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Rumor has it we're the best of friends

By Hou Liqiang | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2017-04-23 15:47

When I was learning to drive in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, my instructor once broke the silence with a short but astonishing remark, one I am unlikely to forget: "Chinese workers on construction sites in Africa are prisoners."

I was stunned. It was impossible to think such a thing. I talked with him about it for a long time, but he seemed confident that it was a valid fact, even though he failed to provide a single example.

I didn't expect that someone would raise a question related to my instructor's "valid fact" at an occasion as formal as an international forum. However, I was in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, covering a forum about investing in Africa, when a man asked during a Q&A session, "Why can't Chinese companies employ local laborers instead of bringing prisoners to Africa?"

Before the speakers could reply, a European woman stood up and said something similar to what I had told my driving instructor, "If you have an example, I will be all ears." She also updated my knowledge of the rumor, saying it had been around since the 1970s.

It wasn't the only rumor about China I heard during my 20 months as a correspondent in Africa. Others included: plastic watches from China are made by child laborers; all Chinese people eat dogs and even snakes; and Chinese men in Africa are injected with a special serum to prevent them from experiencing sexual desire during their stay.

In spite of the rumors, I felt the general public in Africa - at least in Kenya, where I was based - was keen to learn more about China.

When I was waiting to join a vigil for the victims of a terrorist attack in Garissa county, a young man came up and shook my hand. We began a conversation and were quickly joined by five other locals. They surrounded me and asked questions about China. They all listened carefully and we only said goodbye when it was time to attend the vigil.

Once, a boy came up to me in a rural area and touched my skin to see how different I was from him.

Compared with Westerners, Chinese people are still new to Africa. Though many of our grandparents' generation were there more than 50 years ago, the language barrier meant they didn't communicate very much with the local people.

Now, China's younger generation is arriving in Africa, speaking fluent English or other appropriate languages, so it's time to kill off the rumors and deepen the friendship between Africans and Chinese.

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