Deborah Nyangulu-Chipofya | Give China a break

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Deborah Nyangulu-Chipofya's column, This World Around Me, which publishes in The Sunday Times.

This week I found myself listening to Nameless´song, China. For those of you who don’t know China, its a song that talks about how everything in Malawi has gone “China”. China is in this song used as a synonym for fake. The artist talks about how today´s old people are “China” because they don´t want to grow old. He talks about how the national football team is now “China” because it doesn´t win any matches anymore. In short the song lists a lot of things that are now “China” in Malawi, or in other words, it lists things that are fake in the country and calls them “China”.

I deliberately referred to this China song because I wanted to show how a seemingly innocent thing like a song can help distort our public perception of an entire peoples. What the song China does is to associate things negative and things fake with China. Consider when Nameless sings that mayeso aManeb alowa China, koforma, koprinta kwake ndikuChina and yet Malawi´s exams are not even formed or printed in China. The song reduces China into a stereotype of everything that is fake.

Today the phrase kulowa China has become part of the normal everyday language and we use it without flinching an eyelid when we want to refer to something that is bogus or to things that are common place (Let me confess that I too have used the phrase on several occassions). And yet we forget that we liken these bogus and commonplace things to a place that is not bogus at all. China is a real place with real people and it is unfair to reduce this entire nation to a stereotype of fake. Coming from a history of colonialism, we have been victims of racial stereotypes and we should know better how such stereotypes work in denigrating a whole peoples.

While it is indeed true that the cheap items the Chinese sell in most of their shops are to blame for the negative image associated with them, it is not totally true that everything with a made in china label is fake. Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, once said the thing about stereotypes is not that they are untrue but they don´t tell you all the sides of a story. And in the case of China we don’t seem to get all the sides of the story. We don’t seem to get that while China has some of the crappiest merchandise in the world, it also offers the best on the world market. We don’t seem to get that China has a rich culture and that its people are hardworking.

Mine is not a manifesto to support China´s presence on Africa. I don’t know what China wants with Africa and to be honest I find the idea of using Africa as a dumping ground for second rate goods to be deplorable. But having said this, I think it is equally deplorable to judge the Chinese on account of their race. Some of the screaming headlines that make into our newsapers seem to suggest something close to racial witch hunting. Headlines like Chinese kills wife, Chinese caught with private parts, Chinese caught with forex – headlines which do not emphasize the crime committed but emphasize the fact that the crime was committed by a Chinese national.

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