The classic stereotypes about Africa are widespread in China where, like elsewhere, many peoples’ perceptions about the continent mirrors the outdated, offensive caricatures that are commonplace in mainstream media. Just as in the West, Africa for many, if not most people, is a place of war, despair, disease, and safaris, those sentiments are not much different in China.
But Zhong Jiahao 鐘家豪, aka Johnny, wants to change that. Zhong moved to Kenya in 2017 as a project manager for a construction company and seemingly fell in love with the place. Frustrated by what he was seeing online and how some Chinese bloggers were ridiculing Africa/Africans and by the stereotypes that were seemingly everywhere, Zhong picked up a camera to tell a different story, his own.
Last year, when he moved to Togo to be with his girlfriend, Zhong launched a series of social media channels on YouTube, WeChat, Bilibili, and Weibo among others to showcase his daily life in West Africa and to present Chinese viewers with a more authentic, nuanced view of Africa and Africans.
Today, his Johnny Vlog channel has more than 131,000 subscribers on YouTube and three times that number on the Chinese social video platform Bilibili. Each of his videos today gets tens of thousands, often hundreds of thousands of views from Chinese followers around the world.
Zhong speaks only Chinese in his videos as he’s only targeting a native-Chinese audience with his tours through the markets, introduction to local foods and customs. Most importantly, he’s highlighting what daily life looks like and how unremarkable it is.
That is, there’s no famine, or child soldiers, or any of the other awful stereotypes, rather he introduces his viewers to average, ordinary people who are just trying to make a living like everyone else anywhere in the world. Or, as he posted in a recent video on Weibo, three guys playing pick-up basketball at the park.
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The videos provide a refreshing reminder that there is far more to the Chinese experience in Africa than appears in the news (including our own coverage) and in popular culture.
This article was first published in The China Africa Project.
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