enhance more understand.

  “So, I hope if you are back to your country, you can write that in China, in a very small city, there is something very special about African culture.”

  To enhance cultural cooperation between China and Africa, it is envisaged that the school will become a launchpad for training of teachers in culture from both sides.

  “Maybe in future we will have your country also wanting a Chinese primary school keeping in touch with an African primary school,” said Prof Liu.

  “In the future, we can have African students coming here to study. In the future, we can have primary school teachers training here in African culture and primary school teachers from your country can come here to stay at this school for one and half years to teach each other on cultural studies.”

  The school has generated much interest from both China and Africa, with high ranking Chinese government officials and representatives from African countries having visited.

  There is no doubt that the school will play an important role in enhancing relations between Africa and China.

  There are 67 teachers at the school and 1 600 pupils.

  Just near the school, there is Yiwu city, which holds one of the largest population of Africans in China.

  The population of Africans in the city is actually 25 percent of all foreigners who live there.

  In fact, there are at least 13 000 African businesses owned by businesspersons from 29 African countries in Yiwu.

  Taking lessons and examples from Jinhua Quibin Primary School, there are mooted ideas to build an African university in Yiwu.

  References have already been made to that effect, with Chinese President Xi Jinping being quoted as saying Yiwu is the proper place for such a university.

  What is also important is that Zhejian Normal University already has a full African research institute.

  It is clear that the examples of Jinhua Quibin Primary School and other learning institutions biased towards cultural and educational exchanges between China and Africa are playing a big role.

  In fact, the director general for the African Affairs Department in the Foreign Affairs Ministry of China Mr Lin Songtian, notes that the Chinese have known Africans as their true friends from historic times.

  “We are not those that plundered or colonised Africa,” he was quoted recently as saying.

  “We are the true friends of Africa. We understand that we have a lot in common with African nations.

  “We went through the deprivation and scorn of the other worlds, who felt they were better and would always be better.

  “They also believed and treated us as people that can never do well.”

  At the Forum for China Africa Cooperation in South Africa in 2015, President Xi promised more cooperation between the two sides in culture and education.

  And the example of Jinhua Quibin Primary School is to enhance such cooperation in line with the policy set out at the summit.

  The catch phrase of President Xi’s speech on cultural exchange at the summit was: “diversity makes the world beautiful”.

  “We are proud that both China and Africa have time-honoured and splendid civilisations,” he said.

  “We should strengthen cultural exchanges and mutual learning between China and Africa, facilitate more exchanges between the youths, women, think tanks, media, universities and other sectors of the two sides.”

  This exchange will also include the promotion of cultural interactions, policy coordination and people-to-people exchanges.

All this is meant to advance common progress and ensure the sustained growth of China-Africa friendship from generation to generation.

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