By Ding Gang Source: China Daily Published: 2016-8-17
On the first floor of a modern office building in Nairobi, Kenya, looking out through the broad window facing the street, you can see the name of Star Times. Star Times is a Chinese digital television networks operator that provides digital broadcasting services across Africa. It transmits over 200 channels through satellites.
When we walked into the company`s business hall, Chinese TV drama Ordinary World, dubbed into Swahili, was being projected onto the wall.
Among all the Chinese TV series broadcast by Star Times in Africa, the most popular type is dramas reflecting Chinese family and rural life, as well as stories of personal struggle. Three years ago when A Beautiful Daughter-in-law Era, a 36-episode TV drama depicting marital issues about Chinese urban families, was aired in Africa, it was very popular in urban areas.
Why do Africans, who are thousands of miles away and have different cultures and customs from Chinese, love to watch Chinese dramas? According to Zhang Junqi, chief executive officer of the Kenyan branch of Star Times Corp, the household affairs depicted in the dramas, rural ones in particular, are familiar to Africans and can create a feeling of affinity. For another, with more Chinese enterprises coming to Africa, locals are keen to get to understand China better. They can learn about the changes of Chinese society and the cultural factors driving the development from watching the TV series.
Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Liu Xianfa told us that high-ranking Kenyan officials have a great interest in Chinese practices such as organizing the Communist Party of China`s branches in the countryside and mobilizing the grass roots. They want China to share more experiences with Kenya.
Decoding and drawing lessons from Chinese development to learn where their own deficiencies lay has become fashionable in many African countries. Macharia Munene, a professor specializing in Chinese culture at the United States International University told me that why Kenya has fallen behind East Asian economies such as China and South Korea has become a matter of concern for the Kenyan people.
On the second day we arrived in Nairobi, the Saturday Nation published an article on East Asian development written by its columnist David Ndii. Ndii says that in 1965, a South Korean worker was on average 20 percent more productive than a Kenyan worker, but is now 15 times more productive.
Kenya has maintained a relatively stable political situation among African countries. Its political system is a hangover from British colonial rule. Since its independence in the 1960s, Kenya has been known as "an island of peace" with no domestic or foreign wars, albeit that it has two failed coups.
However, statistics from the World Bank show that GDP per capita in Kenya was $600 in the middle of 1960s, when the figure for China was less than $100.
But today, Kenya, which has a GDP per capita of over $1,300, is dwarfed by China with a GDP per capita of nearly $8,000.
What has caused Kenya`s stagnation? Is it the economic structure, political system, cultural traditions, or the three combined? Kenyans have been pondering the reasons while looking to the East.
As Chinese enterprises began to construct railways, roads, and bridges, and set up steel, garment and chip factories in Africa, and when Chinese textile workers taught local African workers how to use sewing machines, Chinese values have gradually permeated in Africa. The differences of the two systems have resulted in deep thought.
Munene views China`s influence on Africa as a "soft revolution." But Yan Can, a Buddhist master who traveled with me, perceives cultural traditions a more formidable factor. He said loyalty to the family, diligent work and studying hard are the three core elements of Chinese traditional culture. Perhaps they are one of the reasons why the protagonist of Ordinary World could strike a sympathetic note in the Africans` mind.
The author is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.