China-Africa a marriage of convenience?

Author:Dalby, Alexa
Position:When China Met Africa
 
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China's growing relationship with Africa represents, at a macro level, an enormous shift of power and influence in the world from West to East. A thought-provoking new documentary When China Met Africa looks at how these changes are taking place at the micro level. Focusing on the daily lives of a Chinese farmer, a road builder and a Zambian Minister, it presents a side of an expanding global power that has not been seen before. Alexa Dalby reports.

In Africa, the Minister sits in his office in front of a blackboard covered with writing in spidery Chinese characters and smiles expansively at the film camera: "We don't understand what it says, but it gives you a spirit of imagination." When this widely praised documentary When China Met Africa was released, Felix Mutati was Zambia's Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry.

In 2006, the two nations repledged their allegiance to common goals at the China Africa Summit in Beijing. China asserted that it was Africa's "close friend, reliable partner and good brother". Despite decades of Western aid, African countries had remained among the world's poorest, but with China's help, all that was about to change.

Just five years later, more than one million Chinese live and work in Africa. The film turns its cameras on two of them in Zambia.

Mr Liu is the owner of four farms, on land he bought and that his African labourers have hacked out of the bush. In China, he was an office worker, but here he's a landowner of 10 years' standing and person of substance. He and his extended family live, however, in a shabby single-storey cement-block building, their television permanently tuned to a Chinese station.

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The second Chinese to feature is Mr Li, an engineer, and the project manager for the China Henan International Corporation's contract to upgrade 323km of road between Serenje and Mansa in the northern Luapula province. Serious and conscientious, he is dedicated to providing quality, meeting deadlines and ensuring profit for his employers.

When China Met Africa was made by brothers Marc and Nick Francis, whose previous film, the acclaimed Black Gold (2006J, followed an Ethiopian coffee farmer's attempts to get a fair price for his beans. Marc has lived in China's Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen and is a Mandarin speaker.

In the making of this film, they spoke to hundreds of Chinese people in Zambia, a country whose relationship with China goes back 50...

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