Egyptian students practice Chinese calligraphy in a class run by Cairo's Chinese Culture Center. Photos by Wen Yi / China Daily
Tai chi students from the Mauritius Chinese Culture Center demonstrate the ancient practice for local onlookers.
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Chinese culture centers are enabling people overseas to meet China without leaving their homelands. Wen Yi and Chen Xiaorong report.
People from several countries who want to experience China but can't visit need not worry. China can come to them.
Residents of Mauritius, Benin, Cairo, Paris, Malta, Seoul, Berlin, Tokyo and Ulaanbaatar can engage Chinese culture and meet Chinese people in their homelands at these Chinese culture clubs.
This impact could be seen at a recent demonstration by more than 100 tai chi students from the Mauritius Chinese Culture Center at Lady S. Ramgoolam State Secondary School in Mauritius' Port Louis.
The students displayed various forms of tai chi, clad in colorful traditional attire, to Chinese music for local crowds. Some wielded swords. Others were barehanded.
Indian Mauritian Yeshda Vjoodh, who teaches French and sociology at the secondary school, has been practicing tai chi in the center for 10 years.
"I'm very attracted by the movements' beauty," the 45-year-old says.
"It's very good for my body, too. That's why I like tai chi. Even though my (skill) level is low, I feel very connected to the universe. I feel very relaxed and happy."
Chinese Mauritian Liu Suying has attended the class twice a week for five years.
"Tai chi makes me feel good, gives peace to my mind and helps me connect with nature," Liu says. "Now I appreciate more things around me."
This year, she hired a manager to run her restaurant, so she has more time for tai chi and social work. "I'm taking time to do things I like," she says.
Coach Zhang Jianyong, who graduated from Beijing Sport University, says one reason tai chi is good for local people is that the country produces vast amounts of sugarcane.
"People love eating sugar," Zhang says.
"Diabetes and cardiovascular disease are common. So, we promote tai chi to fight these diseases."
Zhang has taught at the center for three years.
"I speak French to create a friendly atmosphere for the students since they speak French," Zhang says. "And there aren't many sports fields for exercise. I trained more than 10 students to teach others for free in parks. Propagating Chinese culture through 10 people is more effective than through only one."
Chairman of the Mauritius Museums Board Gorah Beebeejaun says no Mauritians talked about tai chi years ago, but more know about it now because of the center's work. Local doctors have begun suggesting it.
The center had 1,529 registered students in 2011. It plans to add thousands.
But tai chi isn't the only way Chinese culture is expanding in Mauritius.
Chinese Ambassador to Mauritius Bian Yanhua says: "There isn't much to do in Mauritius at night. So, most families stay home and watch TV. The Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation is very willing to screen Chinese TV programs. So the center is cooperating by providing popular Chinese TV series."
Director General of MBC Dan Callikan says Chinese TV series with English and French subtitles are the third most popular after Indian and Brazilian programs.
Berlin's Chinese Culture Center's students come from all walks of life and are ages 17-70. Many have begun to engage Chinese culture outside the center.
Lars Skotnica, a 29-year-old service trainee at Air Berlin who has attended class twice a week for five months and has started using the Chinese online chat tool QQ, frequently eats at Chinese restaurants and buys Chinese goods.
"The teacher is doing a great job," Skotnica says. "She takes good care of our pronunciation and introduces us to Chinese culture when we don't understand the meanings behind the words."
Teacher Yin Meng explains certain methods are needed to teach Germans.
"I need to understand how they think to teach them," Yin says.
"Germans are renowned for precision. So, they keep asking questions. I need to explain details to help them adapt to a brand new language."
Yin also says it's important to use methods that encourage and inspire interest among the students. "It's very necessary to make class pleasant, since most students are tired after working or studying all day before coming here."
But the center does more than hold classes.
Skotnica also attends its cultural events, such as the monthly Chinese movie screenings with German or English subtitles.
"It helps me get a feel for the language," he says.
"And the movies show us Chinese culture. You see how Chinese people live, what they are thinking and how they act differently in the same situations. I can communicate with Chinese here."
Esther Keller, deputy director of the Berlin city government's foreign affairs office, which partners with the center, says: "People participating in the exhibitions are from all walks of life (with backgrounds in fields), such as science, economics and politics. The Berlin center is a very crucial cultural exchange organization that strengthens exchanges between China and Germany."
Cairo's center has an extensive library, which offers another window into China. It contains more than 12,000 books in Chinese, English and Arabic.
The center's executive director Liu Shiping says the library holds nearly all the Arabic books published in China.
Mohsen Ferganim is a lecturer at Ain-Shams University, the first university to teach Chinese in Cairo. He's also a regular library visitor. He has translated several Chinese classics, including The Analects of Confucius, and is now pursuing his doctorate.
"People working on translation need a lot of material," he says.
"Although our university has a big library, the books there can't fulfill our needs. So, I usually come here to read the reference books or to see if there are some new books or magazines."
Cairo's center also includes an elaborate Culture Hut equipped with such educational facilities as maps of China, photos of Chinese celebrities, books about China's landscapes, models of the Great Wall and the country's ethnic groups' attire.
Liu Shiping says: "Although we had exchanges with Egypt 1,000 years ago through the Silk Road, perhaps due to linguistic and religious reasons, the influence of Chinese culture in Egypt is less than that of Europe, the United States or the rest of Asia. So, the work we need to do here is more extensive than the work in English- or French-speaking countries."
The Ministry of Culture estimates there will be more than 50 Chinese culture centers in the world by 2020.
This will provide more opportunities for people like Skotnica, who considers the center his "second home".
"Here, you can learn Chinese and see nice exhibitions, listen to concerts and watch movies. Of course, it's not (really) China, but it gives you a feeling of China."
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