Confucius Institutes: China’s Ambassadors to the World (Part 2)

The second part of an interview with Professor Lai Zhijin, the Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute in Leipzig. This segment of the interview concerns Confucius Institute instructors and events, plus the future of the Institutes particularly in Germany.

Confucius Institute Courses and Faculty (cont.)

CNPolitics: How are the best instructors selected and sent to the Confucius Institute?

LZ:  Chinese language teachers and volunteer teachers are selected by Renmin University and presented to the Hanban to be approved after thorough investigation. Volunteers are usually selected from graduate students in the German Department of Renmin University’s Foreign Language Institute, as well as from graduate students studying for a master’s degree in Chinese language education at the international campus in Suzhou. Volunteer teachers are dispatched for periods of one year, with wages provided by the Hanban, while the Confucius Institute covers medical insurance and rent. All Chinese language teachers and volunteer teachers are required to go through a teaching examination at the Confucius Institute headquarters, and only those who meet the required standards after training can be dispatched. 

Associate Professor Gao Yongan currently teaches at the Confucius Institute in Leipzig; he has already been teaching at the Confucius Institute for two years as an associate professor at Renmin University’s College of Liberal Arts. The Confucius Institute currently has three volunteer teachers: Yi Renzhao and Jin Yufei, both of whom are master’s degree students at Renmin Univeristy’s German Department, and Gao Chunxu, a master’s degree graduate from Henan University. 

CNPolitics:  What requirements does the Confucius Institute have with respect to instructor skills and qualifications?

LZ:  Of course, if the instructors have additional qualifications, beyond skills in language education, then all the better – the more they can do the better in helping to spread traditional Chinese culture! With that in mind, the Hanban is currently promoting the establishment of overseas Confucius Institutes with special characteristics including martial arts classes, tea arts classes, culinary arts classes, and calligraphy classes. The faculty at the Confucius Institute in London now has a doctor trained in traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional painting and calligraphy, folk musical theater, martial arts, traditional medicine, and even tea and culinary arts are all aspects of Chinese culture that attract foreigners to the study of Chinese culture.         

CNPolitics:  In addition to providing Chinese language education, what cultural activities are conducted by the Confucius Institute?

LZ:  The cultural activities organized by the Confucius Institute are manifold.  The Chinese New Year Party, Lantern Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, and other festivals are some of the activities conducted every year by the Confucius Institute in Leipzig to spread traditional Chinese culture.  In addition, the Confucius Institute also holds all sorts of cultural festivals, performances, touring exhibitions, lecture series, seminars, and competitions. 

The Confucius Institute in Leipzig especially emphasizes utilizing the resources of the University of Leipzig, the surrounding community, and local cultural organizations, in order to jointly conduct large-scale cultural activities.  For example, the Confucius Institute in Leipzig is currently hosting an exhibition of ancient Chinese money comprised entirely of pieces from the University of Leipzig library. In 2010, from May through November, the Confucius Institute in Leipzig held an exhibition entitled “Looking Towards China: The History of Qingdao Through Photographs”.  The photographs in this exhibition were all taken between 1907 and 1909 by the grandfather of German, director Professor Ke Ruopiao, during his military service in Qingdao, China. These photographs display with great clarity the local conditions and customs of the final years of the Qing dynasty in Jiaodong Bay and the Qingdao region, allowing the people of Leipzig to come one step closer to an understanding of the social situation in China from over 100 years ago.

In addition, the Confucius Institute often invites scholars of Chinese issues to hold pertinent lecture series; some senior Sinologists emphasize theoretical research in Chinese issues while younger Chinese scholars stress research in current hot topics in China. The Confucius Institute in Leipzig has established extremely close cooperative relations between the University of Leipzig and Renmin University’s colleges of liberal arts and of philosophy to create an international forum for discussion. For example, poet Wang Jiaxin, a professor at Renmin University’s College of Liberal Arts, and Gu Bin, a professor of classical Chinese at the University of Bonn, were recently invited to participate in a read-aloud of Wang’s poetry held by the Confucius Institute. On the whole, seats fill up fastest for lectures pertaining to Sino-German relations, qigong breathing exercises, traditional medicine, economic relations, and political issues.

Future Plans for the Confucius Institute and its Place in German Life

CNPolitics:  Why do Germans study Mandarin Chinese?

LZ:  There are three main reasons: work needs, cultural needs, and a particular affinity for Mandarin Chinese. Mandarin Chinese is necessary at work for people such as German expatriates in China, owners of Chinese medicine shops or Chinese restaurants, employees at multinational banks, diplomats stationed at Chinese embassies, etc. Cultural needs stem mainly from and interest in or love for Chinese culture; people like these are increasing in number year after year. The third type is comprised of old East Germans who are particularly moved by Chinese socialism and hope to gain a real understanding of China, not the China reflected in contemporary German media.

CNPolitics:  Could you describe the influence and effect of the Confucius Institute on the surrounding community and the development of Confucius Institutes in Germany?

LZ:  The Confucius Institute in Leipzig occupies a fairly important place in culture and life in Leipzig; you could say it has penetrated the very soil of Leipzig’s culture. For example, because this year is the year of the dragon, the Leipzig municipal government invested 300,000 so that the Confucius Institute, along with other Sino-German cultural organizations, could jointly hold a series of large-scale activities for “Chinese Culture Year”. Furthermore, groups from Leipzig’s sister city Nanjing, including the Nanjing Red Flowers Art Troupe and some Nanjing craftsmen, were invited to Leipzig to perform and present their crafts.

There are currently 12 Confucius Institutes across Germany, and three Confucius Classrooms. The first Confucius Classroom established by the Confucius Institute in Leipzig was the Saarland Foreign Language School Confucius Classroom, officially inaugurated on November 8th, 2011. Students in grades 7 to 9 at this school are required to study three languages, with Mandarin Chinese a prerequisite, illustrating the progressive rise of the international status of China and Chinese. Studying Mandarin Chinese is one of the greatest trends of the future.

CNPolitics:  What is the direction of the Confucius Institute’s future development?

LZ:  In the future, the Confucius Institute aims to gradually establish a local center for the training of Mandarin Chinese teachers, an HSK [Abbreviation for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, a standardized test of Mandarin Chinese ability.– Ed.] testing center, and a center for the research of Chinese issues. Training local Mandarin Chinese teachers is currently the Confucius Institute’s top priority; the incorporation of Mandarin Chinese into the syllabus of middle school language education, so that it might become a required course, is the long-term goal towards which we are striving at the Confucius Institute. We are currently actively carrying out the Hanban’s “New Chinese Study and Research Plan” by providing scholarships to ambitious young German scholars of Mandarin Chinese so that they might be able to pursue their studies in China, and by fostering great numbers of local German Mandarin Chinese teachers and scholars of Chinese.

CNPolitics:  What is the legal status of the Confucius Institute in Leipzig?

LZ:  Almost all Confucius Institutes are legally registered as charities, and financially the institute has its own independent account.

CNPolitics:  According to your experience, what qualifications and skills are required in order to serve as the director of the Confucius Institute in Leipzig?

LZ:  There are three basic qualifications: level of German language ability, abundant experience with educational administration, and intercultural abilities. The bilateral Chinese-German administration must establish a foundation of mutual trust; without trust there can be no cooperation, and so it is the most basic prerequisite of bilateral cooperation. Next, there must be a deep understanding of both Chinese and German culture, as well as outstanding communication skills, the most important aspect of which is German language ability, since you will often need to personally communicate and negotiate with Germans, and if your language ability is insufficient, you will not be able to communicate with your counterparts. Finally, you must have strong operational and administrative skills; at the Confucius Institute in Leipzig we have implemented an international, multicultural administrative method, so that when handling work in foreign affairs, we can adhere to German modes of thinking.

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 Obsever's editorial policy.

Image: Copyright © Shutterstock. All rights reserved.

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