When Shanghai-native Zhao Huiling was 12, her family moved from China to Ghana where she lived until she was 18 years old. When she came back to China as a young adult, she quickly became frustrated with the stereotypes of Africa that are widely disseminated in Chinese popular culture.
Deeply embedded caricatures of Africa and Africans that had become entrenched in the West were now increasingly commonplace in China. Movies like the recent Chinese blockbuster sensations Wolf Warrior 2 and China Salesman trafficked the old cliches of Africa as a place of war, safari, dancing children and general helplessness. Just last year, China’s most popular television show, the CCTV Spring Gala that reaches more than 700 million viewers, sparked widespread outrage when it featured a highly-insensitive comedy sketch that featured Chinese actors dressed in blackface alongside monkeys who were intended to represent African people.
Huiling was frustrated with what she was seeing on TV and in the movies. At the same time, she also noticed that Africa was becoming an increasingly popular travel destination for Chinese tourists and interest in the continent was growing among young people on social media. People would constantly come up to her and ask about where to go, what to see and what was it like to live there.
So, at the beginning of this year, Huiling launched a new video series on Chinese social media channels to showcase her experiences in Africa and, at the same time, attempt to challenge the stereotypes about the continent and its people that are now pervasive in traditional media.
“In 2019, I have only one wish… to take you along with me to see Africa,” she said at the opening of her first video blog, or vlog, where she introduced the journey she plans to take her viewers on as she explores different African countries, cultures, and food. While her videos are targeted at a Chinese audience on domestic social media platforms like WeChat, she’s added English subtitles and opened a YouTube channel to allow non-Chinese foreigners to watch as well.
Huiling is by no means alone in this space. Other Chinese social media content creators like Fyjo Molly 非洲茉莉, or “African Jasmine” in English, have launched similar vlogs that are intended to highlight their personal experiences in Africa that are far more nuanced and textured than what is available on TV and in movies.
Now, this isn’t just a one-way cultural phenomenon. With tens of thousands of African students now attending school in China and a relatively small but vibrant migrant community in cities like Beijing and Guangzhou, Africans are also sharing their stories on social video sites about daily life in China and what it’s like to live in a country that is cultural different from their own.
Ghanian-Berthold Winkler, who goes by the screen name “Mr. Wode Maya,” now has more than 157,000 followers on YouTube where he chronicles daily life in China. “For me, it’s just about clearing misconceptions and opening mindsets,” he told Beijing magazine back in 2017.
In addition to publishing her videos on YouTube, Huiling is also active on other social media channels including WeChat and Instagram:
Scan on the QR code to follow HuillingInAfrica on WeChat (Chinese language only).
And follow Huiling on Instagram at Huilingz1
About Zhao Huiling:
Zhao Huiling is a Shanghai-based social media content creator. She was born in China and then later moved to Ghana where she lived until she was 18 years old. In addition to producing her “Huiling in Africa” social media channels, Huiling also works in the event planning business which helps to support her regular travels in Africa to shoot more videos and engage a larger audience of Chinese viewers who are interested in the continent, its cultures and people.
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