Chen Zhili: a successful example of international Chinese language promotion and Chinese-foreign cultural exchanges – to the 10th anniversary of the Confucius Institute

[Source]    Renmin Daily [Time]    2015-02-05 16:46:39 

On June 15, 2004, the then Chinese President Hu Jintao attended the signing ceremony of the first Confucius Institute – the Confucius Institute in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, marking the beginning of China’s lasting efforts to establish Confucius Institutes all around the globe.

Over the last decade, Confucius Institutes, with the objective of “enhancing foreigners’ understanding of Chinese language and culture, developing friendships between Chinese and foreign peoples, promoting the diversity of world culture and making contributions to a harmonious world”, have evolved into an important base to promote the Chinese language and Sino-foreign cultural exchanges through constant innovation, providing a new broad platform for people all over the world to study Chinese, gain insight into Chinese culture and deepen friendship with the Chinese people. None of this would transpire without the high concern of the CPC Central Committee and State Council, the great support of related sectors and departments or the concerted efforts of China and its partners. In his letter to express his congratulations on the 10th anniversary of the Confucius Institute and the first ever global “Confucius Institute Day”, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke highly of the Confucius Institutes’ achievements and said, “Confucius Institutes belong to China, and to the world as well.”

Confucius Institutes: history and development

Party and state leaders in China have always placed a premium upon the international promotion of Chinese language. In the early days of P.R.C., the farsighted older generation of proletarian revolutionists represented by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai already established higher education institutions that specialized in Chinese language teaching to speakers of other languages. These institutions offered undergraduate programs of Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (TCFL) and enrolled students from third world countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, which played a vital role in strengthening cooperation, communication and friendship between China and these countries.

Since the reform and opening up, China has been reinforcing its work of Chinese language teaching. In 1987, with the care and support of Deng Xiaoping and the approval of the State Council, the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (NOCFL) consisting of 11 departments of the State Council was established. As China opened wider to the outside world and achieved sustained and rapid economic growth, China’s international status was greatly improved and thus, the demand for Chinese learning was dramatically risen. However, back then the Chinese language teaching institutions were far from enough and their operational mode a bit outdated. In order to unravel this problem, the NOCFL decided to set up educational institutions overseas to promote Chinese in March 2003, which were later named the “Confucius Institute”. In 2004, the first Confucius Institute was officially opened.

The reasons why the institutes were named after Confucius basically include: a) Confucius was not only a great thinker and educator in ancient China but a universally recognized symbol of Chinese culture as well, so the name of Confucius will help the institutes gain popularity and enhance the influence worldwide; b) the close connection between the name of Confucius and Confucius’ deep thoughts and ideas on education makes “Confucius Institutes”, beyond any doubt, the best name choice; c) Confucius’ philosophies of “harmony is most precious” and “harmony without uniformity”, which stress coordination and inclusiveness, reflect the wish shared by all the Confucius Institutes around the globe of establishing a world of lasting peace and common prosperity; and d) Confucius Institutes, drawing on the language promoting experience from their counterparts like Germany’s Goethe-Institut and Spain’s Instituto Cervantes, could be easily understood and accepted by people.

In line with the laws and in tune with the times, Confucius Institutes have been proven to be able to thrive on five continents in the last decade.

-- Confucius Institutes are booming all over the world. Up to the end of September 2014, 465 Confucius Institutes and 713 Confucius Classrooms have had been established in altogether 123 different countries (including these 25 countries that have not established diplomatic relations with China) and regions with some three million registered students, and over one million people who have taken the HSK test. Confucius Institutes have revved up the “Chinese Language Fever” on a global scale. Today, more than 100 million people are studying Chinese worldwide.

-- A team of high-quality Chinese language teachers has been formed. Confucius Institutes have always attached great importance to the training and cultivation of Chinese language teachers. The Confucius Institute Headquarters has made rules and regulations such as The Regulations of Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban) on Dispatched Chinese Teacher Management, The Methods for Annual Assessment of Chinese Teachers Dispatched by Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), Provisional Methods for the Construction of Confucius Institutes’ Full Time Chinese Language Teachers and Standards for Teachers of Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages. In 2014, Confucius Institutes and Classrooms around the world have a total of 29,000 full- and part-time Chinese and local teachers (of whom 70 percent are local teachers), which basically meets the need of local residents to study Chinese.

-- A relatively complete system of Chinese teaching materials has taken shape. The Confucius Institute Headquarters has compiled a series of Chinese language textbooks and books on Chinese culture, most of which are integrated with modern multi-media technology. For instance, it has developed the audio textbook of Everyday Chinese in 38 different languages, My Chinese Picture Dictionary and Great Wall Chinese in multiple languages; it has adapted and translated such textbooks as Chinese Paradise, KUAILE HANYU, Learn Chinese with Me, Contemporary Chinese and New Practical Chinese Reader in 45 languages; it has authored new textbooks like New Concept Chinese, A Good Man in China and Confucius Animation Reading Materials; it has completed the translation of Common Knowledge about Chinese History, Common Knowledge about Chinese Geography and Common Knowledge about Chinese Culture into 30 languages and Roads to the World into 10 languages; and it has finished the Guidelines for CLT Materials Development to help other countries to compile their own local Chinese language teaching materials. Up to the end of 2012, 119 Confucius Institutes have developed 332 kinds of Chinese language materials, which have met the needs of students of all ages to study Chinese.

-- Confucius Institutes offer various courses and flexible teaching methods. Confucius Institutes target not only primary and middle schools and universities but also communities and enterprises. They provide Chinese language teaching services, and offer Chinese culture courses on Peking opera, martial arts, traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese tea ceremony, Chinese songs and dances and Chinese cuisine as well. Therefore, Confucius Institutes succeed in meeting the diverse and multilevel needs of students to the maximum by using their own distinctive features to their advantage. In addition, Confucius Institute Online offers high-quality learning resources to students worldwide and establishes for them a multilingual Study Center to hold various featured cultural activities. Radio and TV Confucius Institutes provide students with audio, video and other multimedia learning materials, which are well-received among them.

Through the last ten years’ efforts, Confucius Institutes have succeeded in shifting their focus from simple Chinese language teaching to all-round Chinese language international promotion, from “inviting foreign learners to come to China” to “going out to teach Chinese worldwide”, from mere professional Chinese language teaching to a more approachable, easy-to-understand and practical teaching service, from cooperation with only a few schools to language promotion with internal and external forces jointly involved, from an operational mode with government administration as the leading force to a market-oriented one with the government serving as the propeller, and from paper textbook-based face-to-face teaching to diversified teaching based on multimedia and the Internet.

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