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China’s Great Wall: Lessons to Malawi, Africa

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 “If you haven’t been to the Great Wall, you aren’t a real man”- Mao Zedong, People’s Republic of China first chairman (president).

Thousands of people trek to different sections of The Great Wall. The Badaling section is one of the most visited areas.

On a Saturday, the young, the middle-aged and the old are seen walking on top of the wall. Obviously, as a weekend, they are supposed to go out for a breather after a week of hard work. But to people at the place, it is the same every day.

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Millions of Chinese nationals and foreigners visit the Great Wall every year.

Possibly, as per Mao’s inspiration, some want to become real men and women. Others want to become real while they are still young. But a possibility of renewing their strength as real men and women cannot be completely ruled out.

No matter what stories are attached to the Great Wall, one thing which is clear is that its historical importance to China cannot be underrated. Its importance to tourism of the country is something that is seen by all.

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A defensive fortification of ancient China, the Great Wall, has become a must-go place for many.

The wall goes across China’s many provinces and cities. It is one of the 10 wonders of the world and it was listed on the world cultural heritage in December 1987.

It was first built in Western Zhou Dynasty and it was continuously being built by following dynasties. It was completed by the Ming Dynasty and what is seen today is the Ming’s Great Wall.

Samson Phiri of Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Jacob Nankhonya of Nation Publications Limited (NPL) were among 32 information officials and journalists from English-speaking countries who recently were on a two-week visit to China.

The Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China through the Centre of China International Publishing Group (CIPG) organised the seminar.

Phiri says Malawi can draw a lot of lessons from how the Chinese are organised in the tourism sector.

“Malawians have for a long time been encouraged to visit tourist attraction centres. But that is not happening. My visit to the Great Wall has enlightened me that most of the people who are visiting the place are the Chinese themselves. They are even paying for the services that are there. These people hire taxis, pay for food there. Revenue is being generated at the Great Wall,” he says.

According to recorded information, The Great Wall has been visited by more than 300 leaders in the world including former US presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Phiri says for Malawi to attract tourists, they should draw lessons from the Chinese.

“We have to lead the way in appreciating our centres of tourist attraction. We have Lake Malawi, Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art in Dedza, Mwala wa Mphini in Mangochi and Mulanje Mountain. There are many places. From what I have seen, the investment that has been put in historical sites in China as well as culture is huge. Most of such places are highly patronised,” he says.

One thing noted is that there are good roads and enough resources, both human and material to make visits to such places simple.

Phiri urges government to do more in promoting visits to Malawi’s tourist attraction sites.

“Government, has to make an extra effort in as far as investment in tourism is concerned. Malawians should also show passion because if we have a lot of them patronising tourist centres, it will ignite an interest from foreigners to also have a look at some of the attractions we have in the country.”

Themba Mandla Thobela, who works for Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS) in South Africa says as per Chinese belief, he is thrilled to have become a real man, by going to the Great Wall.

“For me to manage to climb the Great Wall, it was great. I felt I achieved something so big because the Chinese regard the Great Wall as something as their initiation that it is only real men and women who can climb the Great Wall,” Thobela says.

But Thobela’s narration is something more than just reaching far in his walk on the wall.

“Since this is a centre of tourist attraction, they try to raise funds. I got the medal at 30 Yuan, which is about 60 Rands in my currency. I also bought a book that details the entire history of the Great Wall at 100 Yuan, about 200 Rands. I will be glad to share such things to the future generation: That I was at the Great Wall,” he adds.

He advises African countries to do more on celebrating historical monuments.

“I’m not saying we are not celebrating them. We need to publicise them more. When you talk about the Great Wall, almost everyone knows about it. But if I talk about one monument in South Africa, if you have never been to South Africa, you will ask me: In which country is that? We need to do better on that. The media should play an important role in communicating such information,” Thobela says.

Temitope Oluwatoyin Ponle, who like Thobela made a significant distance on the wall, encourages African countries to do more on tourism, just as the Chinese are doing.

“Africans must celebrate their culture. From what I have seen here, the Chinese celebrate their culture. We have been told that most of the tourists are locals. When they are on holiday, they visit such sites. They are able to tell their stories and celebrate their heritage, celebrate their culture. It’s something which Africa should also celebrate. We have a very rich cultural heritage, we do not tell our own culture. We don’t tell our stories well enough,” she says.

She believes good packaging of Africa’s rich cultural heritage and an improvement in tourist attraction sites will perform wonders.

“We can do something in tourism in Africa. It’s just a matter of packaging these things and sell them to the rest of the world. That is all we should do. We should also package our history. Tell a story behind it. The world would want to know about it. It would be good for us and it will also promote our economy,” she says.

With tourism in Malawi only associated with the slogan: ‘Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa’, possibly, in future, someone will coin strong statements that will attract more tourists to the country such as ‘If you haven’t been to Sapitwa, you are not a great man’ or ‘if you haven’t been to Lake Malawi, you are not a human being’ or ‘if you have not been to Nyika National Park, you are not yet a Malawian’.

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