21 October 2018
A first-time visitor to China can get overwhelmed by the sights and smells. Photo: Bloomberg
A first-time visitor to China can get overwhelmed by the sights and smells. Photo: Bloomberg

China through African eyes

When I first arrived in Beijing from Benin in 1998, everything was new to me – the language, the culture, the food, the people and the environment. I had to learn the ABCs of Mandarin as if I’d never been to school. I had to get used to the strange smells of the dining hall. And I had to introduce my country and myself many times every day to new people.

I gradually came to speak the language fluently and got used to Chinese people and culture. I got a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese language and culture, and went on to get a master’s and doctorate in international relations majoring in Chinese contemporary diplomacy at Renmin University of China.

But even after 10 years of study, I found that curiosity about China is never satisfied — the history of the Middle Kingdom is so long and its culture is so rich so that even specialists have to constantly read and travel throughout China to really grasp the details of the country.

During my stay, I would comment on news and events in China from my African viewpoint, writing a blog and touring the country as a crosstalk performer.

Now that I’m back home, I have taken up teaching Chinese language and culture, China in world affairs, the history of contemporary China, the diplomacy of contemporary China and Chinese thought. I translate documents from Chinese into English and vice-versa. Does that make me a sinologist? I’ll accept the title but with some hesitation.

In China, I used to view the country with an African perspective. Now that I’m back in my home country, the Republic of Benin, I have a slightly different mindset as I continue to keep a keen eye on my former host and its debatable rise.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Maurice Gountin studied in China for 10 years and is now teaching Chinese language, culture and diplomacy of contemporary China in his home country Benin.

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe