Boukete Grace, a 29-year-old student from the Congo studying at Hunan Normal University in Changsha, China, frequents a local coffee shop three to four times a week to enjoy a discounted cup of African coffee. The coffee shop owner offers this special treat as a tribute to the direct purchase of coffee beans from African farmers, who have benefited from the city’s efforts to enhance economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa.
Jing Jianhua, the founder of Hunan Xiaokazhu Coffee Co., Ltd., established in 2021, explains that their trade ties enable them to directly purchase coffee from African farmers, eliminating intermediaries. This not only reduces costs but also helps increase the income of African farmers. Recently, the company, operating under the brand “Own Master,” secured 100 million yuan (approximately 14 million U.S. dollars) in funding through its A-round of financing.
Grace pays 8 yuan for a cup of African coffee originally priced at 25 yuan at the coffee chain store in Changsha. With the upcoming third China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo taking place in Changsha from June 29 to July 2, Grace eagerly anticipates introducing African compatriots attracted by the expo to the “Own Master” shops. They can then enjoy authentic African coffee at preferential prices.
Living in Changsha, Grace has discovered that the city’s connection with Africa dates back over 1,000 years when porcelain wares produced in an ancient kiln there were exported to Africa through the Maritime Silk Road.
Changsha, known as an ancient porcelain capital, recently welcomed the return of a trove of 1,200-year-old Chinese treasures discovered underwater in Indonesia. These 162 pieces of treasure were part of a large cargo of ninth-century porcelain traded from China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) via an Arab dhow that wrecked in Indonesia’s Java Sea. The salvaged ship, named “Batu Hitam” by a German salvage company in 1998, contained over 67,000 pieces of treasure, with 85 percent originating from a kiln in Changsha.
The Tongguan Kiln Museum’s director, Qu Wei, explains that the kiln served as a central hub for porcelain-making during the Tang Dynasty. Artifacts from the kiln have been discovered in approximately 30 countries and regions, including as far as northern Africa. Many porcelain relics produced in Changsha featured designs and patterns specifically ordered by foreign customers, such as depictions of “foreign women figures” and tropical plants like “palm trees.”
Changsha is one of the few ancient cities in China that has maintained its urban site for 2,500 years. The city’s rich cultural relics, historical documents, and architectural remains provide evidence that Changsha has been a densely populated urban center for over 2,000 years. The city government recently completed a five-year cultural renovation project that revitalized 14 cultural and historic areas, such as Taiping Old Street, which have become popular tourist attractions and local hangout spots. During the restoration process, each paving stone was numbered to ensure its return to its original position.
Onyebuchi Chiamaka Henrietta, a Nigerian student at Central South University in Changsha, enjoys creating vlogs in the city’s cultural and historic areas. Having lived in Changsha for three years, Henrietta is drawn to the city’s unique blend of cultural heritage and modern commerce, which has gained it a reputation as an “Internet celebrity.” Changsha has provided her with opportunities to interact with people from different countries and cultural backgrounds, allowing her to better understand and appreciate Chinese culture and its people.
In 1982, Changsha established formal friendship ties with Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, becoming the first pair of sister cities between China and Africa. As part of the China (Hunan) Pilot Free Trade Zone, the Changsha area has been designated as one of the 21 pilot free trade zones in China. It plays a crucial role in fostering deep economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa.
The strategic focus on Africa has yielded significant results. Through the pilot initiative, over 100 varieties of African products have made their way into major shopping malls in Changsha. Last year alone, Changsha’s foreign trade with Africa reached 24.47 billion yuan, accounting for 44 percent of the province’s total trade with Africa. This marked a remarkable increase of 72.3 percent compared to the previous year, with a growth rate surpassing the national average by 57.8 percentage points.
Recognizing the immense potential in strengthening trade relations, Nigerian company Zeenab Foods Limited recently established a Nigerian export trade house in Changsha. Victor Ayemere, the chairman of the company, views this as a significant milestone for Nigeria’s efforts to expand its export market and enhance trade ties with China. The establishment of the trade house will facilitate better access to the Chinese market for Nigerian goods, including agro-commodities and value-added finished products.
Ayemere emphasizes that trade acts as a bridge, bringing people together regardless of geographical locations. When people come together through trade, relationships are formed, and understanding and trust are built. The efforts to deepen economic and trade cooperation between Changsha and Africa are not merely transactions but represent a foundation for fostering mutual understanding and strengthening cultural ties between nations.
Changsha’s commitment to Africa extends beyond economic cooperation. It serves as a vibrant hub where diverse cultures converge, providing opportunities for individuals like Boukete Grace and Onyebuchi Chiamaka Henrietta to interact, learn, and appreciate each other’s cultures. Through these exchanges, Changsha acts as a melting pot of ideas, fostering cross-cultural dialogue and promoting global harmony.
As Changsha prepares to host the third China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo, the city is poised to take its partnership with Africa to new heights. With 53 African countries, eight international organizations, and over 1,500 enterprises, associations, and financial institutions set to participate in the biennial event, Changsha aims to further advance high-quality economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa. As Boukete Grace eagerly awaits the expo, he envisions introducing his African compatriots to the delights of “Own Master” coffee shops, where they can savor authentic African coffee at discounted prices, cementing the cultural ties between Africa and Changsha.