…A witness account of the nation’s secrets wonders and greatness
By Adetutu Folasade-Koyi, who was in China
The trip to China began with a phone call on Monday, April 3, 2017, from the Managing Director of The Sun Publishing Limittd, Mr. Eric Osagie.
Looking at the incoming call on my mobile set, I did a quick mental check; had I missed any story? As a News Editor, a call, any call from the managing director, has several meanings and so, on that day, I picked the call and steadied myself for what was to come. In fact, before picking the call, I quickly composed some ready answers; in the event I did miss some stories!
I picked the call and what the MD said threw me off guard: a media trip to China. My quick, reflex response was: Yes sir!
The first thing that came to my mind was; today is not April 1, so, he could not have been pulling an April Fool joke on me. In two seconds, before I could compose another response, he repeated his earlier statemen; ‘you are going to China, as part of Nigeria media delegation and it is for two weeks”
The next thing the MD added was that the trip was on April 15. Here, I thought: surely, this is April Fool joke!’ Why, you ask? It was my birthday and my next thought was, why would I travel on my birthday? At that moment, I still thought it was the MD’s usual banter. For one, I was immensely relieved it had nothing to do with any story miss!
To be sure I heard the MD correctly, I went to brief the Editor, Mr. Onuoha Ukeh, of my conversation with the MD and he confirmed the trip. Then, it sunk in.
Almost immediately, Mr. Xie (Oliver) Chao, an officer of the Chinese Consulate, in Lagos, confirmed the trip and informed me of a briefing of the media delegation on Thursday, April 6.
The briefing and another one, with the Consul General,Chao Xiaoliang, the following Thursday, followed by a dinner, Chinese cuisine actually, prepared the journalists for the trip.
The consul general spoke of how Africa is, unarguably blessed with an area of over 30 million square kilometres, 1.1 billion population (with the youths accounting for more than 50 per cent), 800 million hectares of arable land and countless natural resources, and how the continentcan benefit from China.
And so, on the afternoon of April 15, 12 journalists set out on a tour of China.
Beijing, the north capital of China, is also regarded as the cultural and political capital of The People’s Republic of China.
In Chinese, Bei means north, while Jing is capital.
Arriving the capital in the evening of April 16, the first feel of China was at a Muslim restaurant. The meal was welcoming, with our tour guide, Mr. Forest Sung, taking us through the Chinese cuisine, which was specially prepared for us. He also told us we were visiting China at the time of Golden Spring.
The next day, Monday, April 17, was for a briefing on The Belt and Road Initiative by Professor Zhang Yong-Peng, of the Institute of West Asia and African Studies, in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
He took us through the financial support China has on offer for African countries, through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), established in 2000.
Between 2016-2018, FOCAC, he said, would focus on agriculture and food security, with $60 billionsupport.
Prof. Yong-Peng also spoke of how Africa had a “natural and historical connection” with the Belt and Road Initiative and how “Nigeria is one of the African countries that will be accommodated in the New Silk Road Economic Belt, which will link China with Europe through Central and Western Asia,” and also, how the country would be among China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, connecting the country with the world.
Temple of Heaven
Next was a visit to the Temple of Heaven. We were totally unprepared for the reception we got.
For the first time, Nigerians were tourist attractions! Whoa! For one, 95 per cent of the tourists I saw at the temple were Chinese and they were obviously excited to see Africans in their midst. The remaining five per cent were made up of Europeans and other nationals from across the globe, but, we stood out that day.
Those who could not resist seeing us seized the opportunity for photo-ops, with the men and women. Some even touched us and, this time, language was no barrier! We knew they were excited at seeing us and probably, to record the encounter, took so many photographs with us. The men were, initially, crowd-pullers among the tourists, but, the women among us were most sought-after, with Vera Sam-Anyagafu, of Vanguard, Nneka Nwaneri (The Nation) and Victoria Fumnaya Ojugbana (Guardian) attracting the most attention!
They were stared at, pulled and had the most photo sessions with the Chinese! Vera’s case was most interesting. She had long braids and most of the tourists at the temple , and elsewhere in Beijing, stared hard at her hair and thought that was her natural hair! Some Chinese could not resist her hair and touched it endlessly, such that even our tour guide, Forest, also had to quiz her about the hair!
The most humbling aspect of the visit to the Temple was that itattracts at least 15,000 tourists every day! Yet, Nigeria has so many toursit attractions begging for attention. Built in 1530, the Temple of Heaven was built entirely of wood, with no nails, no crossing beams and no glue. The Chinese emperor, said Forest, went into the temple, alone, to pray for bountiful harvest for his people.
To wrap up the day, the delegation saw a Kung fu show at the Red Theatre. It was an illuminating story of the true essence of the art of Kungfu, told through the story of the rites of passage of a young boy to adulthood.
If we thought we had seen enough of Chinese architecture and culture, the next stop equally fascinating. Off we went to the Summer Palace, which an emperor built for his mother as her summer get-away. It was equally a summer get-away for the monarch and his large family. The Summer Palace was picturesque, as it was enchantingly beautiful.
It had a lake, which was so translucently transquil, it was hard to resist taking pictures of it and beside it.
We were later taken on a tour of building I can now refer to as royal opulence and splendour. A quick dash to the Hongqiao Market in the capital was an introduction to Chinese entrepreneurship, awash with China-made products.
The following day, the delegation met with top management of the Chinese Railway Construction Company.
Before we met their management, an official took us on a tour of the railway museum, where we saw humble beginnings of the railway in China and later, how they triumphed over natural and man-made adversities. How Chinese engineers rebuilt the railways after bombing during the war and its modern success story; constructing railways around the world. In September 2000, CRCC was separated from the Ministry of Railways and incorporated into the COC central state-owned Enterprise Working Committee. In March, 2003, CRCC was transferred to the administration of the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission and between March 10-13, 2008, it was listed.
In the afternoon, we attended a press briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Oliver as our guide.
Mutianyu Great Wall
In other climes, the Mutianyu Great Wall is simply referred to as the Great Wall, one of the seven wonders of the world. And so, on Tuesday, April 18, off we went to climb the Great Wall.
This imposing monument was built in 1404 and has been opened to visitors since April 1988.
Our tour guide, Forest, said nothing to prepare us for the trip, because when we got to Beijing’s Huairou District, where the Great Wall is located, the first welcome we got was a chilly breeze. By the time the cold hit us, we knew, for sure, we were in China, because some of us had light clothing; nothing to prepare us for the chill. After buying tickets and quick security clearance, we set off to the Great Wall. Walking the route to the wall was an exercise in itself. Some of us, including me, were almost out of breath! By the time we started climbing the staircase to get to the wall, the effect of months of skipping exercises became manifest.
While it was brisk climb for others, for me, it was a slow, painful climb. At a point, all I could do was to will one foot ahead of the other; it was mechanical movement with my brain telling me to move and not embarrass myself by being lazy. Colleagues offered support, but, I willed my feet and body to move and sure enough, although it took a while longer than others, I climbed the steps to the top of what I could, at best, describe as a mountain of walls. Later, pictures, and certificate, told the story of my climb. For four days, my calf, thighs and feet knew they had performed a feat! The only consolation I had, at least, was that I would brag in the newsroom that I was the first staff of The Sun to get to the Great Wall; enough inspiration!
The Forbidden City
By Thursday, April 20, the China tour was well underway. In the morning, we met with officials of the All China Journalists Association (ACJA), led by the Executive Secretary, Wang Dongmei.
At the ACJA, I was surprised to see a picture of the younger Chairman Mao Zedong as a journalist; he was chief editor of the Xiangjiang Review and the New Hunan and founded the Commons’ News Agency and Culture Academy in Changsha, after the outbreak of the “May Fourth Movement.”
Before that day, all I knew was that Chairman Mao was Chinese communist leader and founder of the People’s Republic of China. We were surprised to learn he was also a journalist. Soon, it was time for lunch.
After lunch, the next stop was The Forbidden City. Before that tour, I knew next to nothing about the city, even though I had heard about it.
Home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties, building of the city started in 1407 (in the Ming Dynasty) and was completed in 1420. It is divided into the Outer and Inner Court, where the monarch held grand ceremonies. They, however, consist of three major halls: the Hall of Supreme Harmony; the Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony, with the Hall of Literary Brilliance and Hall of Martial Valour on either side.
The inner court, where the emperor dealt with routine government affairs and lived with his empress and concubines, contains the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Union and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, with the Six Eastern Palaces and the Six Western Palaces on the two sides.
Beyond these, in the outer eastern section, are the three Southern Three Abodes for the princes and the palace for the retired emperor, and, in the outer western section is the empress dowager’s palace.
The Forbidden City has 9,999 rooms. When we asked Forest why it was one room short, he said the monarch decicded the remaning room is to honour God.
If the Summer Palace was picturesque and expansive, the Forbidden City sits on approximately 780,000 square metres, of which buildings alone occupy about 167,000 square metres. The Forbidden City is so vast that we could not even walk half of it. By the time we got to the 40th section of the city, (after skipping so many sections), we were ready to call it quits for the day; a favour our tour guide gladly obliged us. But, the tour of the city was not over; it was just that we didn’t know that, at the time we filed out through the north entrance. There, we were confronted with another hill, which we had to climb. Exhausted from climbing the Great Wall and just coming out of the City, I had had enough!
But, Forest, looking at me with side eyes, explained the importance of the hill and why we had to climb it. To prove his suggestion wrong, in company with my colleagues, we set out, again. With sore feet and all, I climbed the hill and was glad I did. From the hill, one could see the entire structure of the Forbidden City, in its magnificence.
Soon, it was time to bid goodbye to Beijing.
If Beijing is the political and cultural capital, Shanghai can be considered the financial muscle and money-spinner of China.
The movement from Beijing to Shanghai for us was by high-speed rail, the country’s railway pride. The Beijing South Railway Station is big, so much so that you would think you were inside an international airport. Inside the train, the coaches were so clean and comfortable; some of us slept for the better part of the journey.
The only thought on my mind was how Nigeria could improve her railway transport sector, with such a train from the agrarian far north, connecting the commercial south; connecting more cities and in the process, taking the country’s economy to the next level. Wishes!
After some quick tours, shopping on Nanjing Road was next; which made me think of how Nigeria can harness the industrious and enterprising South East, South West and Kano, in the north, because 96 per cent of the shops I saw there were Chinese, with a sprinkling of American and British shops. Almost 90 per cent of the merchandise on display was Chinese products and tourists poured in from everywhere; eager to strike a bargain or two. Nanjing shopping area had anything you wanted. Our tour guide in Shanghai, Louis, encouraged us to bargain whenever we could, as long as the prices were not fixed. Trust Nigerians, we didn’t need any prompting!
The night boat tour of Shanghai, from the Huangpu River, which was called off on Saturday, April 22, was rescheduled for the next day. After a visit to the Shanghai Expo site, the boat tour of Shanghai was next; here, the industrial success of Shanghai was open for all to behold. From there, the delegation moved to the Global Financial Centre; which is actually the Shanghai World Financial Centre Observatory. It stands at 474 metres above sea level, spanning 55cm. Walking on the transparent glass-floor walkway, I saw Shanghai in all its glory; the city spread out below, for all to behold.
The centre was certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s “highest observatory” in 2009.
Although we were unable to visit the Nigerian consulate in Shanghai in good time, Ambassador Wale Oloko, gladly received the delegation, at short notice on Friday, April 27.
At the meeting with the envoy, who is new on the job, having just been posted to China in February, were some senior members of his staff including Ambassador Shuaibu Imeh, the woman, spoke frankly about the conduct of Nigerians in that country and how the media could help in telling compatriots how important it was to project Nigeria in positive light to the world.
Thereafter, we paid a quick visit to the Canton Tower, the city’s pride. As it was in Beijing, this tower had a speed elevator which took tourists to its zenith and there, a beautiful view of the city spread out for all to behold.
Shopping areas abound in the city; depending on your pocket and taste. This time, in Guangzhou, the night boat tour did happen and Jack, our affable tour guide, gave us brief tutorial before we set sail.
Our hosts saved the best for last: Canton Fair. With the tour bus driving into the 1.18 million square metres complex (perhaps, calling it a village would be apt), I saw missed opportunities in Nigeria’s Trade Fair Complex along Lagos/Badagry Expressway.
The central theme for the Fair, which started in 1957, is how to move away from Made-in- China to Created-in-China with products which cover all spheres of life: from domestic to industrial.
Held bi-annually, April 15 and October 15, the fair has never been cancelled.
Nigerian buyers at the 120th session of the trade show was a mere 1,500; next to Egypt. China’s trade volume with Nigeria, we were told, is estimated at $10 billion. My impression of the fair was that Nigerians interested in doing business there should focus on specific products with Nigerian characteristics.
Unlike the previous China tour I had on the delegation of then Senate President, David Mark, in 2014, which took us to Tianjin and the People’s Parliament, opposite Tian anmen Square, this time, I saw how this great country has pulled its resources together, both material and human, to transform its economy into an emerging world superpower.
I saw rows and rows of high rise buildings, mass transit, with some buses powered by electricity and heard of the social schemes to ensure no one went hungry; even if there were some who wanted more.
Okay, ponder this: there are 200 million old people in China, which, perhaps, prompted government to change its policy of one child to two children per parents. In 1978, China had about 250 million poor people, which, had, however, reduced to 26 million by 2010. China hopes to rid the country of poverty in 10 to 15 years time.
Throughout the tour, all I could think of was that Nigeria, my country, can surpass China’s success; only if our leaders can harness our diversity for economic growth and progress.
Soon, it was time to leave China. Our host, Oliver, from the Lagos Consulate, an amiable gentleman, tried his best to bridge the language and food barrier for us. Whenever we wanted a little break from Chinese cuisine, he tried to get food that was closer home for us. In fact, we ate rice at every meal, so much so that I vowed not to go near rice for the next two weeks!
My impression of China, you ask? Well, in just two weeks, I saw how China is a case-study of resilient people, imbued with fortitude and industry. I saw how China is offering a hand of friendship to Africa, standing with the continent, should to shoulder, in its quest to build world class infrastructure, as well as her march to industrialisation. Tourism, which works for China, is a money spinner Nigeria has ignored for so long.
If Nigeria can ensure technology transfer, understudy how the country has been able to lower poverty rate, perhaps, pump more funds into the social empowerment scheme here and try to generate employment by backing indigenous companies, perhaps, our march to industrialisation and a better life would not be a mirage after all.