Mandarin's moment

Updated: 2014-11-28 11:48

By William Hennelly(China Daily USA)

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Confucius Classrooms

Also helping meet the demand for Chinese instruction is the Beijing-based Hanban, part of China's Ministry of Education. In the US, Hanban operates Confucius Institutes on 97 college campuses and runs 357 Confucius Classrooms in the K-12 category. Worldwide, those numbers are 443 and 648, respectively, according to Hanban's website.

"Schools are interested in offering Chinese because they do see some financial incentives from the Chinese government, funding Confucius Classrooms at the K-12 level," Abbott of ACTFL said.

Hanban's stated goals are: to make policies and development plans for promoting the Chinese language internationally; to support Chinese language programs at educational institutions of various types and levels in other countries; and to draft international Chinese teaching standards and develop and promote Chinese language teaching materials."

The US has the most Confucius programs by far. Those programs have run into some controversy in North America. Penn State University and the University of Chicago have dropped Confucius Institutes from their campuses, citing issues of academic freedom.

Wang looks at those situations more as "incidents of cultural communications breakdown" rather than rejection of the programs.

"The Chinese come in with their view of how things should be done, and not being familiar with how Americans do things, and vice-versa," she said. "I have visited numerous Confucius Institutes. Every Confucius Institute is different depending on what activities they propose to Hanban."

"Let it be fact-based," said Jeff Wang, on the disagreement between some Confucius Institutes and their hosts in the US. "If there are clauses in the agreement points in the arrangement of the collaboration that are inconsistent with the values and integrity of those institutions in the US, then they shouldbe reviewed and negotiated until satisfactory.Bring them out and you can negotiate that away."

"What I think is most important is engagement," he said. "By having a Chinese institution have a presence on an American campus, we should have confidence in the intelligence and critical thinking and skills of the American public, whether it's students or faculty of these truly great institutions. They're not easily persuaded one way or the other.

"Great institutions should be able to manage that influence much better than losing that benefit altogether. They're [the personnel coming from China to work with Confucius Institutes] also being influenced by Americans."

Wang said the value of the engagement outweighs the negatives that can arise between two different cultures.

Lui Huiquan contributed to this story.

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