BEIJING, Dec. 11, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — This year marks the 60th anniversary since China sent its first medical team to aid Algeria on April 6, 1963.
Over the past six decades, China has dispatched over 30,000 medical professionals to 76 countries and regions across the world. Currently, Chinese medical teams are working at 115 medical centers in 56 countries and regions around the world, most of which are in Africa.
Despite numerous difficulties and challenges, Chinese doctors working in Africa have persevered in their efforts to provide much-needed medical aid and services and forge new friendships with local residents. Now these touching stories of Chinese doctors and African people are reaching more people through the TV drama Welcome to Milele, which is currently airing on several TV channels and streaming sites in China.
The drama, which presents stories that have truly happened in Africa, was filmed in six locations across China and Tanzania, making it a rare large-scale international co-production for Chinese TV dramas.
The production team said the drama possesses a global vision, showcasing China’s humanitarian spirit on the world stage. Timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the series highlights the selfless dedication of Chinese medical teams serving in Africa.
A drama based on reality
Liang Zhenhua, chief scriptwriter and chief producer of the show, told the Global Times he picked the word "Milele" because it is the phonetic translation of the Swahili word for "forever," representing China’s commitment to foreign medical aid.
In the show, Milele Village serves as the medical team’s base, signifying both a permanent and warm promise from the Chinese people to their African friends.
Liang said he and some crew members participated in the project partly due to their medical and family backgrounds. They know the monumental significance carried by China’s international medical aid teams over the past 60 years.
From grand narratives to intricate details, the inspiration for the drama stems from the authenticity of real-life experiences. Liang emphasized the unprecedented dedication, saying the effort required was "equivalent to that of [producing] five regular dramas."
Acknowledging the challenges of presenting the themes in an engaging way for Chinese-African audiences, the scriptwriting team focused on crafting vibrant characters and integrating elements from both cultures.
According to Liang, the creative team carried out nearly one year of interviews with hundreds of Chinese medical professionals who have worked in Africa. The in-depth exploration involved visits to three medical teams, five hospitals at varying levels, and observation of over eight surgical procedures. Numerous interviews provided profound insights. The story underwent substantial modifications and enrichment based on this research, solidifying its foundation in realism.
For Liu Xin, a pediatrician with the First People’s Hospital of Zhenjiang City, Jiangsu Province, who was a member of the 30th China (Jiangsu) Medical Team to Tanzania’s Zanzibar, the drama was not only a TV show but a chance to look back at her unforgettable days in Zanzibar.
Liu worked at the Pemba Abdulla Mzee Hospital in Zanzibar from September 2020 to September 2021. The stories of her and other Chinese doctors aiding the country’s people constitute the prototype for the drama.
Although her mission in Zanzibar was completed several years ago, Liu can still remember every detail of her days in the hospital. One particular story involved the recovery of 21-month-old Slaum, who accidentally ingested organophosphorus pesticide.
On October 27, 2020, the day of Zanzibar’s elections, it was discovered that Slaum had accidentally drank a bottle of organophosphorus pesticide. As his condition was serious, a local hospital recommended that his parents transfer him to Abdulla Mzee Hospital, where the Chinese medical team worked. His parents did not waste one minute.
Overcoming a shortage of medicine as well as other difficulties, Liu and her colleagues exerted all efforts and finally saved Slaum. Two days later, the little boy could eat some porridge and play with his grandmother.
"During my days working at the Abdulla Mzee Hospital, I dealt with many similar emergencies and a couple of dangerous situations stemming from a lack of good equipment and medicine," said Liu. "Whenever I saw local children in danger, I would do my best to save them, always working together with local staff members and my teammates."
"Those moments of a child waking up from a deep coma or waving and smiling to say goodbye as they left the hospital were the happiest moments in my life. Those big, twinkling eyes looking up at me made all the struggle and hardship worth it," Liu noted, beaming with pride.
Welcome to Milele presents more stories of Chinese doctors like Liu, who have worked or are still working in Africa.
A chance to learn
For veteran actor Jin Dong, playing as the protagonist Ma Jia in the drama was a fresh experience.
"Over the years, I have consistently focused on acting in dramas with realistic themes, playing various professional roles in urban dramas such as lawyers, doctors, consultants, or judges," Jin told the Global Times. "However, I had never come into contact with a group of doctors dispatched overseas. It was only when I received the outline of the drama that I truly understood that over the past 60 years, our country has continuously sent 30,000 doctors to Africa and other places in the world to provide medical assistance. I was greatly shocked and touched."
Jin’s character Ma Jia is a doctor with great skill but also great pride. After failing to get a promotion and feeling frustrated, he chooses to escape by joining the medical aid team in Africa. During his work on the continent, he starts to grow as a person.
In order to better understand and present the character, Jin and the film crew conducted in-depth visits and research in Africa, during which they learned how the Chinese medical teams have greatly helped Tanzania and that the Chinese medical team often sacrificed their weekends off to provide free clinics in remote villages and saved many lives.
It can be said that 90 percent of people under 60 years old in the regions covered by the medical teams have received treatment from Chinese doctors, said Jin.
"Every time I take on a role, I always think about what I hope to present and convey through the character and the drama. This time, I approached the filming with a sense of mission. As artists, we have an obligation and responsibility to better spread the stories of the 30,000 doctors who have been continuously serving for the past 60 years," said Jin.
Jin said he also overcame many difficulties. Like the character Ma Jia, the first challenge Jin had to overcome in Tanzania was the language barrier. Although the sounds of Swahili are almost the same as Chinese and the pronunciation of certain words and sentences can be quickly learned without knowing their meaning, being able to perform lines and understand them are two different things so the language barrier did pose a significant obstacle during filming.
Jin said that he had to memorize the lines and sometimes didn’t even know what he was saying.
"But often, the greatest joy comes when you realize that you can speak Swahili after finishing the shooting," he noted.
The stay in Africa not only allowed Jin to learn more about Chinese doctors’ work and life on the continent, but also offered him a chance to learn more about Africa itself.
During breaks in filming, he also visited various corners of Tanzania as an ordinary tourist to understand and experience the local culture.
"When you are there, you will truly be amazed by the infinite power of nature in Africa. As the tourism and cultural ambassador of Tanzania, I sincerely invite everyone to visit Africa when you have the time. You will definitely be surprised by what you will gain," said Jin.
While the production organized a 178-member crew for on-location shooting in Africa, marking the largest-scale overseas filming project in Chinese television history, it also bore witness to the deep China–Africa friendship and become an opportunity for more cultural exchanges.
The governments of Tanzania and Zanzibar, along with various local departments in healthcare, security, transportation, cultural preservation, and tourism, demonstrated significant trust and assistance in facilitating the film shooting.
Zambian actor Kawawa Kadichi, who plays Ma Jia’s student, told the Global Times that he chose the project not only because of the BRI anniversary but also because his mother works in the medical industry. He also resonated with the character’s life as an African child who came to China to study and then returned to his home country.
The drama can be watched on YouTube with English subtitles, and Kadichi said he has received some compliments from his friends in Africa.
"They definitely know about it because Tanzania was one of the first countries that China went to in Africa for this whole project. So Tanzanians have been always grateful to China. Tanzania and Zambia have a rail line that was built by the Chinese people in the 1960s, and they have always showed their appreciation until today," he said.
In the future, the series will be translated into Swahili and broadcast on television stations in several African countries, including Tanzania, according to its chief scriptwriter Liang.