Gen Z in motion
By Li Xiaoyu  ·  2023-11-30  ·   Source: ChinAfrica


A still from the documentary Generation Z’s China-Africa Stories shows Christian Zola (left) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his Chinese collaborator Ye Zi (second left) at Zhejiang University’s New Year gala in 2022

Zhang Yong, the renowned Chinese filmmaker behind the acclaimed documentary Africans in Yiwu and other works exploring Sino-African relations, including Chinese Meet Africa and Bobby’s Factory, has made a stunning return with his latest masterpiece, Generation Z’s China-Africa Stories. 

The film premiered in August to much acclaim in the Chinese market, with a title that aptly reflects the focus of the narrative: generation Z. “Throughout my many visits to the African continent, what has impressed me the most is generation Z,” Zhang told ChinAfrica. “They are remarkably mature and creative. Compared to previous generations, they have access to a greater expanse of information and possess an open-minded outlook.” 

This documentary highlights the ever-expanding engagements between Chinese and African youth, with the intention of highlighting the unremitting nature of Sino-African relations. “Many Chinese, primarily consisting of young individuals, work in Africa, while many young Africans reside and pursue their studies in China. My aim for this documentary is to provide distinct insights into the present-day bonds between these two regions,” said Zhang. 

The two-hour documentary, consisting of five distinct episodes, delves into numerous topics pertaining to the interactions between young Chinese and Africans. These themes include the propagation of ancestral Chinese culture in Africa, linguistic harmony, artistic vibrancy, influence of young leaders on society, and camaraderie surrounding the culinary arts. Combining a Chinese and African perspective, the programme offers a comprehensive exploration of the subject matter. 


A poster of the documentary Generation Z’s China-Africa Stories directed by Zhang Yong 

A dual perspective 

Generation Z’s China-Africa Stories is exceptional in its use of a bifocal approach, unlike the typical one-sided viewpoint seen in most documentaries. The director deliberately selected young Chinese and Africans as the main characters in each episode, creating a narrative focused on their cooperation, blending their individual growth, diligence and aspirations. “The duality offers a unique setting that broadens the narrative panorama and presents a more authentic view of interactions between young individuals from China and Africa,” Zhang elaborated. 

In the fifth episode, a young Somali, Abduqadir Mohamed Said, collaborates with his Chinese partner Ye Yongrong to launch an African eatery in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province. Their tale is narrated in their own words, centred on a shared objective to hold a festival of African cuisine at their eatery, where clients can relish dishes from their respective homelands. The initiative was warmly embraced by the local African community seeking cultural solace during the pandemic-induced separation. 

In addition to their business, the film portrays the diverse hobbies and interests of these young entrepreneurs. They discuss their favourite sports stars, play chess and discover new cuisine together using their smartphones. Their conversations, driven by a desire to know each other better, invigorate their daily lives. As the director pointed out, “exchanges between China and Africa are not just about economic cooperation, but also about the emotional ties between people.” 

The documentary is also notable for its production team, made up largely of directors, cameramen and producers from China and Africa born in the 1990s. “Truth is the bread and butter of a documentary film. Being of the same generation as our characters, we have a better grasp of their perspectives, so we know which stories will resonate most,” said Zhang. “It is both our privilege and our absolute duty to faithfully record the stories of these young people.” 


A still of the documentary Generation Z’s China-Africa Stories shows young Somali Abduqadir Mohamed Said (right) and his Chinese partner Ye Yongrong (centre) prepare an African gastronomy festival at their restaurant in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, on 4 July 2020 

A human touch 

Prior to its release in China, the documentary was translated into English, Hungarian, Italian and Arabic, and broadcasted on major television channels in South Africa, Italy and Hungary starting from December 2022. These international versions garnered high praise from a large foreign audience, who hailed the film as a “must-see” for its “captivating images” and “touching stories.” 

After viewing the production, 20-year-old South African student Paul Mech eagerly expressed his admiration for the documentary. “As a young person myself, I found the documentary Generation Z’s China-Africa Stories to be a refreshing and inspiring portrayal of cross-cultural collaboration among young Chinese and African entrepreneurs,” he commented. “They not only shared a passion for entrepreneurship but also a genuine interest in learning about each other’s cultures and perspectives.” 

He was particularly struck by the main characters of the fourth episode. When organising an exhibition of African photographs, Tungamirai Eric Mupona, a Zimbabwean doctoral student at Zhejiang University, proposes dividing the event into various zones instead of using the overall concept of Africa, which the Chinese collaborators readily agree to. They further provide their professional know-how on the dynamic 3D overview and the design of the exhibition stands. The overall mood of their collaboration is comfortable and affable. “The documentary is a powerful example of how our generation can make a positive impact on the world by working together across cultures and borders,” stated Mech. 

Plans have been made to translate it into French, Swahili, Hausa and other languages to expand its distribution in Africa. “My objective is to make the documentary easily available to young Africans, hence the need for multilingual translations. Language is the bridge to comprehension,” the director stressed. 

After producing documentaries about Sino-African relations for approximately a decade, Zhang intends to expand his viewpoint from Africa to the partner nations of the Belt and Road Initiative to uncover more anecdotes of amicable exchanges between the Chinese and the local people. To achieve this, his team has already journeyed to the United Arab Emirates in August for interviews and filming. A new three-episode documentary is currently in work.  

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