by Yang Qingchuan
WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 (Xinhua) -- 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
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
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
"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
"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
Before the 1970s, Chinese language education in the
United States were confined to Chinatowns and Chinese communities across the
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. (Xinhua/Fan
To help kids living in remote mountain areas to learn
Chinese, the Confucius Institute at the University of Kansas established a
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.