African, Our Brothers

This is a blog post written by Mr. Zhai hua.

Mr. Zhai graduated from Tsinghua University, Beijing. He continued his study in France, and received his Master’s degree and his PhD there. He has worked in France, Thailand, Côte d’Ivoire, Philippine and many other countries.

Mr. Zhai is the organizer and main contributor to his group blog, Eastern Cultures, Western Words ( 东方文化西方语). His posts mainly cover his interesting experiences in different countries.

In this post, African, Our Brothers, Mr. Zhai refutes some Chinese common stereotypes of African with his personal experiences. Also, he talks about his various interesting encounters with African.

African, Our Brothers

Original post: 《称兄道弟说非洲》

Translators: EPIN

Editor: Jacky Peng

I had stayed in Africa, a place far away from China, for seven years. The China-African Forum reminds me, an “old African buddy”, of those old African friends, more accurate, my African brothers. Chinese always say, “While we’re strange in the first time we meet, we will get familiar in the second time.” However, when African meet others in the first time, they can fraternize. It does not matter whether he is a king, a president, or an ordinary people, all men are brothers. Since they are brothers, they will make some casual remarks. At that time when we were at work, whenever some black colleagues saw me, they would shout to me loudly, “Mon frere, on dit quoi?” (“My brother, something to say?”) “Something to say” is a customary term for many French-speaking Africans. It is for greeting, and also means “Is there any news or anything interesting?” As we met every day, normally there was nothing new. So I often responded frankly, “My brother, there’s nothing I can say.” After listening to my words, the African guy deliberately argued, “Hey, why? Aren’t you my brother?” When a white colleague saw this, he joked with us, “You guys look not like brothers; you are comrades!”

Although we call each other “brother” affectionately, we Chinese no doubt have limited knowledge of African Continent and African. Recently, in a talk show, I heard a female star talk about her experience on an international flight. Entering into the cabin, she glimpsed a tall black passenger had taken a seat. She couldn’t help talking to herself, “Please, please do not get me a seat next to the black.” Such talk sounds like racial discrimination. She can be accused in the US, but in China, that is not a big deal. In fact, our African friends know that Chinese mean no harm when they are saying so or having such thoughts. It only shows that we Chinese are not familiar with our distant brothers. We have many misunderstandings in them.

First misunderstanding: Many Chinese people instinctively think that Africans are “more brawn than brains.” Li Ao, a Taiwan scholar, in his TV program “Li Ao Youhuashuo”(Editor: Li Ao has something to say.), has claimed, “While we’re taking the angle of physiology, it’s true that black people are not so success in the intellectual area. There are few black scientists or thinkers.” However, “the black have athletic gene. Their dancing is second to none in the world.” According to my observation, the black apparently like laughing and joking around and they seem not punctilious. Actually, they are exquisite, and especially sensitive. When getting along with the black, you must beware of not flattering their capability in sports. To their ears, such words are actually implying that they are inferior in culture and economy. If it is taken seriously, it is simply a racial discrimination. All men are created equal, why can you say I am capable to run since I born? From my working experience with staffs from more than 40 African countries in the African Development Bank, no matter who they are, Caucasian, black or Asian, their intelligence levels are actually no difference. In the international organizations, people from different nations work together and they seldom pay attention to the difference of the skin color. There is absolutely no “intellectual gap” between the black and other people. Frankly speaking, if we do want to find out some differences, the total number of the black who work in the United Nations and various international organizations is much bigger than that of Chinese. (If we consider the population proportion, the number of Chinese is rather small.) Of cause, we can not take this as an example of Chinese intelligence level is lower than that of the black, but this is at least a strong refute to the view that African people are stupid. We can be sure that if given the equal educational opportunities, the black, just as any other races, can also come with great scientists or thinkers.

The second misunderstanding: Many Chinese think that African Countries remain closed. According to my observation, African countries had been through colonization for long in their histories, which definitely caused problems to the society’s development and make the people suffer. However, on the other hand, colonization in fact has helped these countries connect to the world naturally in politics, economy as well as culture. African Franc, for instance, is the common currency for 15 countries from the Central Africa to the West Africa. It came into existence nearly half a century earlier than Euro. For some historical reasons, there are many African immigrants in European and American developed countries. Among those immigrants, there are workers, engineers, university professors and politicians. Although they are in different classes, they have one thing in common: they can mix well into the migrated country’s society, and become a member of their respective classes. Especially, the black intellectuals wear suits and ties, eat western food. From the way they think and the etiquette they have, they have no difference to those western gentlemen. UN Secretary-General Annan and South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki were once rated among the Best Dressed Men in the world by Esquire magazine, a prestigious male fashion magazine, and became admiring figures of western women. Senegal’s former president Léopold Sédar Senghor is a renowned French writer. Even the French intellectuals find his poetry hard and profound. In Africa, not only the whole middle class are well educated, even some children on the streets can talk to tourists in fluent French, English or Portuguese. Chinese are much more conservative by comparison. No matter which country they moved to, they tend to take some professions they are familiar with, such as laundries and Chinese-food restaurants. In their life, they only have close links with other Chinese immigrants. Many Chinese people have lived abroad for a long time, but they limit their activities in the Chinatown, read only Chinese newspaper and watch only Chinese TV. This has greatly constrained their own development as they still do not command the local language after living abroad for years.

The third misunderstanding: we still stereotype that Africa is a “extremely poor” place. The international media do not cover much on African affairs. Even when they do, they mostly report those negative things, such as disease, famine, coup, war, corruption, debt, etc. An African, who knows Chinese language, once grumbled about: why do you Chinese call Africa “Negative” Continent, while calling America “Beautiful” Country? (Editor: Africa in Chinese is 非洲, Fei Zhou. And Fei means Negative in Chinese.) According to the statistics, Africa is the poorest continent in the world. Among fifty over countries, nearly forty countries’ GDP per capita is less than USD$1000. The sum of all African countries’ GDP is less than that of a European medium-developed country. Actually, the economy of Africa has double sides. Other than the poor, there is a rich group which has strong buying power. Most of them are the local white-collar workers of those big and medium enterprises, the owners of some small enterprises or the high-level officials of the government. They live in a rich life with houses, cars and servants. Their living standard is absolutely higher than that of the middle class of China. Moreover, there are many personnel from big companies of the developed countries, foreign technical specialists, and a few local capitalists. When some African countries calculate the rate of inflation, they will first get price index growth of the minimum living expense, and then calculate the price index growth of the European life style expense. Finally they will make the average. For example, the rising price of the saloon car only affects the rich, while that of the bus ticket merely affects the poor. In this way, the actual impact of inflation rate on different social groups is revealed clearly, so that the government knows what should be emphasized on when drawing up the social economic policy. For the Chinese domestic enterprises which have exporting business to Africa, they can’t achieve their goals unless they understand the different characteristics of these two markets. In the market of the poor, the consumers have little buying power, but the number of the consumers is numerous. Therefore, the exporting products aiming at such market should provide good value and get an edge with the competitive price; on the other hand, for the market of the rich, they should pay attention to the importance of branding and make fine products. Medium to high price are fine with such market. In my opinion, the mediocre products are the most unpopular in African market, because the poor can not afford them, while the rich have no interest to buy at all.

The African market is worth to explore. We need to understand African. If we get more in touch with our African brothers, we will find that they are lovable and respectable. For me, I most appreciate their attitude to life. They can maintain happy and optimistic spirit even when they are in adversity. I once was making a business trip to South Africa, when I saw hundreds of black people gathering in front of the government building, singing and dancing. Finally I figured out these people were unemployment and they were making protest. A black brother told me, “Our country has been confronted with enough problems. So we won’t let anything bother ourselves. Of course we would be happier, if our economy could develop as good as China’s.” It is out of respect and admiration that African like to claim kinship with us. A black colleague once brought a local newspaper to me, happily and excitingly. He pointed to a news: after some genetics research, some Chinese scientists discovered that East Asian originated from Africa. He said, “Look, I have already said we are brothers. Now we have this conclusion from your Chinese study. Hey, man! We are real brothers.”

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4 thoughts on “African, Our Brothers”

  1. Anyway,I think The African is really a nice group!But as you saying that the Black African bothers is really not as well in most Chinese eyes. and a few Chinese people would like to laugh at them when you Chinese guy meet the man who is in balck and go away from.

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