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Booming Confucius institutes enhance China's soft power
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2008-11-05 13:33

Back in the fall of 2003, a student at the University of Rohode Island circulated a petition for the university to offer Chinese language classes. Some 300 students signed the petition.

Four years later when Xu Lin, a senior Chinese educational official, visited New York, President of the University of Rhode Island Robert L. Carothers drove for hours to Xu's hotel and requested a meeting.

The president got all the documents ready and wanted to persuade Xu into signing right there the papers on setting up a Confucius Institute, a Chinese language and culture learning institution, at his university.

"Do you want to know our terms first?" Xu asked.

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the 2008 International Confucius Cultural Festival in Qufu, east China's Shandong Province, Sept. 27, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

"No, we have studied that many times and totally agree with your terms," Carothers answered.

The meeting ended with a contract on the project, and that was how the Confucius Institute came to this U.S. university.

The story just offers a glimpse into the rising popularity of the Confucius Institute in the United States and other parts of the world.

Before the 1970s, Chinese language education in the United States were confined to Chinatowns and Chinese communities across the country.

However, since China adopted a policy of reform and opening-up in 1978 and forged diplomatic ties with the United States in 1979,there has been increasing demand for the study of Chinese culture and language in the States after a long separation between the two countries.

This is illustrated by the rapid growth of Beijing-based Confucius Institute in the United States.

The Institute, headquartered in Beijing and sponsored by China's National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, has not only offered a place for Americans to learn Chinese, but also serves as a platform to help the two peoples better understand each other.

Since the opening of the first Confucius Institute in the United States at the University of Maryland in 2004, more than 40 such institutes have been set up across the country.

The New York Confucius Institute has a class for preschool children, while the one in Chicago offered special learning sessions to Chinese children adopted by U.S. citizens.

Yong Zhao, director of the Confucius Institute at the Michigan State University, devised an online game for his students to learn Chinese and attracted many young learners.

An artist performs during the sacrificing ceremony to Confucius at the Confucian Temple in Qufu, east China's Shandong Province, September 28, 2008. The aunnal grand sacrificing ceremony to Confucius was held in the hometown of Confucius on Sunday, to mark the 2559th birthday of the supremely esteemed Sage. This year's sacrificing ceremony emphasizes one of the Confucian spirits "the benevolent love the others, constantly strive for self-improvement". Confucius (551BC-479BC) was a great thinker, statesman and educator during the Spring and Autumn Period (770BC-476BC) in ancient China, whose thought exerted great influence on Chinese people as well as people in other Asian countries during the past 2500-plus years. (Xinhua/Fan Changguo)

An artist performs during the sacrificing ceremony to Confucius at the Confucian Temple in Qufu, east China's Shandong Province, September 28, 2008. (Xinhua/Fan Changguo)

To help kids living in remote mountain areas to learn Chinese, the Confucius Institute at the University of Kansas established a remote-learning class.

Some residents there told the media that without the Confucius Institute, a U.S. kid living in those mountain areas can hardly have a chance to learn Chinese.

The Institute has successfully narrowed the gap between China and these U.S. kids, they said.

As more and more top U.S. universities have vied with one another to open Confucius institutes on their campus, scholars and government officials have joined the ordinary people to learn the Chinese language and culture.

Liu Quanshen, director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Maryland, told Xinhua that many of the students at his institute are government employees.

"It is a strong indication that the Confucius Institute has reached the mainstream society of the United States," he said.

U.S. scholar Joseph Nye, who initiated the concept of "soft power," said the expansion of Confucius Institute indicates the rise of China's soft power since it opened to the outside world.

Observers here noted that China's development over the last three decades is probably one of the most successful development story in history, with its success far beyond the economic sphere.

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