Thursday, December 12, 2013, 07:46
Join our hands to develop the Confucius Institutes
By Liu Yandong

Editor’s Note: The 8th Confucius Institute Conference was held in Beijing from December 7 to 8, 2013. Liu Yandong, vice-premier of the State Council of China and chair of the Council of Confucius Institute Headquarters, attended the opening ceremony and delivered a speech which is presented here in full.

Dear Delegates:

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends:

Good Morning!

Chinese and foreign delegates from Confucius Institutes across the world are assembled here today for the grand opening of the 8th Confucius Institute Conference. I share your delight and excitement. Today happens to be the “Great Snow” on the Chinese lunar calendar. As the proverb goes, a heavy snowfall is indicative of a year of bumper harvest. This is a sign that the great cause of Confucius Institutes will be even more flourishing, and the people-to-people exchanges between China and other nations will be more productive. Here, on behalf of Chinese government and Confucius Institute Headquarters, I would like to extend our warmest welcome and greetings to friends all over the world.

I returned from my visit to the United States and Ethiopia just one week ago. When I was in the US, I co-chaired the 4th round of China-US High Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange with US Secretary of State John Kerry. A series of new programs has been identified for further exchanges, and the continued support to Confucius Institutes features prominently on the list. I also visited the Confucius Institute at George Washington University. I was impressed by its beautiful facilities and the eagerness of young students there to learn Chinese. When I was in Ethiopia, I visited the Addis Ababa Confucius Institute and felt in person how the local people were opening their arms to this new Institute. The highlight was my meeting with President Mulatu Teshome. As part of our friendly and extensive discussions, he recounted in fluent Chinese his days as a student at Peking University and Beijing Language and Culture University. I was pleasantly surprised and profoundly touched.

Over the last few years, I have been to over 20 Confucius Institutes. Wherever I went, I could feel the strong emotional bond that ties the local communities with the Confucius Institute. With the growing presence of the Confucius Institutes, seeds of communication, understanding, harmony and friendship are sowed. They have taken root and now are blossoming and yielding fruits. Chinese language and culture are introduced to countries of the world and in turn their languages and cultures have also found a ready audience in China. Splendid chapters are being written in the book of people-to-people exchanges between China and the world.

With the concerted effort of Chinese and foreign partners, Confucius Institutes enjoyed laudable achievements in the past year, especially in four aspects. 1). The formulation and execution of the mid and long-term plan. The Confucius Institute Development Plan (2012-2020) was published on the basis of extensive consultation with Chinese and foreign sides, laying out the overall goals and priorities over the mid and long terms. So far, Confucius Institutes around the world have drafted or finalized their own development plan and are making encouraging progress as they go along to implement it. 2). New breakthroughs in building teaching faculties. The Headquarters has been supporting a number of overseas universities in establishing an academic major in teaching Chinese language. Funding has been extended to over 80 Confucius Institutes to create head teacher positions. Foreign students coming to China on Confucius Institute Scholarships have been screened and selected to be assigned back to their home country as Chinese language teachers, opening up a new avenue for local faculty development. Also in the past year, 300 Chinese full-time teachers have been selected for assignment worldwide. The number of teachers sent by Chinese side has increased. By all account, the number of teachers at Confucius Institutes, sent from China or retained locally, full-time or part-time increased by 43%, exceeding the annual target set in the Development Plan. 3). The launch of Confucius China Studies Program. As an initiative designed to raise Confucius Institutes’ sophistication and academic influence, the Program recruited 70 young scholars from 30 countries as doctoral candidates in China in humanities or social sciences. The Program characterized by its “open door policy” allows students to choose for themselves the courses and supervisors from an array of Chinese universities across the country. Credits earned can be mutually recognized between Chinese institutions and between Chinese and overseas institutions, forging a new model for international joint academic programs to train scholars in advanced studies in humanities and social sciences. 4). Piloting the concept of Confucius Institute Regional Center. The Headquarters this year established the first Confucius Institute Regional Center in the US as it has the largest number of Confucius Institutes. Preparations are underway for opening a Latin American Confucius Institute Regional Center in Santiago, Chile. This new initiative has the potential to deliver multiple benefits. It facilitates information sharing and resource pooling among Confucius Institutes in the same geographic region and serves as a coordinated platform for interactions with local governments and diverse sectors in the communities. It can also boost the teaching quality of Confucius Institutes. Going forward, we will re-examine our initial experiences and establish more such centers as we see fit to better serve Confucius Institutes in different geographic regions.

It has been nine years since the first Confucius Institute was founded in 2004. Now 440 Confucius Institutes and 646 Confucius Classrooms are established in 120 countries and regions throughout five continents, totaling over one thousand.  However it all started from scratch. Over the years this cause has evolved and scaled up in the number of people it touches as well in the academic quality it delivers. The worldwide desire to learn Chinese is ably served by this great endeavor. In the meantime, the friendship and mutual understanding between people in China and elsewhere are advanced. This impressive outcome would not have been possible without the hard work and perseverance of you in the audience, without the local host universities and communities where Confucius Institutes find their homes. I would like to take this opportunity to express my most sincere thanks to all of you here. May I also ask you to send my best regards to all of those you know who have supported the development of the Confucius Institute.

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