(Retrospect on Africa by Huang Guifang, former ambassador to Zimbabwe)
The strong affinity Huang Guifang feels for Africa is obvious from his living room, which is a showcase for works of art from Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and many other African countries.
Huang remembers his time in Africa with great pride and affection: "As a diplomat I traveled the continent extensively. My experience and fascination with African culture brought me the appointment of protocol ambassador to the first Sino-African forum." He continues: "It is common knowledge that Africa is rich in natural resources, but few are aware of the wealth and breadth of its culture. For example, Africans use herbal medicine just as Chinese do, and it is equally effective. Medical experts are currently carrying out research on the use of African herbal medicine to treat AIDS."
Huang recalls how he once played ping-pong with Arji Buwa, Ugandan 400-meter hurdle Olympic champion: "Africans are famous for their athletic prowess, and the soccer skills they displayed in recent World Cup matches were particularly impressive. It is, however, less widely known that they also excel in the arts." Huang met many folk artists on his various trips to different African countries who could all create beautiful wood or stone carvings with no plan other than a picture in their mind's eye. On asking one Ugandan folk artist why all his statues had just one eye, he replied that seeing through a single eye fully focuses the viewer's attention. It was then that Huang began to comprehend the different characteristics of oriental and African culture, the former exquisite, and the latter startlingly original.
Huang carries on: "Africans are by nature optimistic and honest. Music and movement are an inalienable aspect of their daily life." In 1978 the China Oriental Song & Dance Ensemble went to Uganda for a cultural exchange with the Dingjidingji Song & Dance Ensemble -- today's Uganda National Troupe. They performed a Ugandan dance expressing the joy of harvest, but on being told by a local resident that they had overlooked some details, the ensemble stayed for another two days to learn the dance properly.
Africa attaches as much importance to education as China does, and Zimbabwe spends one quarter of its revenue on education. Huang once observed that although Ugandan children's schools often consisted of nothing more than the shade of a tree, pupils were nonetheless assiduous in their studies. On one occasion a Ugandan pupil called David led a diplomatic envoy to the Chinese embassy, and Huang wanted to reward him. The boy wanted nothing more than to borrow a few Chinese books.
Huang often tells stories about his two local drivers in Zimbabwe. "One, called Chia, wanted to work for us in order to learn more about China, even though the pay was lower than at other embassies. He was fascinated with Chinese folk tales. The other, Jobo, on hearing that we wanted to write about education in Zimbabwe, sent us a set of primary school textbooks. Before we set out to do research at local schools, he also taught us a song that helped break the ice with the school children, and so helped us successfully complete our task. The information he gave us on local conditions and customs was widely quoted in my book on Zimbabwe. He was also conversant with Chinese literature, and particularly liked Lu Xun's Story of Ah Q."
Huang firmly believes that the Chinese and African cultures complement each other, saying: "Many Chinese people have the misconception of Africa as poor and dirty. It is true that some countries are poorer than the underdeveloped provinces of China, but toilets in the villages are generally far cleaner than those in rural China." Once a friend from Zimbabwe asked Huang why Chinese people use chopsticks to eat. Huang replied that it was a more hygienic method than eating with the fingers. The friend disagreed, saying that as chopsticks went from the mouth to dishes shared with a number of diners, they were likely to spread bacteria. As people in Zimbabwe eat from separate portions with their fingers, so there is no chance of spreading bacteria. It was after this conversation that Huang suggested to the embassy that they serve individual meals.
Huang concludes: "Africans, like everyone else, are not perfect. Superficially they appear less diligent than Chinese, but this is a direct result of colonization. In the past Africans labored under Western colonists and so felt disinclined to work too hard. Now that they have independence they know they must work hard for the benefit of themselves and their motherland. "
Huang's wishes the second Sino-Africa Cooperation Forum every success: "I believe that the African people can achieve whatever they strive to create!"
(China.org.cn December 10, 2003)