China’s Hunan province brings cultural offerings to Kenya in Nairobi showcase

The landlocked south-central Chinese province of Hunan may be half a world away from Nairobi but on Thursday evening, a variety show organized by the province’s diaspora community in Kenya brought the sights and sounds of Hunan that much closer.

Scores of Chinese and Kenyan audience members packed the auditorium of Taifa Hall at the University of Nairobi to enjoy varied cultural and arts performances including comedy sketches, dance routines, operatic solos, martial arts demonstrations and traditional instrumental musical stylings.

The event was organized by a range of governmental and civil society organizations, including the Chinese embassy in Kenya, the Hunan Association of Kenya and a range of cultural organizations from Hunan Province. The showcase also enjoyed support from enterprises like China Southern Airlines, and the Hunan-based, East Africa-facing e-commerce company Kilimall. 

The aim was to give Chinese and Kenyan attendees alike a taste of the province’s unique cultural offerings. For the city’s sizable Hunanese migrant population, the performances were a source of nostalgia that made many feel closer to home.

“To be able to enjoy these cultural treats is a very special thing for those of us who are far from home,” said Xu Huanwen, longtime Nairobi resident and Secretary-General of the Hunan Association in Kenya. “Especially those of us with small children, because it gives them a chance to understand more about their roots, even though they are growing up in Kenya.”

But it wasn’t just Chinese young people who saw the performances as a window onto Chinese culture. Hilda Juma is an avid student of the Chinese language. 

The young University of Nairobi student even had the chance to travel to the northeastern port city of Tianjin last month to get a closer look at the country which had captured her imagination. “It was really cold because it was winter,” Juma recalls,”but we managed to survive the weather.”

Juma and her classmates also took to the stage at Thursday’s event to perform a choral rendition of Chinese-language songs they have learned as part of their studies.