Somali Academic, Hodan Abdi, says China and Africa have made major progress in realm of mutual respect
After living in China for more than 10 years, a Somali academic says she is happy to see a better perception of Africa in the country.
Hodan Osman Abdi, a lecturer in African film and media at the Institute of African studies at Zhejiang Normal University, says the increase in the number of cross-cultural media products catering to both Chinese and African viewers, coupled with the increase in their availability for mass audiences, is playing a positive role in boosting understanding between Chinese and African people.
“Ten years ago, Chinese people generally associated Africa with thoughts of disease, famine and war,” she says. “The number of Africans living in China wasn’t that big either. But now the general perception of Africa in Chinese people’s minds is gradually changing for the better.
“They no longer think Africa is a single country. An increasing number of people are able to tell that it is a large continent with diverse people and diverse cultures.
“The realization that both Chinese and Africans are diverse people with diverse cultures and habits – but at the same time sharing an innate human nature – is most significant,” she says.
Abdi believes China’s economic boom of the past 10 years has not only increased people’s wealth but also opened their eyes. Africa, which is now appreciated for its natural resources, business opportunities, wonderful weather and beautiful nature, has become a popular travel destination for business and pleasure. In her view, the cross-cultural communication that results from these travels is a key factor that has promoted understanding.
Abdi says media plays a key role in shaping common perceptions and misconceptions.
“Chinese media engagement in Africa has been successful in promoting a better understanding of China. However, they still lack the ability to adjust to the specific cultural aspects unique to the African market,” she says.
“There should also be a focus on the translation and adaptation of popular African literature, film and TV programs to encourage mutual understanding.”
Abdi says in her own country, Somalia, most people consider Chinese people resilient and diligent.
“The general perception is that Chinese people are hard-working and never slack around, and that is why they have been able to achieve the amount of success they have in such a short time,” she says, adding that the older generation remember the complex and good-quality infrastructure projects constructed by Chinese companies and often praise their knowledge and abilities.
The biggest similarity between China and Somalia is that both countries are proud of their own long history. The respect for customs and traditions is something they share, she says.
“Somali people consider the Chinese to be their friends and companions and generally have a very positive image of China. They also believe China is the home of knowledge and wisdom. This is one of the reasons large numbers of students from Somalia have been coming to China since the early 1980s to continue their higher education. Numbers have been increasing, especially in the past decade.”
Abdi went to Jinhua, in East China’s Zhejiang province, in 2006 and then began her undergraduate life at Zhejiang Normal University, majoring in business administration. She says she was influenced by her uncle, who had studied in China decades ago.
“I always used to hear fascinating stories from him that made me even more curious about the country. As soon as I arrived in China, I was completely mesmerized by the natural beauty, the people and the unique culture.”
Abdi, coming from a traditional Arab society, was able to feel the influence of Confucian philosophy on Chinese culture and found it to be at the core of the Chinese identity, promoting many values similar to those within her own society.
“We share common cultural ground with Chinese people, such as respect for elders, the importance of family, the collective way of thought, the cultivation of morality and self-restraint, as well as an emphasis on hard work and achievement. This helped my integration into the society and made me feel at home,” she says.
Abdi began to study Chinese and did well from the start. Her track record of achievements includes more than 20 prestigious prizes in national and regional contests. One of them was the 2010 Silver Award in the third session of Chinese Bridge, held by China Central Television.
She admits that her language abilities were key to her successful integration but strongly believes that setting high goals and working hard is what got her to where she is today. After completing the usual four years of undergraduate studies in just three years, she got a scholarship for her master’s degree from the Confucius Institute and was later on recognized as an outstanding foreign student in China.
She won the prestigious Chinese government scholarship to begin studying for her doctorate at Zhejiang University, majoring in media and communication studies.
Abdi says she intends to engage in the work of China-Africa and China-Arab media and cultural exchange.
“I hope to introduce the excellent literary and fine art of Africa and the Arab countries to China, as well as showing China’s 5,000 years of cultural brilliance to African and Arab countries, allowing more Arabs, Africans and Chinese to cross cultural and linguistic barriers and get to know each other’s rich and diverse cultures and their subtleties,” she says.
She will continue working in China to foster better understanding between the two sides, “not only through academic output but also through the utilization of popular media to promote a better image”.
She says: “I believe it is my responsibility to utilize the knowledge I have gained from both my academic endeavors, as well as my other experiences, to promote mutual understanding between my Africa and my China, both of which I consider home. For the time being, I believe that China is the best place to begin.”
Abdi also believes that African students in China play a vital role in boosting China-Africa relations.
“African students in China are in a unique position in this day and age and are of more importance to China-Africa relations than they realize,” she says.
Her belief is that students can help navigate the development of African countries in multiple areas by first “making the effort to better understand the historical, political and cultural aspects surrounding China’s economic development”.
She also believes that their role in changing the stigma surrounding Africans in China is extremely important. Through their communication with Chinese people, they are able to influence public opinion at the grassroots and spread a more positive image of Africa in China.
Through learning the Chinese language, culture and history, African students can better communicate their own cultural values and better influence their surroundings. They can also contribute to the development of China into a global power, while also using their knowledge to positively contribute to the building of a better Africa, she says.
Article was first published on ChinaDaily. Read More here.