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Confucius Institutes: China’s Ambassadors to the World (Part 1)360°ANALYSIS

This is the first of a two-part interview with Professor Lai Zhijin, Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute in Leipzig. In 2009, the Confucius Institute in Leipzig was awarded the title of “World’s Most Innovative Confucius Institute” by the People’s Republic of China, and in 2011 Professor Lai was similarly given the title of “World’s Most Forward-Thinking Confucius Institute Faculty Member”.

Planning and Funding the Confucius Institute in Leipzig

CNPolitics: Professor Lai, how did you become the Director of Leipzig’s Confucius Institute?

LZ: The University of Leipzig and China’s Renmin University are partner schools.  In April of 2008, the University of Leipzig established a Confucius Institute, and under the cooperative arrangement, both the Chinese side and the foreign side sent directors to jointly supervise the Confucius Institute.  I was recommended by my school [Renmin University], and after a thorough investigation, the Hanban [The Hanban is the colloquial term for the government unit responsible for administering China’s Confucius Institutes. – Ed.] dispatched me to Leipzig.

CNPolitics: So how did the Confucius Institute in Leipzig develop the format for its operations?

LZ: The operations are co-created by the Chinese and the Germans through a process that placed both sides on equal terms and allowed for easy channels of communication and effective collaboration. This bilateral cooperation entails a foreign university and a Chinese university. In the case of Leipzig’s Confucius Institute, The University of Leipzig was the foreign university, and the domestic university, Renmin University, has always worked for the establishment of Confucius Institutes. The process was as follows: first the Hanban’s prerequisites for considering the conception of new Confucius Institutes were met; an application was submitted to the Hanban; the Hanban carried out a thorough investigation according to its criteria and was satisfied with what it saw.  The Chinese and German sides reached a bilateral agreement that each side would put forth 50% of the necessary funding, and finally, a collaborative agreement was signed at the University of Leipzig.

CNPolitics:  Would you mind going into further detail?

LZ:  Renmin University recommended an Institute Director, a Mandarin Chinese instructor, and a volunteer instructor. They were reported to the Hanban, sat an examination administered by the Hanban, and must also pass their training programmes and other thorough examinations before finally being dispatched. The University of Leipzig meanwhile was most concerned with investing in tools and apparatus, e.g. office space, office furniture and equipment, and the costs for rent, water, electricity, cleaning, postage and communications etc.

Regarding administration, both the Chinese and the Germans sent a director. Dr. Philip Clart, head of the Graduate School of East Asian Studies at The University of Leipzig and dean of Chinese Studies, was chosen as German director, while I was made Chinese director.  There is no hierarchy among the directors, as we decide jointly upon all of the Confucius Institute’s affairs.

CNPolitics: Which side is the primary source for other funds, such as expenditures for activities?

LZ: Funding for activities is primarily based upon applications for projects put forth to the Hanban; in the first year after the establishment of the Confucius Institute in Leipzig, the Hanban allocated $100,000 for initial launch funds.  At the same time, the Confucius Institute in Leipzig actively utilized local funding and opportunities.  A local Leipzig savings bank, Sparkasse, sponsored the Confucius Institute in Leipzig for 10,000 in its first year, and the Leipzig municipal government supports the Confucius Institute every year by giving up to 10,000 per annum. Furthermore, there are other cultural institutions that also donate generously in support of the Confucius Institute.

[Author’s Note: Professor Lai, together with the German Director, successfully convinced the Saxon Culture and Sports department to grant subsidies to the Confucius Institute in Leipzig to cover international traveling expenses for all the students travelling to China for “German Middle School Students’ Summer Camp”.  Over the last two years, between 66-75% of the students travelling expenses have been covered, allowing for the summer camp to develop smoothly.]

Confucius Institute Courses and Faculty

CNPolitics:  What is the Confucius Institute’s primary source of students? What academic programs have been established?

LZ: The Confucius Institute in Leipzig offers sundry Chinese language programs for primary and middle school students, for university students, for companies, and for the general public. There are two main types of courses: the first is language classes, primarily Mandarin Chinese education courses. The second is cultural classes, including painting, calligraphy, tea arts, culinary arts, and other such courses. Language courses are usually set up to meet every evening on weekdays, and on Saturday afternoons.

Furthermore, the Confucius Institute in Leipzig also collaborates with the University of Leipzig to offer a “Standard Pronunciation Class”. This class is mainly designed to correct the Chinese pronunciation of lower grade students from the Institute of Sinology.  Before school starts, the Confucius Institute also provides Chinese “review classes” for the Sinology faculty; at the same time, the Institute offers basic Chinese language classes at The University of Leipzig’s language center. All of the aforementioned courses are incorporated into the University of Leipzig’s curriculum and are credited as regular courses. All courses at the Confucius Institute in Leipzig are offered for free to students enrolled at the University of Leipzig.

CNPolitics: Could you discuss the set-up of the courses at the Confucius Institute, their expenses, and how they are sorted and evaluated?

LZ:  In 2011, the Institute offered approximately 101 courses, and the number of students attending these courses reached 1,214 – increases of 85% and 148% respectively from four years ago. The academic programs offered are as follows: experiential Mandarin Chinese classes, junior classes, intermediate classes, advanced classes, intensive classes, one-on-one Chinese language classes, heritage speaker classes, Chinese for tourism classes, and HSK prep classes. Courses are divided into three levels: junior (A), intermediate (B), and advanced (C), in order to integrate with the standard European system. Each level is divided into three subdivisions. As the level increases, the number of students decreases; currently the most advanced course offered by the Confucius Institute is at the B1 level. One semester is equivalent to 24 class hours, and one class period is 45 minutes long. For adult students not seeking a diploma, the fee for one class period is 6; middle and primary school students pay half that.

Interview conducted by Hou Haoran on behalf of CNPolitics. Translated by Dagny Dukach. Made available to Fair Observer through the generosity of our partner site Dongxi.

The views expressed in this interview are the interviewee's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer's editorial policy.