I lived there, I worked there. I studied there. I toured there also. As I compiled my reports of the vast country, I recalled a lot of good memories about China – from places to people; and all I have with me are fond memories of China. When I say China, I mean the people of China. I can say I saw almost all about that country touching about 18 provinces – from the east to the west, south to the north and the centre, borrowing the Chinese traditional reference order of the cardinal points. And what did I find the Chinese to be? Just the normal human beings. Some embrace you, some distance you, the same mannerism you see among Nigerians and all human beings.
Are the Chinese demons? Never! Are they all angels? Far from that. They are just like you and I. Do they hate strangers? Oh, not at all. They love people including strangers. China, like Nigeria has all characters – the restive, the withdrawn, the loving and easy going. Remember it is an aggregation of 1.4b people – the largest lump of human beings in any single country in the world. If they are diverse characters among 200 people, I bet there would be a lot more among over a billion people
As per the country, with my deliberate observation, I never saw a convincing reason that China is not forthright in its official relationship with Africa. Ok, is the Chinese racist?
I will answer the question this way… in my book about China, I told the story of a particular friend I had in Beijing, a woman of about mid 50s by my assessment in whom I saw the entire China. She is that special kind of person, a foodstuffs seller not far from my Jianguomenwai Diplomatic quarters of Chaoyang District, close to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In November last year, all African media partners of the Chinese Xinhua News agency congregated on Nairobi and during the presentation of the Afri-China Media Centre, I told the gathering about this special friend of mine – the lady foodstuffs seller in Beijing that shaped my opinion of who the Chinese is towards other human beings. What did the woman do to earn my deep appreciation? Just two wonderful things. The first day I shopped for food in that market, she welcomed me to her stand and the trader who can’t speak a word in English language, did just more than enough communicating in the most effective language in the world – her hearty smiles. She always smiled happily whenever she saw me, spoke to me in Chinese I would not understand but knew the meaning. Some of the days I got there I saw her family members and she would talk to them about me as they would in turn warm up to me like a familiar friend. She was so nice and loving that my friend and colleague from Cameroon called her my “mother”. In addition to her smiles, every visit to this great woman’s shop ended with a gift of a quantity of fresh vegetables to me. The vegetable I didn’t know the Chinese name seems to be major staple. The leaves have strong scent and minty taste. From trained hands, she would lift the vegetable and stretch it to me; which I discovered was just the same quantity every time, wrapped with the wonderful smiles. As I appreciated and thanked her in my language, she would respond in hers and I bet we understood each other perfectly well. Her love was so warm and touching. It was for humanity. Another instance was a day I went to the outskirts of Beijing, so far that we exhausted the vast Beijing subway and our train ran on the surface for some miles before we arrived destination.
On our last lap of the train ride, my friend and colleague, Elias Mhegera from Tanzania asked a Chinese passenger how to get to our destination and the way he answered was to drop with us away from his schedule to take us to where we were going before continuing with his journey. On getting there, he took photos with us and exchanged Wechat contacts. The Chinese I know is the one that is more willing in a place like Beijing to direct you to where you are going more than many black people you ask in the street.
In May 2017, I arrived Beijing at about midnight via Emirates, and was picked up by a taxi driver who dropped me off at my hotel and patiently waited for me who didn’t remember to get some Chinese money at the airport bureau de change to try two ATMs to draw money and pay him that late, about 1am, without raising any quarrel of wasting his time.
The following day as we readied to attend the inauguration of the Belt and Road Initiative that held on May 14, my friend, Ralph Oni and I went to a nearby hotel to pick up our press tags and materials and met two persons we later discovered to be journalists – a man and a lady. The man was later introduced as Mr. Du Xin and the lady, a reporter for the CCTV was Liao Youping. A little exchange to ask them where to get our tags exploded into good friendship that the lady even paid for the taxi that took Ralph and I to the next destination. Till date, there is no week I don’t chat with Mr. Du who a year later surprised me with a very elaborate documentary of me containing a long compilation of my published articles in China and Nigeria that I still treasure.
At the evening of the following day, he called me to join them at one of the hottest night spots in Beijing where he introduced us to a bevy of friends who all welcomed us like old pals, two of us were the only non-Chinese among about 12 friends gathered. When we left at about midnight, they still paid the cab to take us back to our hotel. And the story was just unfolding as Du still kept his words and invited us over to Xiamen, Fujian Province to join them as foreign guests and friends in their career fair for young people. We were hosted like VIPs and the following day at the event, I received the most resounding accolade as a journalist when I was called up to address the crowd of over 300 participants. The next day, we flew back to Beijing.. My friendship with them still remains till date.
I can go on and on with so many more instances of whom I discovered the Chinese to be, even way back here in Nigeria. I still keep in touch with over 100 Chinese friends through the Wechat.
Why all the story? Because there is misunderstanding simmering between the authorities in Guangzhou and Nigerians/Africans. In one of my two trips to Guangzhou, we visited the African office at the Yuexiu District, a place the number of Africans would make you wonder if you are still in China. The Africa welfare office there is a public rights NGO run by some Chinese to cater to the rights and interests of the black population for good coexistence. The office helps new comers adapt to the new world and while there, three sisters new in the city from their native Senegal came in for their Chinese language course. They were going through free Chinese language classes prior to enrolling in school. We spoke to Africans that said they live in Guangzhou like in their own place. So the new development makes me ask what actually went wrong. After listening to an audio recording of what happened narrated by a Nigerian resident in the city, I thought twice about the sentiments swirling in the social media. Before I could linger to decipher what would have gone wrong, a chat popped up on my Wechat and that was from my friend, Woody Wu, a Guangzhou native. We had a very long exchange during which I deduced what went wrong. I made him understand that while the misbehaviour of some Nigerians and Africans triggered this reaction, and not justifiable, the officials over reacted in visiting the errors of the few on almost all Africans in the city.
I complained to him about the loads of rabidly racist insults on Africans I read from enraged Chinese citizens who could not stomach foreigners resisting their orders. It was pitiable the way those few Chinese persons downgraded Africa and the black race. It was quite sickening to say the least. The loads of hate and terribly racist taunts made me ask, are these venom-spitting Chinese in Guangzhou the same nice Chinese I know?
But I had answered the question earlier because while I have had great experiences with Chinese persons, I never at any point lived with the notion that all Chinese are the same. So I am persuaded that even though things went awry in that city, the way the crowd flew off the handle into frenzy and racially tore Africans into shreds doesn’t really represent what the Chinese is. Frankly if I hadn’t known the country the much I do, I would have thought otherwise. It would also be fair that the Chinese – the authorities and the masses don’t use the same scale to measure all Africans even those that never offended the law.
All of human beings are scripts of the environments where we were moulded, therefore, the mannerism of the African might not be the same with the Chinese. But there are common grounds that must be observed – we all no matter where we come from must obey the laws for peaceful coexistence, especially the laws of the host community while the host community must be humane enough not to lump all foreigners into one profile because one or some of them erred or discriminate in the enforcement of rules.
Emewu, journalist of the Afri-China media Centre, writes from Lagos via [email protected]