Remarks by Ambassador Liu Xiaoming at the UK Preliminary Event for the Ninth "Chinese Bridge" Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students
Judges and contestants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to attend the UK Preliminary Event for the Ninth "Chinese Bridge" Competition. I would like to thank the LSE for its thoughtful arrangements for today’s contest.
I came to London two weeks ago on February 28. This is the first public event I ever attended in the UK. It may be coincidental that my public diplomacy here should start with an event about mandarin learning in Britain, but in a way it is quite natural, too.
Before coming here, I saw in a Chinese TV show a British young man speaking perfect mandarin. He has a funny Chinese name: "Da Niu" or big ox. I later learned that he is from Cheltenham in southwest England, and his English name is Daniel Newham. As a TV presenter and even co-starring in cross-talks with famous Chinese comedians, he became something of a celebrity in China attracting many fans.
In my brief time in London so far, I thought I found the roots of Da Niu’s passion for Chinese in the mandarin fever that seems to be emerging in the UK. I learned that Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivered Chinese New Year greetings to all British Chinese in Cantonese. His elder son John is learning about the Chinese New Year in school and the Prime Minister disclosed that he learned something about Chinese new year from John.
There are now 12 Confucius institutes, 31 Confucius classrooms in the UK and over a hundred teachers, volunteers and teaching assistants from China. With the support of the UK government, the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), is planning a Confucius classroom programme covering all primary schools in England.
I am very pleased to know that the number of contestants for this year’s "Chinese Bridge" Competition has increased more than 50%. 20 high-level contestants from 12 British universities have gained their places in this contest through intense competition.
I cannot but reflect on the popularity of mandarin learning in the UK, what is motivating this choice to learn Chinese, and the priority both the Chinese and British governments place on mandarin promotion in the UK. There may be different explanations for this. And as far as I can say, this may have a lot to do with the cultural and historical traditions of our two countries, which set store by language learning.
Language is an important skill for the 21st century, which is one of globalization and interdependence. Acquiring a new language means mastering additional skills in communication and leads to more opportunities for career development. A recent survey of the Confederation of British Industry shows that 38% of employers in the UK are seeking to employ mandarin speakers. The demand is expected to rise further along with the growth of the Chinese economy and flourishing business ties between our two countries.
Language is a key to a door. It is not just a system of symbols, but also the most important carrier of cultural messages and all that is quintessentially part of that culture. As Samuel Johnson said, "Language is the dress of thought", "words are but signs of ideas". The Chinese civilisation of 5,000 years is the only continuous one among the four ancient civilizations. Much can be attributed to the invention and wide use of written characters of Chinese language. Learning mandarin is like opening the door to Chinese culture. One can gain much insight into the Chinese people’s way of life, behaviour, values, national psychology and character as well as the contributing factors for China’s economic and social transformation in the past decades.
Language is a bridge of friendship between different countries and nations. With more than 30 years of reform and opening up, China has seen historic changes in its relations with the world. China is committed to peaceful coexistence, win-win cooperation, mutual learning and integration with other countries. At the same time, it feels strongly about the diversity of civilizations. We believe that China and the West need to seek harmony in diversity. We need to enhance mutual understanding through greater knowledge about each other’s language and culture. Only in this way will the world be a more harmonious and better place.
Alongside the mandarin fever in the UK, there is a UK study fever in China. There are now about 100,000 Chinese students in the UK. Whichever university you go to in the UK, you will most likely come across Chinese students. Over 100 pairs of sister relationships have been set up between our universities to strengthen teaching and research cooperation and jointly develop high-level talents. The education authorities of the two countries have established a mechanism of regular meetings and signed a number of agreements on mutual recognition of academic degrees and strengthening exchanges and cooperation. China-UK cooperation in education has become a major contributor and a highlight in our overall relations.
The China-UK partnership has gone beyond the bilateral scope and is taking on strategic and global significance. The Chinese government attaches much importance to its relations with the UK and is committed to promoting exchanges and cooperation in all areas with the UK. We should strengthen mutual interest, properly handle differences and elevate our relations to new levels, which serves the interest of our peoples and peace and prosperity of the world.
I sincerely hope that more and more British friends will find it interesting and necessary to start learning mandarin, if you have not already done so. I am sure you will find it helpful to better understand China. Hopefully you will be able to act as envoys of China-UK friendship as well as participants and facilitators in the cooperation between our two countries.
The Chinese Embassy in the UK will continue to support mandarin learning in the UK as well as the exchanges and cooperation between our schools and universities. We do hope more of you will go to study in China one day.
In conclusion, I wish all the contestants best of luck and I wish the Ninth "Chinese Bridge" Competition a success.
With great pleasure, I now announce the start of the Contest.
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