10/12/2015, by CLAS
Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, 4-5 December 2015: Images from Jo’burg
As part of an AHRC-funded project exploring China-Africa relations, I recently travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa, to observe the FOCAC (Forum on China-Africa Co-operation), a triennial event which this year had been elevated to the status of a summit. While the goal of this AHRC project is to get a sense of how cultural exchange and translation are contributing to the formation of an image of China for Africa, and vice versa, I couldn’t help reflecting on the more literal images that appeared in official publications and government-owned newspapers to depict the China-Africa relationship itself. While many of the front pages sported photographs of President Xi Jinping and President Jacob Zuma, there were a couple of publications that took a slightly different approach. The official publication produced by The Secretariat of the Chinese Follow-up Committee of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, for example – stacks of which were available in the lobby of the Sandton Convention Centre where the summit was taking place – depicted three children, two African, one Chinese, cradling a dove together (see below).
Secretariat of the Chinese Follow-up Committee image
The symbolism of peace is strategic: whereas Western media sometimes depict China’s rise as a threat, both President Zuma’s opening and closing ceremony speeches stressed that China’s military might was a force for peace.
Another rather different image appeared on the front page of the China Daily Africa Weekly edition, and portrayed two women, one African, one Chinese, holding a single cross-stitch between them, each one holding a needle with thread. The Chinese woman is sewing the ‘C’ or the word ‘Cooperation’, the African woman the ‘n’. Both women are young, beautiful, slender, and smiling, the patterns on their dresses and on the cross-stitch itself emphasising their femininity (see below).
From the China Daily Africa Weekly
Once again, the image is carefully chosen, emphasising the existing friendship between China and Africa and reinforcing the mutuality of each side’s contribution – friendship and win-win dynamics being key aspects of the discourse about the China-Africa relationship since the intensification of relations in 2000. It also foregrounds the importance accorded to women in Xi Jinping’s opening ceremony statement, both in connection with furtherance of people-to-people exchanges, and in connection with poverty reduction. The rather stereotypical, traditional nature of the image contrasts with the general preference for images foregrounding industrialisation and development that was evident in other coverage of the summit. At the same time, however, it fits with China’s tendency to focus on traditional cultural activities such as paper-cutting, dragon dancing, and calligraphy when presenting its cultural heritage to the outside world, including Africa.
Kathryn Batchelor, Department of French and Francophone Studies