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Peking University reaches out to Kenya

By Philip Etyang | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2015-01-04 13:00

Peking University reaches out to Kenya

Chairman of the Swahili department at Kenyatta University Richard Wafula and Peking University Professor Hui Jiang disscuss cooperation between their two universities.  Philip Etyang / China Daily

A professor of literature at the prestigious Beijing institution recently held talks and presented an academic paper and speech

A professor of African literature at Peking University in Beijing says China wants to improve cooperation between Chinese and Kenyan universities.

Hui Jiang, a senior visiting fellow in charge of building a Chinese literature program at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, recently held talks with Esther Mbithi, the chairperson of the department of literature at Kenyatta University.

Hui also had similar discussions with Richard Wafula, chairman of the Swahili department at Kenyatta University.

Hui is assigned to the Chinese literature department at Peking University, which has the largest enrollment among literature programs at the university, with over 1,000 students, 500 of them postgraduate students. He also has studied world literature and has a preference for African fiction.

"The Chinese department hosts many foreign students from Africa, Korea and Japan for short courses throughout the year," Hui says.

The discussions revolved around how Peking University could forge ties with Kenyatta University that would promote exchanges of students and staff. This, Hui said, would help Chinese students studying literature to have a better grasp of the content and vice versa.

"I want to build a relationship of friendship between African universities and Peking University so that all students taking courses in African literature can promote interaction between scholars from both sides," he told Mbithi.

Mbithi says the department of literature at Kenyatta University has always been open to exchanges with Chinese students and scholars in both African and Chinese literature.

"Dr John Mugubi from our department here is already teaching Asian literature. He is an expert in Japanese and Chinese literature. We welcome the addition of more content in Chinese literature to the already existing curriculum," Mbithi says.

At the Swahili department, Wafula provided Hui with information on how to ensure successful cooperation between the universities.

He also told Hui that the department hosts international students every year through different exchange programs. He said the department was expecting a group from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in January.

"We are expecting 15 students from the University of London who will be here for a few weeks, head to Mombasa on a field trip, and from there head to Zanzibar in Tanzania," he says.

Hui, expressing satisfaction with the information, said he was very optimistic about advancing relations between the universities. He also said he has spoken with other institutions.

"I was at the literature department at the University of Nairobi in the morning, where I met some scholars of African fiction," Hui says.

Hui also presented a keynote address and research paper to delegates at the First International Conference on Researching African Literature at Pwani University in Kilifi County, Kenya, Dec 11-13. Pwani University was until recently a constituent college of Kenyatta University before getting a university charter.

Hui's paper, A Chinese Perspective as a Method of Teaching African Literature, highlights the significance of the study of African literature in China.

"I'm a witness of increasing interest in African literature from Chinese literary circles. This is partly because of the Nobel effect. Each Nobel laureate in Africa, Nadine Godimer, Wole Soyinka and John Coetzee, have won the hearts of many Chinese readers through their great art," his paper says.

Hui's paper also says the Chinese interest in African literature has emanated from China's towering economic presence in Africa. He says that interest is playing a much stronger role in boosting cultural recognition of Africa, which in turn has led many Chinese literary scholars to show interest in African literature as opposed to other world literatures.

In 2009, China overtook the United States as Africa's largest trading partner. The Forum On China Africa Cooperation among many other entities has helped promote exchanges at the political, social, economic and even people-to-people levels.

"I really appreciated the chance I had to see how other people in other places teach and study African literature. I was also able to share my experience in teaching African literature to an African audience," Hui said after the conference.

The Kilifi conference brought together over 150 distinguished scholars from all over the world to reflect on researching African literature in the 21st century. Austin Bukenya, a renowned poet, novelist and scholar in African literature, opened proceedings at the historic conference with his paper, "My Post-Post-Everything: An African (Aberration) in the Late 20th Century Literary Theory".

Bukenya, a languages, literature and drama professor at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, moved delegates with his reflections on his engagement with some of major literary theories such as structuralism, deconstruction and reader-response. Other literary theories Bukenya touched on in his paper include speech-act, feminism, literary semiotics, dialogism and postcolonial.

Bukenya gave a brief survey of how these theories have developed. He also answered several questions in his paper such as how far theory contributes to the practitioner's appreciation of literary activity, as well as the reasons why and the ways in which literary works are created. All of Bukenya's questions touched key points in the study of post-colonial African literature.

Other scholars who made presentations included Kemal Abdulwehab (Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia), Nick Mdika Tembo (Stellenbosch University, South Africa), Mairi J. Blackings (University of Juba, South Sudan) and Esther Pujolras and Felicity Hand, both from the University of Barcelona, Spain.

The conference is the first of a series of literary conferences to be held at several universities across the country in the next five years.

China Daily

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