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“The Chinese would finish the Gran Vía roadworks in 48 hours”

Dawei Ding is the founder of China FM, the first radio station in Europe that broadcasts in Mandarin Chinese 24 hours a day

Dawei Ding at the China FM studio in Madrid.
Dawei Ding at the China FM studio in Madrid.

Tune into 92.9FM on any radio in Madrid, and you’ll hear Mandarin Chinese being spoken 24 hours a day. The station’s name is simple: China FM. Understanding it, not so much for non-speakers of Mandarin: China FM’s target audience is the community of 171,906 Chinese nationals who live in the Madrid region.

The man behind this station is 32-year-old Dawei Ding, who arrived in the Spanish capital in 2010 as a correspondent for People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. Before coming to Spain, he studied International Relations and Spanish Studies in Beijing.

Question. What time do you say good morning?

Answer. We start with a news bulletin between 8.30 and 9am.

Q. You’re not early risers then…

A. Chinese stores and restaurants open at 9.30 or 10am. Bear in mind that these businesses close very late.

One of my dreams is to build a true Chinese quarter in Madrid

Q. What’s the first program?

A. The gasoline of life. You have to start the day with energy, with your batteries charged.

Q. That’s a great name.

A. Yes. Today we were talking about proposed legislation so that the 12,000 Chinese students living in Spain can have another year of resident status.

Q. Do you also talk about Franco and Catalonia?

A. Of course. Our listeners don’t understand why Franco has to be exhumed if he’s been buried for so many years. With Catalonia, our editorial line is clear: no to independence.

Q. Do you know Andreu Buenafuente?

A. Who?

The main problem we have here is that the Chinese don’t work with Spanish companies

Q. A Spanish TV host who was saying the other day that he was in a Spanish taxi with China FM playing.

A. We have a lot of listeners. On Spanish radio I like Carlos Herrera and Pepa Bueno. In life and in journalism you have to avoid extremism.

Q. But there’s a bit of that in China, right?

A. The Chinese political system is not a Western one, it has Chinese characteristics. My country is not the way that people think. If you go on the internet you can see people voicing their opinion about the pollution in Beijing and other things like that.

Q. But you can’t beat the pollution in Madrid…

A. No way, this is nothing! What my countrymen don’t understand is the amount of time it is taking to carry out the roadworks on [Madrid’s main thoroughfare] Gran Vía. How can that be? It’s the city center! We would have done it in 48 hours.

Q. When you get to work, you get to work…

A. [Laughs] People have too many stereotypes – that Chinese products are bad, that we copy everything, that we don’t pay taxes. I wish! All of that is down to the media.

Q. Right.

A. The main problem we have here is that the Chinese don’t work with Spanish companies. The majority create their own business with a loan, and that has to be paid back. That’s why they are open all day. Later the family grows and the second generation is more integrated.

Q. And they’ll listen to your radio station.

A. There’s a team of 12 journalists. We interact a great deal with listeners via WeChat [the Chinese version of WhatsApp]. They are too shy to call in to the show by phone, which is why they send us messages during the programs. I host an interview program that’s called Frente a Frente, but we also have shows about history, music, humor and wine with a fantastic winemaker.

Q. Do you play Spanish music?

A. Of course! We usually put on three or four Chinese songs, one Spanish song and one English song. We love Alejandro Sanz. We want to create a global China FM network. Wherever there are Chinese people, China FM will be there.

Q. Well there’s a lot.

A. [Laughs] We have a lot of advertising. To start with, Spanish companies didn’t understand how we worked. I would say to them, ‘Give me the text with what you want to convey, and we will adapt it to Chinese tastes, because if we translate it literally, our listeners won’t understand it.’

Q. Is that down to Chinese tastes?

A. Yes, for example, with cars. I like the ad for ‘Canal Car,’ which just says we will buy your car because it’s very efficient. You have to be direct.

Q. Very direct.

A. One of my dreams is to build a true Chinese quarter in Madrid. It could be in [the southern neighborhood] Usera, but we’d have to change a lot. I’d like to see a Chinatown like the ones in London or Buenos Aires.

Q. You love Madrid, right?

A. I’d like to die here. My mother-in-law lives here now, my daughter was born here and my wife works at the university. We’re very well integrated.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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