How An African Teacher Became A Star In China


Beninese teacher Maurice Gountin spent 10 years in China mastering the Chinese language and he became a TV star there, but he gave it all up to return to his native Benin.

Gountin now teaches Chinese at Benin’s Confucius Institute of Université d’Abomey-calavi and at the Chinese Cultural Center in Benin, according to his LinkedIn page.

He looks back at his years in China as “the most glorious” in his life, he told ShanghaiDaily.

While he was in China, Gountin became interested in crosstalk, a traditional Chinese comic routine usually done in the form of a dialogue between two performers.

Chinese is rich in puns and allusions, and crosstalk is delivered in a rapid, bantering style. It’s one of China’s most popular performing arts. Canadian crosstalk comedian Dashan (Mark Rowswell) says the closest equivalent in English would be Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” sketch, according to Wikipedia.

Gountin said he studied the traditional Chinese art purely out of interest and never expected to become a star. He was popular with at least 300 million Chinese TV viewers, according to ShanghaiDaily.

Gountin went to China in 1998 and studied Chinese language and culture at Renmin University. He earned a doctorate from the university and fell in love with traditional Chinese folk arts. Cross talk and Beijing opera were among his favorites.

In 2000, Gountin and one of his classmates prformed crosstalk at a party held for foreign students in Beijing and his talent impressed Ding Guangquan, a famous Chinese crosstalk artist who offered to teach him.

Gountin gained popularity as a crosstalk star but eventually returned home to Cotonou in 2008 due to “personal reasons and homesickness.”

He doesn’t regret returning to Benin and his  job teaching Chinese is a bridge between the two cultures, he said.

One of lessons he said he learned in China was the value of patriotism, loving one’s own culture, and a good plan for life.

“Chinese people do not expect miracles from heaven,” Gountin said. “They are forewarned persons and they make predictions for the future.”

Gountin said he hopes to play a larger role in China-Africa relations through the publication of his research results working with youth.


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