Crashing the “Chinese Wave”? Interview with Hanban Head

The following story was originally published in a Singapore paper, but it’s still nice to read it in the Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times, as it plays to the best sense of that publication’s kind of cultivated apprehension to what outsiders think of China and the impact of China’s global “soft power.”  Call the paper’s sometime approach “nuanced paranoia,” if you will, or just be amused at how, after all the hype, the Chinese still lag behind the French in the number of overseas offices they have for education in what is allegedly the new lingua franca.  But, rather than overanalyze the article before you read it (much less promote my own Chinese Studies Program, or connect the article somehow to the decline of foreign language education in Cleveland public schools as a motivating factor in NBA star LeBron James’ decision to relocate to Miami), I’ll just unfurl the piece directly:

新加坡《联合早报》7月11日文章,原题:全球学汉语热潮难挡 [Singapore “United Morning Post’s” July 11 article On the Difficulties of the Global Excitement/Trend Toward Mandarin Study”]  carried here on Huanqiu Shibao, July 12, 2010 [translated by Adam Cathcart]:

中国国家汉语国际推广领导小组办公室(简称汉办)过去五年在90多个国家和地区与大学和中学合作,设立了300多所孔子学院和300多个孔子课堂。这个数字每天都在增加。 汉办以15万元美元启动一所孔子学院,中外双方每年再以一比一的比例配套支持。中国政府今年向汉办拨款8亿元,供其发展分布地世界各地的孔子学院。 日前,来自亚洲10个国家和地区的49所孔子学院代表和中国九所大学校长参加了在新加坡举办的第二届亚洲地区孔子学院联度会议。出席会议的中国国务院参事、汉办主任许琳在接受本报专访说:“China’s National Office for the International Expansion of Mandarin (simply known as “Hanban” [ed.: or Confucius Institutes; organization website here in Chinese, here in English]) has, in the last five years, set up cooperation with more than ninety countries/areas, universities and high schools, resulting in the establishment of more than 300 Confucius Institutes and more than 300 Confucius Classrooms.  These numbers rise daily.  The Hanban has launched more than $1.5 million USD at Confucius Institutes and both Chinese and foreign partners are giving more comprehensive support to the effort every year.   This year the Chinese government allocated more than 8 million yuan to be used for the development and global spread of Confucius Institutes to all areas.  A few days ago,  representatives for 49 Confucius Insitute offices from ten countries/areas in Asia participated in the Second Confucius Institute Conference for Asian Countries in Singapore which also included the heads of nine offices in China.  Participating in the meeting was the head of Hanban and State Council member Xu Lin [许琳, of whom photos are available here (she’s the one in the dress, with the long title)], who spoke to reporters of the United Morning Post, saying:

“孔子学院的庞大经费常遭中国人民批评,认为本国还有很多贫困人民,为何资助外国人学汉语?中国人学英语,也没获得资助。我必须不断解释:中国已进入世界大家庭,必须让世界人民认识和了解中国。设立孔子学院就为这个目的。”  “The immense expenditures of the Confucius Institutes are frequently brought into debate by the Chinese people, who recognize that our country still has many poor people, and so why should we use funds to support Chinese language education in foreign countries?  Chinese people study English, but they don’t get financial support do so.  I really have to continuously explain: China has already entered the global family of nations, and we must let the people of the world recognize and understand China.  This is the true goal of the establishment of the Confucius Institutes.” 
全世界人民学汉语的热潮已成了再也挡不住的势头。五年前,美国只有200所学校教汉语,现在已是当时的10倍,达2000所。许琳说她每天接到最少40通来自世界各大学的电邮,要求和汉办合作设立孔子学院,或要求加派汉语教师,或资助扩充教学大楼等。因为供不应求,汉办目前最大的困难是缺乏足够数量的教师。The fever for studying Mandarin among all the peoples of the world has an unstoppable momentum.  Five years ago, the United States had 200 schools teaching Mandarin, a figure which today has been increased by a factor of ten, to 2000.  Xu Lin staid that every day, she receives communication from more than 40 universities around the world, each of them asking to set up a Confucius Institute, but also needing teachers of Chinese.  Because of the lack of funding support for the expansion of the number of those teachers — and the lack of those teachers more generally — the Hanban can provide no help for these requests, and now has a huge difficulty.     

许琳说:“派出去的每名汉语教师必须通晓当地语言,要满足这个条件实在不容易。例如泰国有50万名中小学生学汉语,汉办在泰国设了12所孔子学院,每年需要提供1000名懂泰语的汉语教师。你说这有多困难?” Xu Lin said: “To send Mandarin teachers to every place means they need to be proficient in the local dialect, so to have sufficient conditions to do this is not easy.  Take Thailand, for example: 500,000 elementary or middle school students are studying Mandarin, and our Hanban has 12 Confucius Institutes there, meaning that every year we need to find 1000 teachers of Chinese who understand the Thai language.  Don’t you think that is very difficult?”
“阿根廷布宜诺斯艾利斯大学 [ed.: Now that’s an eyeful which makes me suddenly appreciative of Hangul’s simplicity] 培养了六位诺贝尔奖教授,是一所顶级大学。本以为开设的孔子学院能有50名学生来读就好,不料却有2000多人报名。可是我们懂西班牙语的教师很少,只得赶紧派了七八十名年轻人去智利、阿根廷、秘鲁、哥伦比亚、西班牙学西班牙语,学一年就去当地的孔子学院教书了。”  “At Argentinia’s Buenos Aires University, we are training six Nobel professors [?] at a top university.  At this place, having fifty students able to read is pretty good, but now we have reports of 2000.  It could be that Mandarin teachers who are fluent in Spanish are too few, and that we will have to urgently send 70 or 80 young people to train in Spanish in Argentinia, Peru [ed.: Where the Chinese Embassy’s homepage is a flaming pink], Columbia, Chile, and Spain to train, where, after a year, they could teach Chinese locally.”

谈到在世界设立孔子学院的数量目标时,她说:“法国政府推广法语的机构——法语联盟(Alliance Francaise)在世界设有1300个点。我的梦想是世界各地的孔子学院数量能在未来10年赶上法语联盟。” 许琳赞扬新加坡南洋理工大学的孔子学院,认为它在“中西合璧、包容兼收”的办学环境和积极开展汉语和中华文化教学方面,取得了令人瞩目的成绩,值得亚洲其他国家的孔子学院借鉴。 Speaking about the statistical goals for the number of Confucius Institutes which she would like to establish globally, Xu said: “Let’s look at the French government organization for the expansion of French language: the Alliance Francaise. [ed.: Full disclosure: I am a member of the FA Cell, which I shall henceforth only call “the Resistance,” in Seattle, the better thereby to understand the workings of “Beaver“, and am also tangentially involved in matters surrounding the attraction of Confucius Institutes to China-friendly Washington State.  And yes! though a (self-proclaimed) Sinophile, I can still relish the foregoing and very interesting fact about the Alliance Francaise, which has a killer, killer library in Beijing.  Ahem!  After that rude interruption, on with Xu’s quote:]  The Alliance Francaise has 1300 offices globally.  My dream for the future, for the next ten years, is to reach the same level as the Alliance Francaise.”  Xu  praised the Confucius Institute at Singapore Engineering University for its environment, described as a suprising achievement marked by a “harmonious match of China and the West and its tolerance for joint faculty appointments” which werre continuing to result in the development of Chinese language and teaching of Chinese culture,  making its experience a good example for other Asian countries setting up Confucius Institutes.


    1. Thank you, Charles. (Not sure why your comment got caught in the moderation queue, hope to see you back on the boards again.) Got to love the attention to Ph.D.s and Nobel prizes when the winners aren’t objectionable!

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