China’s global campaign to promote its literature has arrived in Africa

Connecting over books.
Connecting over books.
Image: AP Photo/Andy Wong
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China’s efforts to raise the place of its literature around the world has landed in Africa.

As part of the ongoing Nairobi International Book Fair, a number of Chinese publishing and media entities signed deals with their counterparts in Kenya to deepen cultural exchanges through books. The agreements with the University of Nairobi and Kenya National Library were signed as part of “China Shelf,” the global Chinese literature promotion campaign, according to the state-run news agency Xinhua.

The agreements coincided with the 70th anniversary of the founding of modern China, and publishers including the Hubei Changjiang group showcased books reflecting on the country’s cultural and literary achievements at the fair. They also donated books to the national library service so as to establish sections dedicated to Chinese literature.

The moves are indicative of China’s growing soft power tools across Africa as its influence deepens and it faces criticism for entrapping nations in debt. Over the past few years, China has ramped up the number of scholarships it provides to African students and has sponsored dozens of Confucius Institutes from Kenya to Ghana with the aim of teaching Mandarin and spreading its culture.

Beijing also funded Senegal’s ground-breaking Museum of Black Civilizations, built one of Tanzania’s biggest libraries and has invested in media outlets in South Africa to boost its image and allay fears about its projects.

As China pushes to improve its cultural currency in Africa, there’s increasing engagement among ordinary people to better understand each other. For instance, Chinese vloggers such as Fyjo Molly and Huiling Rose Zhao are traveling across Africa so as to correct stereotypes and misguided perceptions of Africans back home.

Chinese publishers are translating Chinese poetry for African consumption while ensuring that African literature, especially by popular authors such as Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, reaches Chinese readers. Cognizant of China’s growing global power, countries including Uganda and Kenya are also introducing Mandarin in classrooms.