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

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,

This year marks the 35th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up. 35 years ago, China made a historic choice. Since then, a land of ancient heritage has been reinvigorated, and a country home to 1/5 of the world’s population integrated into the community of nations. China’s economy has expanded 142 times in last 35 years, per capita income in urban and rural areas up 71 and 59 times respectively. Recently, at the 3rd Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, comprehensive review was conducted to take stock of the experience and achievements since the beginning of the reform and top level designs and systematic deployments were formulated to deepen the reform in new historical circumstances. The renewed agenda covers economic, political, cultural, societal, ecological and other spheres. Close to 300 major reform measures are specified in 60 chapters in 16 categories. It is unprecedented in its scope and resolve. The guiding objective of this round of reform is to develop and improve the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, and modernize China’s governance system and capability. The centerpiece is the deepening of the market economic system reform to properly address the relationship between the government and the market with the market playing the decisive role in resource allocation and the government better fulfilling its due roles. We will accelerate the socialist market economy, advance political democracy, promote nourishing cultures, foster social harmony and build ecological civilization so that all people will benefit from development inclusively in a greater and more equitable way.

Promoting China’s people-to-people exchanges with the world is an important dimension in the overall reform agenda. China will further open up culturally to present its culture to the global arena. China is also eager to learn from other countries and hope to bring in talented people, technologies and management expertise for the benefit of cultural development. We will encourage social organizations, Chinese companies and other organizations to take part in the development of Confucius Institutes and people-to-people exchanges. The high level commitment and full support of the Chinese government is bound to create new impetus for Confucius Institutes.

At the moment, the people of China are rallying around the Chinese Dream, a vision for the full achievement of a well-off society and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. President Xi Jinping laid out that Chinese Dream is a dream for better education, job security, higher income, dependable social securities, better health care, decent housing and a sound ecosystem. The pursuit of a happy life is an aspiration shared by people across China and beyond. An ancient Chinese axiom “all living creatures grow together without harming one another; all ways run parallel without interfering with one another” captures aptly this common desire. In today’s global village, countries in the world are so closely knit that they have become entities of shared interests and even shared destiny. The realization of the Chinese Dream will bring about not just wellbeing for the people in China, but also greater opportunities for world prosperity and win-win cooperation. The people of China hope to achieve their Chinese Dream while joining hands with people around the world to achieve the world dream of global peace and prosperity.

The Confucius Institute as an effective vehicle for cultural exchanges and an important platform for reinforcing international friendships is where the Chinese Dream, the dreams of all countries and the world dream come to converge. On May 30, President Xi Jinping wrote a congratulatory letter for the establishment of Confucius Institute at the University of California Davis in the US. President Xi stated that learning languages and cultures enhances mutual understanding and friendship and contributes to state relations. He urged the involved parties to engage in close cooperation to make the Confucius Institute a successful endeavor to add to education exchanges and bilateral relationship between the two countries. President Xi’s words are more than kind wishes intended for the Confucius Institute at UC Davis alone. They should also resonate with all Institutes as encouragement and expectations. The government and people of China will continue the unwavering support to Confucius Institutes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,

Before the conference was opened, the Council of Confucius Institute Headquarters had a very productive two hour meeting. Chinese and international members of the Council commended the work in the past year and the plan for next year. They also unanimously approved the theme for this year’s conference and the topics for the concurrent sessions. They hold the view that this year’s conference is different from the previous ones in that it highlights successful case studies and experience sharing with a sharp focus on teaching quality. I believe the conference will be a resounding success with your participation, serving as an important milestone as Confucius Institutes embrace a new era of development. Next I would like to make a few observations regarding the year in front of us:

1. Strengthen Chinese language teaching and enlarge coverage. The mission of Confucius Institutes is first and foremost to meet the needs of foreigners interested in learning Chinese language. The scope of Chinese language teaching must be scaled up with attention to quality assurance. Special effort must be made to train and develop head teachers. Support needs to be given to more foreign universities so that they can launch new academic majors to recruit local students as future Chinese language teachers. Production of effective teaching materials needs to step up, and great support should be given to Confucius Institutes to develop their own localized textbooks that are informative, engaging and adaptable. Modern information technologies such as web based techniques and digital media must be leveraged to lead the way in innovative teaching methodologies. In the last two years, MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) has become a global trend. Many education specialists believe we are in for a revolution as it has the potential to make premium education resources universally accessible, multiply the output of teaching faculty and engage the interest of learners. Confucius Institutes must seize the opportunity presented by MOOC as a way to deliver higher quality and more accessible Chinese language teaching to a wider range of potential learners.

2.Strive for greater sophistication in people-to-people exchanges. As China becomes increasingly visible on the international scene, there is growing desire throughout the world to see China in an authentic and unbiased way. The Confucius Institute as the platform of diverse cultural exchanges has unique advantages in presenting China as what it really is. Confucius China Studies Program will continue to run to recruit young scholars to come to China to study towards doctorial degrees in social sciences and humanities. “Understanding China” Fellowship and “Young Leaders” Fellowship will be offered to fund research and study tours to China. Support will be given to Confucius Institutes and their host universities to encourage the translation and publication of works on Chinese culture, and to a number of research oriented Confucius Institutes to engage in academically rigorous Chinese studies. Confucius Institutes are also expected to facilitate the transfer of cultural achievements from foreign countries to China and recommend talents, technologies and management expertise for China to consider and adopt as part of two way exchange to promote the cultural inclusiveness and diversity.

I want to share a story with you. In April last year, I attended the unveiling ceremony of the Confucius Institute at the University of Ulster in the UK.

The Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Jonathan Bell made a request. His wife’s great grandfather Joseph Hunter came to Yingkou, China with his wife in the spring of 1869. Mrs. Hunter died from a disease the next year. But Mr. Hunter continued to practice and teach medicine in northeastern China for as long as 15 years before he passed away in Shanghai. Mr. Bell wondered whether China could assist him in the search of the records of Mr. Hunter’s life and work in China and the location of Mrs. Hunter’s burial place. I instructed Hanban to follow up on his request. Hanban worked together with Shenyang Normal University and Dalian University of Foreign Languages for this assignment. It took a dedicated search team more than six months to find the location of Mr. Hunter’s clinic and residence in Yingkou. But unfortunately the tomb of Mrs. Hunter has not been located yet. Mr. Bell as a Chairman of the Board of the Confucius Institute at the University of Ulster is here at this conference. What this story shows is that Confucius Institutes and the exchanges they have made indeed can create miracles where strangers are connected and hearts are joined.