The distance between Ghana and China may be measured in about 10,000 kilometres, spanning almost a day’s flight, but it is much more than a mere numerical value.
Separated by vast continents, deep seas, and majestic mountains, these two countries are a world apart with a stark difference not only in terms of complexion, culture, and communication, but also in development and population.
Yet, it was precisely this contrast that made my visit to Jinhua, Zhejiang province of China for a two-week “Seminar for Belt and Road Journalists Organisations” all the more exciting and enthralling.
Together with two editors from Daily Graphic, we left Accra on Sunday afternoon. The journey was long and arduous, with three flights that lasted a little over 20 hours from Accra through Addis Ababa and Guangzhou to Yiwu, punctuated with lengthy waiting times and a labyrinth of airports, customs, immigration and health checks. We got to China on Monday morning with a time difference of eight hours ahead of Ghana.
But all of the overwhelming travel experience faded away once we landed at Yiwu airport and started an hour bus drive to the Zhejiang University Exchange Centre in Jinhua. We were greeted by the beautiful scenery, which unfolded like a tapestry of colours, shapes and textures.
Lush green forests, misty mountains, sparkling lakes, skyscrapers blended seamlessly into each other, creating a sense of harmony and balance that I found inspiring and soothing. It set the pace for the excitement that lingered throughout my stay.
Organised by the Zhejiang Normal University and sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce from July 18 to 31, 2023, the seminar brought together 31 journalists and media executives from 13 countries across the world to study China’s media convergence, communication strategies, and culture.
Aimed at sharing China’s practical experience in journalism and communication after its reform and opening-up, the seminar participants were selected from “Belt and Road” countries including Ghana ( represented by Ghanaian Times and Daily Graphic), Uzbekistan, Cuba, Tajikistan, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Nigeria, Samoa, Uganda, Palestine , Lesotho and Botswana.
China’s Belt and Road initiative is a global development strategy that aims to connect countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa through infrastructure, trade, and investment to improve economic and political ties and promote cultural exchanges. The initiative is part of a national strategy.
China’s communication prowess
Over the past few decades, China has made incredible advancements in its media and communication landscape, bridging the gap between traditional and modern forms. With a massive population of 1.4 billion people, China has become a global superpower in various areas, with remarkable economic growth as a result of enhanced technological and industrial prowess.
One of China’s most significant contributions to the world is the innovative and resourceful way it has harnessed social media and mobile platforms to connect with people in unprecedented ways. This has helped to improve its relationship with the world, opening doors for cultural exchanges such as the Belt and Roads seminar for countries.
Host city and university
Jinhua, a city in East China’s Zhejiang province, is steeped in history and culture with a rice-farming civilisation spanning over 10,000 years and a first government established more than 2,200 years ago. It covers 11,000 square kilometres, has a permanent population of 5.6 million, and belongs to the third largest city group and the fourth largest metropolitan area in Zhejiang province, with a 2022 GDP of 556.25 billion yuan ($82.44 billion).
Established in 1956, Zhejiang Normal University (ZJNU), our host, has a strong focus on teacher education and has produced over 300,000 talents at all levels, with more than 200,000 working in the education system. The university excels in educational research, African studies, and children’s literature, ranking among the top 100 universities in China for nine consecutive years. ZJNU has also established cooperative and exchange relations with over 280 universities worldwide, holding over 215 high-level training programmes to date.
Lectures and Lessons
Through a combination of lectures, on-site teaching, discussion sessions, visits, and cultural activities, the seminar participants were introduced to China’s national economic and cultural development, as well as the vital role of journalism, short videos and film making and strategic communication in the process. In my view, there are five major lessons that can be learned from the seminar.
First, reform and opening-up policies have brought significant opportunities for China’s media industry. With a strong focus on economic development and modernisation, the government has provided a conducive environment for media enterprises to thrive and innovate. These policies have allowed China to become a global player in the media industry.
China’s media industry is characterised by fast-paced growth and rapid change. The media landscape in China is constantly evolving, driven by technological advancements, shifts in consumer behaviour, and changes in
policy and regulations. A lesson here is that it is essential for media enterprises to be adaptable and agile in order to keep up with these changes.
Social media and new media platforms offer significant marketing opportunities for businesses. China’s digital economy is growing at an astonishing pace, and social media platforms like WeChat and Douyin have become crucial tools for brands to reach consumers and build their brand awareness. Enterprises need to have a clear strategy for how they will utilise these platforms in order to maximise their marketing efforts. This is the third lesson.
The fourth one has to do with Content. Content is king in China’s media industry. The production of high-quality content is key to success in the media industry in China. The demand for engaging, innovative content is increasing rapidly, and businesses that are able to produce content that resonates with consumers will have a competitive advantage.
Last, China’s media industry has a significant role to play in the country’s soft power and cultural communication efforts. The rise of China’s media industry has allowed the country to tell its story to the world, and Chinese film, television, and other media products have become increasingly popular globally. The development of China’s media industry has important implications for the country’s international standing and influence despite its media control which does not sit well with lovers of democracy.
China’s technological and communicative advancements are impressive. However, foreigners are faced with a daunting language barrier when attempting to communicate with locals who don’t speak English.
Luckily, technology serves as a helpful bridge for communication, with translation apps and calculators facilitating communication with traders.
Another downside is the blocking of popular social media and communication sites, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Google platforms like Gmail, which presents significant communication challenges. To bypass these restrictions, we resorted to installing alternative software, acquiring local SIM cards, and downloading Chinese social media platforms like WeChat.
Historic sites, culture and cuisine
These added extra colours to the visit. Cultural activities that brought practical experience to the lectures included learning the basics of Taijiquan (a Chinese martial art) and visits to Liangzhu Museum, Hangzhou West Lake and Huaxi Mountains in Pan’an. The cuisine is a whole experience I will share in another article.
For me, this seminar was more than just a chance to learn about China’s media and culture – it was a life-changing experience that created lasting connections and friendships across different countries, continents, and cultures. There are lessons for Ghana.
The facilitators and the warm people we met everywhere added to the wonderful experience. We have said our goodbyes, but one thing is certain – the knowledge and insights gained from this seminar will stay with me forever.
BY JONATHAN DONKOR, BACK FROM JINHUA,
CHINA. COURTESY OF THE CHINESE EMBASSY