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She is the one

Updated: 2014-01-17 11:06
By Chen Yingqun ( China Daily Africa)

 She is the one

Debucada Sanca made such an impression on TV that she has been appointed a cultural envoy between Africa and China. Kuang Linhua / China Daily

 She is the one

Sanca, the first African woman to appear on the dating show, If You Are the One. Provided to China Daily

An African woman captivates all of china on a tv dating show - and gets her man

Having probably done more for the image of African women in China than anyone previously, Debucada Sanca is now putting her newfound fame to good use by promoting cultural and business ties between nations.

When the 24-year-old student from Guinea-Bissau became the first African woman to appear on China's most popular TV dating show If You Are the One last April, viewers assumed she was poor and seeking a rich husband, and doubted her chances as well as her motives.

But with her quick repartee - in fluent Chinese - and her outspoken confidence, she has not only won the heart of a very eligible suitor, but the hearts of a whole nation, who know her as their "African princess".

Millions tune in each weekend to watch the show, in which 24 female guests line up to select one of five bachelors. They can dismiss the man immediately or, if interested in a beau, vie with each other girl to quiz and test him, and if satisfied, pick him.

Some women tend to be more interested in the man's financial assets than his physical ones or any other talent, but Sanca wrong-footed everybody's expectations with her deep, direct and discerning approach.

With many Chinese men under great pressure to buy property and cars prior to marriage, her attitude was refreshingly romantic.

"I think what a woman fights for is not material things, but a valuable thing - love," she says. "I won't ask for any property or cars, which are unnecessary. I'm a capable woman. We may not have these things at first, but we will, through our hard work."

So impressive was she at handling prickly questions and connecting with the compere and other guests - all in the local parlance - that some questioned whether she was a plant hired by the program to give the show extra zip and increase ratings, and that her dialogue was pre-scripted.

"I'm not that boring," she counters. "I don't need anyone to tell me what to do. I know what I want, and how to handle my life.

"I went on If You Are the One genuinely to meet the right people. People didn't know me, but when they see the program, they know what I'm like."

She is the one

Zhang Jianqi, a 30-year-old regular viewer of the dating show, says that compared with some of the Chinese women on the show, Sanca was more straightforward and real.

"She didn't put on airs and graces," he says. "She answered back wittily when attacked, she argues wisely when she was challenged and she cried when she was moved."

Zhang remembers being most impressed when someone suggested Sanca was just there to net a rich Chinese husband, and she retorted: "I'm capable of raising your whole family."

"I think she's changed some people's impression about Africans to some extent," Zhang says.

Sanca stayed on If You Are the One for an entertaining eight months - until she left last month with Geng Chen, a 32-year-old former Beijing tourist guide, now co-owner of a small finance company.

"She has a great personality. She is candid, real, smart and funny," Geng says of his match.

In Guinea-Bissau, Sanca says, most women have to focus on family and become housewives, but she is for equality of the sexes in a relationship and being a career woman. So she was looking for a partner who was older than her, a mature and honest character.

"Love transcends borders and I think Chinese men are some of the best in the world," she says. "When I came to China, I saw many men carry handbags for their girlfriends and wives on the street, which is very considerate and is hardly seen in my country."

There were many considerate Chinese men, who would be ideal candidates for a relationship, she believed. Unfortunately, they were hard to find at Heilongjiang University in Harbin, Northeast China, where she was a postgraduate student majoring in economics - and so she applied for the dating show.

Born in Bissau, capital city of Guinea-Bissau, Sanca won a college scholarship to study overseas in 2009. She chose China over the United States or Canada.

"Before I came to China, all I knew about it was from the kung fu movies, so I thought it could prove very interesting," she says.

A French and English speaker, Sanca spent her first year in Beijing learning Chinese before going to Heilongjiang University. For the first month, she was homesick and afraid she would not adapt to her new environment.

"But coming to China was the best decision I've made," she says.

Sanca's grandfather is the chief of a local tribe, her father is an economist, her mother a lawyer, and her five sisters and brothers are either studying or working outside Africa. She says she has been raised to be independent.

Now she is hoping for a start in the real estate business once she finishes university this summer. Her main dilemma is where to start - in Beijing, where a relative and her new boyfriend Geng live, or in Shanghai, the financial center.

Meanwhile, with her current celebrity and having previously carried out voluntary work for the China-Africa Business Council, she has become a cultural envoy between China and Africa. She was awarded the title of China-Africa Youth Friendship Envoy by the council last year to help Chinese entrepreneurs communicate with African countries, and understand the various cultures.

Bai Xiaofeng, head of the international communication department of the council, says Sanca's work helps change people's understanding about Africa.

"She is very familiar with ordinary people's lives and values in China, she understands Africa well and she is good at communicating," he says. "She has helped us a lot. We also hope more African young people can help us learn about their countries."

Sanca says that a closer relationship between China and Africa offers more opportunities for young Africans, like her, of a future in China.

She is a hard act to follow, but right after she left the show, another African girl took her place.

"We may see more young Africans in China," Sanca says. "As long as they work hard, I think they can realize their dreams."

She also calls for more support from China for education in Africa, where illiteracy rates are still high.

"Many people in Africa have no access to education, because resources are scarce. If China could help with that and support the cultivation of talent, that would be more effective than giving out money," she says.

However, Sanca's fame in China does have some drawbacks. Now, wherever she goes, people recognize her, ask for autographs and photos, and even repeat some of her memorable quotes from the show.

"I didn't expect the fame and popularity the dating show would bring me," she says, relaxing at a hotel in Beijing. "It is a double-edged-sword - I've got chances to meet more friends and widen my horizons, but I also lose some privacy."


(China Daily Africa Weekly 01/17/2014 page28)

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