Columbia opens Confucius Institute

Updated: 2013-04-10 10:58

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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More than a century of relations between Columbia University and China were highlighted in a ceremony inaugurating the opening of the Confucius Institute at the New York school.

Columbia's ties with China began in the 1870s, and some of the first Chinese students to study in the US were at the Ivy League school, Lee Bollinger, president of the university, said yesterday in remarks at the ceremony.

"The Confucius Institute will help further expand Columbia's scholarly engagement with China," Bollinger said at the event in the Faculty Room at Columbia's Low Memorial Library, which has a gallery of ancient Chinese artifacts spanning six dynasties.

Beijing-based Renmin University of China will collaborate with Columbia on the institute's programs. The two universities first formed an academic partnership in 2008.

"It will be a research-oriented partnership, which aims to advance our understanding concerning teaching Chinese as a second language and also Chinese culture in modern China," Bollinger said.

The ceremony included remarks by Xu Lin, director-general of Hanban and chief executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters; Chen Yulu, president of Renmin University; Dong Xiaojun, acting consul general of China in New York; and Robert Hymes, chair of Columbia's Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.

"This inauguration comes after some delay on our side, the Columbia side, in which time was taken to identify and properly renovate the new Confucius Institute space," Hymes said. "We're happy and relieved to at last honor our patrons, partners and collaborators in a proper way."

Columbia maintains partnerships with the Chinese academic community covering a wide range of disciplines, including medicine, public health, music, education, law and business.

"This is my dream to stand here," Xu, the director-general of Hanban, said in her remarks. "Because I never had a chance to study here, I work hard to help the next generation in China to have the chance to study here."

Hanban began discussions to establish a Confucius Institute at Columbia in 2008. In 2010, Hanban pledged Columbia $1 million to be distributed to the institute over five years to fund its research projects and Chinese culture events.

"People ask me, why Columbia?" Xu said. "Because Columbia has a very strong Chinese department and a strong program for teaching Chinese."

The nonprofit public Confucius Institute program was started by the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (Hanban) in 2004 to promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries. There are 92 university-level Confucius Institutes in the US, with 318 Confucius classrooms mainly in public schools.

Renmin University President Chen said his school is a well-matched partner for Columbia because Renmin ranks first in nine academic fields from among all universities in China, including economics, law, journalism and political science.

Following the unveiling of a plaque for the Confucius Institute, Xu and Chen presented Bollinger with several gifts, including a book, a tie, artwork on a scroll and a crystal-plate emblem.

"Okay, no more gifts," the president joked after receiving about the sixth one.

When the ceremony ended, Columbia hosted a dialogue on Sino-American academic collaborations, in which professors from Renmin and Columbia universities gave their perspectives on where US-China partnerships are most necessary.

"We have the greatest assembly of [Chinese] faculty and students, the greatest [East Asian] library, the greatest resources," Bollinger said. "We have the capacity to do more and more work, whether it's on Chinese culture, Chinese language, environmental issues that we all bear, issues of water and education - all the things that we face in the world."