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Hodan Abdi: How to Tell China Stories Well
Post Time: 04/09/2018

 

In recent years, the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University (IASZNU) has taken initiative in order to meet China’s needs in the area of Sino-African relationships, focusing on regional studies, think tank services, and talent training in African studies. It not only hires African scholars as researchers in the Institute but also promotes great communication and cooperation between Chinese and African scholars.

At the same time, African scholars actively voice their opinions internationally, doing an excellent job of telling China stories from their perspectives. On August 23, 2018, Global Times invited three international scholars to talk about Chinese stories and what they expect from them. Somali scholar Dr. Hodan Osman Abdi from the Institute was one of the them.

Her article was titled The Expectations of African Friends. She believes that to tell China stories well and to make China's voice heard in Africa, one must have an  understanding of African’s expectations.

 

The article reads as follows:

 

China has treated African countries with equality since their independence and established diplomatic relations with China. African leaders, scholars, and common people deeply believe in the fact that China is friendly with Africa.

China and the western countries do embrace different political systems and cultures, but even those who are in the same environment have different views on things. Some western countries fail to hold a complete view of China and define China as a “sharp power”. This is not true. People from African countries know exactly whether China is affecting their homelands as a “sharp power” or if China is pursuing a mutually beneficial policy in a way that actually improves their living conditions.

But that does not necessarily mean they can easily accept Chinese stories. Stories have to be embedded with more local cultural elements and ways of thinking if they want to be better welcomed by people from countries in Africa or other developing countries.

The development of a country has both good and bad sides. Sometimes, too many positive reports can be easily regarded as fake news. Compared with beautiful things, other countries might be more interested in the problems that China has encountered and how she corrected these mistakes. Developing countries, including those in Africa, all need to learn from China’s experience gained through failures. It might be more real to tell a story about the problems China has had and gradually transition into its achievements.

Besides, it is also necessary to stand in the shoes of target countries. Countries have different stances. Meanwhile, using the more unique elements of each country is also advisable. Audience members will be more willing and able to understand if Chinese stories are told using the expressions and language habits they are accustomed to. Stories could also start from small perspectives, tiny details, and common people. Beginning with big data may instantly drive listeners away.

As a bystander, I think the biggest problem with Chinese stories are their forms. The stories should give up the traditional manner of publicizing that strongly emphasizes the purposes of improving China’s soft power but should aim instead at expressing China’s sincere hope to solve the problems facing the underdeveloped world. Apart from expressing pride in China’s success, stories also need to consider people in poverty around the world and the ways to truly promote the community that is human beings’ destiny. Changes in the writing purpose and in attitude will lead to greater rate of acceptance.

If I were to design the script of a Chinese story, I would tell the story of a family in a small village. The story would cover their development over forty years, from the grandparents’ traditional lifestyle to the parents’ lives as migrant workers in Beijing or Shanghai to the hero’s passion to start an enterprise from almost nothing, all the way to the children who become high-tech engineers and who benefited from higher education. The fate of an ordinary family undergoes a profound change in 40 years, and the village also slowly develops into a town, with great improvements made in health care, education, and social services.

A story of ordinary people reveals that the process of change can be long and painful; however, as long as one works hard, anything is possible. (By Hodan Osman Abdi from Somalia – Executive Director of Center for East African Studies at IASZNU, translated by Lin Yuqin, edited by Xiamara Hohman)

 

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