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Somali academic and documentary filmmaker Hodan Osman Abdi is helping to shatter misconceived stereotypes by promoting cross-cultural understanding and appreciation between China and Africa.
Her uncle was a longtime resident of Yiwu, an export hub in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, and often shared stories about China’s culture and history with Abdi when she was a child. Driven by curiosity, she came to China 12 years ago after graduating from high school to continue her education in Zhejiang.
She studied business and education and earned a doctorate in media economics and management from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, the provincial capital. Since 2016, she has been a researcher at Zhejiang Normal University’s Institute of African Studies, teaching African film and television.
“About 10 years ago, when I first arrived, the Chinese generally associated Africa with disease, hunger and poverty,” said Abdi, who is fluent in Chinese and English. “One time, my taxi driver asked where I was from. I said Somalia, and he said ‘Oh, the land of the pirates’.”
To change sweeping misconceptions about African people, Abdi and her colleague, Zhang Yong, produced the first Chinese-Africa co-directed documentary film, Africans in Yiwu, last year.
The film was selected as the opening movie for the Lusaka International Film Festival in Zambia last year, and it has been aired worldwide by China Central Television and across Africa by StarTimes.
The six-part documentary features the intimate stories of 19 ordinary people from 15 African countries living in Yiwu, home to one of China’s largest African communities rising from the ever-growing trade ties between China and Africa.
There are more than 2,000 different languages in Africa, with 5,000 ethnic groups across more than 50 countries, each representing a distinctive culture.
“But we have accepted the fact that one image of one person can represent the entire country, or even the continent,” Abdi said.