The shifting relationship between China and Africa has completely passed most people by.
And even if you’re aware of the vast increase of Chinese investment into the continent, the change can seem impersonally vast.
This engaging documentary injects humanity. It follows a Zambian trade mission to China, with limousines passing through vast new cities.
Back in Africa, the Chinese manager of a project to rebuild the Zambian road system struggles with funding.
And, most intimately, a Chinese family tries to make a profit through running a farm in Zambia.
The farmer, Liu Chanming, explains how the move to Africa shifted him from being an employee to an employer.
At one level this is a story of the development of class relations.
But it also reflects a developing imperial mindset.
By the end, Liu is raging at the farm workers for ingratitude. He believes that while he may not have the money to pay their wages, he has created the farm out of the bush.
The truth is he has not bought farming expertise—only capital.
The workers on the farm and the road complain about pay, bad food and the increasing workload.
But it is a weakness that we don’t get to see ordinary Africans as individuals, apart from a brief scene when a group of road builders bring their own food and share it.
There is no narration, allowing viewers to develop their own opinions—but this can also leave the big picture rather sketchy.
It shows a world made up of economic relations, not crude heroes and villains.
This is a film that raises questions rather than answering them. But it succeeds in making you want to go and find out more.
When China Met Africa
Directed by Nick and Marc Francis
Opens 7 October