Aldeburgh Documentary Film Festival – When China Met Africa by Nick & Marc Francis

Innately observational this film describes the relationship between the two cultures, in Africa. The question is: how different is China’s expansion into Africa to the other colonial powers (like ours) who came to Africa in our recent past?


Their motivation is known: resources for the ever expansive native land. We saw the exchange systems in action, they’ll build roads, if they can access the copper.

Their secondary motivation is, like any other eastern Tiger whose fundament is based on low wages and huge volumes, is to creep up the quality ladder, the value chain.


Three lives are followed in one country (Zambia): a Chinese farmer expanding to his third farm, a Chinese road builder having to negotiate with African government, and an African Minister of Trade, keen to engage the Chinese.


In the film at least, the Chinese do appear to be a different colonising power.  Arguably more effective, from both sides. They come from a more humble stock and are equally struggling. Unsentimentally, they keep their clear distance, operating behind bars to check the workers of the day. They are hard working. Their homes have as many plastic chairs as the workers, there is not a stick of luxury to view.


The minister says:  The Europeans come with their power point presentations, flow charts, and demands for human rights. The Chinese just get on with it, they build the roads, hospitals, etc.  And with an impressive speed. The only demand a Chinese asks is what’s the incentive?


It is not the paternalistic form of Governance, a top downer, with demands of corrections to Human Rights. (China’s is as diverse as Africa’s, you could say).

For the manual worker, it is not part of their narrative. The Chinese give wages which give makes sustainability possible.  They are the bottom of Maslow’s table.

The Middle ground African, however, are angry. Why doesn’t the African Government give the same breaks to indigenous entrepreneurs? None were interviewed in the film.


The panelist, Isabel Hilton, was fascinating She knew China, and made this point at the end:

We forget, China is a new country. Back in 1911, there was no China. People would say they were from such and such province, or Tibet. (Like Germany). One Chinese province is the size of the country,  African or European. Their recent identity is new. Only 50 years since independence.

Migration is observable. Now marriages are taking place between Chinese and African. Watch this space. We (the English) are out of the picture (except as observers)


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