TV medical series is a tonic for viewers

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, December 12, 2023
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When the team of creators behind the TV series Welcome to Milele arrived at the residence of a Chinese medical team dispatched from Jiangsu province on Pemba Island in Tanzania last December, they stumbled upon an old pamphlet in a room used for storing items left by previously deployed medical personnel.

Within the pages were two lines excerpted from a renowned poem written by Gao Shi during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The words offer solace to a talented and ambitious traveler, encouraging him to bravely face an uncertain future in a distant land and wishing that he earn recognition there.

"The pamphlet was left behind by a doctor from Jiangsu province around 17 years ago. When our scriptwriter came across the handwritten words, she was moved to tears," recounts director Jin Ye, during an interview with China Daily.

The moment has become one of the most cherished memories for Jin and his fellow creators, who conducted interviews with more than 100 Chinese medical workers dispatched to foreign countries and regions, recorded 1,000 hours of video footage, and delved into extensive paper archives.

As a tribute to mark the 60th anniversary since China began to send its first medical team to a foreign country in 1963, the TV drama has been broadcast domestically since Nov 21, and is scheduled to be translated into Swahili for release in Tanzania.

Also marking the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, the project was overseen by the National Radio and Television Administration, and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Health Commission and the Beijing Municipal Radio and Television Bureau.

The drama follows a talented yet conceited surgeon's decision to join a Chinese medical team to Africa after experiencing setbacks in his life. Despite facing challenges like cultural differences and harsh conditions, he gradually falls in love with the distant land, working hard with fellow doctors as they dedicate themselves to saving lives and forming deep friendships with local residents.

For Jin, a veteran director who has worked in the television industry for more than two decades, Welcome to Milele marks his first time shooting such a large-scale TV series overseas.

"I had the experience of filming two TV dramas, one in Australia and the other in Japan, each with a small crew comprising several dozen members. However, for Welcome to Milele, we assembled a team of more than 170 individuals. Although we worried about some uncertainties, the entire process was smoother than expected," says Jin.

After being invited by Liang Zhenhua, the drama's head writer and supervising producer, to helm the project, the director, alongside nine other people — including several scriptwriters and a director of photography — embarked on their first trip to Africa, which took place between early December last year and January.

They were divided into two teams, respectively aimed at selecting filming locations and handling procedural issues such as applying for equipment transportation, and interviewing Chinese medical teams to seek inspiration.

As most of the Chinese doctors are required to work at local hospitals for two years on regular shifts, they were quite willing to share plenty of funny stories, recalls Jin.

After seeking inspiration from more than 30 Chinese medical teams dispatched to other African countries, including Mali, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, as well as conversations with local Chinese entrepreneurs, the script took form earlier this year, and filming was conducted between April and August.

Recruiting more than 1,400 foreign actors, the film was shot domestically in Hainan and Zhejiang provinces and in the archipelago of Zanzibar and the city of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The Arusha National Park and the Serengeti National Park — landmarks of Tanzania — also feature in the TV series.

Around 100 scenes are inspired by real-life cases, such as African patients preferring to take acupuncture as a form of treatment and Chinese doctors growing vegetables in their own yards to increase options for the dining table.

As China and Tanzania have had a decades-long friendship since the two countries established diplomatic relations in the early 1960s, the TV series has gained a lot of support from Tanzanian authorities. For instance, they once filmed a plot line about Chinese doctors urgently shifting a patient struggling with cerebral malaria to a larger hospital, but unfortunately being hampered by a traffic jam caused by a marathon race with 10,000 runners.

The scene, which recruited around 1,200 extras and used 100 vehicles, was shot at a busy crossroads in Zanzibar. Jin recalls the crew had obtained permits in advance from authorities, including public security and tourism. The police officer who was in charge was helpful and friendly, and the local actors were also supportive, he adds.

The TV series features acclaimed actors Jin Dong and Zu Feng, along with actress Zhang Yuqi, in the roles of doctors. Additionally, the cast includes Kawawa Kadichi, a Zambian actor who speaks fluent Mandarin with a slight Shaanxi accent, portraying the protagonist's student.

The crew also built an "African hospital", covering an area of 7,000 square meters, and two "villages" for shooting in Wanning in South China's Hainan province, and made 100,000 props and 10,000 costumes.

Interestingly, the TV series uses the names of actual Chinese doctors deployed to Africa for some of its characters. Examples include Chang Lai, a surgeon from Taixing in Jiangsu province, who was dispatched to Tanzania, and Sun Shuang, a respiratory physician of traditional Chinese medicine from Hunan province, who was assigned to Zimbabwe, according to Liang.

He also mentioned that Milele, a fictional village in the title of the drama where the protagonist and his fellow medical team members reside, is inspired by the Swahili word for "forever", as he wishes to convey a lasting friendship between China and Africa.

According to the National Health Commission, China has deployed more than 30,000 medical personnel to 76 countries and regions, helped with the establishment of more than 130 medical and healthcare facilities, and provided medical care to nearly 300 million patients over the past 60 years.

Citing the statistics, Liang says that creators of the television drama view it as both a responsibility and a mission to depict the determination and dedication of Chinese doctors, particularly after all their experience in Africa, gaining a profound understanding of the efforts of generations of Chinese medical teams to assist local patients, as well as the sentiments of Africans toward the Chinese.

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