UNH and Chengdu University celebrate partnership on Confucius Institute
Cameras snapped all week and with good reason—the Chinese performers, all six of them, were amazing. And they were real troupers. Landing in Boston on Sunday night, October 24, at 9 p.m., they performed the next day at 9:45 a.m. in Manchester at Central High School.
“They rocked the house,” says Yige Wang, UNH codirector of the UNH Confucius Institute (CI-UNH). “Afterwards, children crowded the stage to have their pictures taken with the performers. So many students wanted to go, but the auditorium only held a thousand.”
Then the show traveled to Nashua High School for another jam-packed performance of Chinese folk dances, martial arts, music, and magic. On Tuesday, they performed at the ribbon-cutting ceremony held in the Memorial Union Building, and on Wednesday night, they graced the stage at the Music Hall in Portsmouth.
And so, with great pomp and circumstance, the University launched, with Chinese officials and partners from Chengdu University, the state’s only Confucius Institute. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, there were remarks by UNH President Mark W. Huddleston, Chinese government attaché JianJun Cen, and Chengdu University President Zhou Jiliu. Fourteen deans from Chengdu University were also in attendance along with the two codirectors of CI-UNH. Nearly 70 fine and traditional works, mostly from Chengdu, a city of 14 million located in Sichuan Province, were exhibited throughout the week at the University's Museum of Art. These events gave many in New Hampshire their first direct experience of Chinese culture.
What is a Confucius Institute?
It is an educational, nonprofit partnership between a host country and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). Begun in 2004 to promote the study of Chinese language and culture around the world, Confucius Institutes are named after China’s ancient and revered philosopher. They are financed by the Chinese government and each institute is a bit different. Usually, the host institute provides accommodations for visiting faculty members; the PRC finances all other remaining costs; and each institute has codirectors.
Worldwide there are more than 400 Confucius Institutes; in the U.S. there are about 70. The first was founded in 2004 at the University of Maryland. In New England, there are institutes at the University of Massachusetts in Boston (2006) and the University of Rhode Island (2007). Each has its own academic partner institution in China. In short, Confucius Institutes have become the way to learn about China.
After two years of exploration, negotiation, and visits, the University forged an agreement to house a Confucius Institute in partnership with Chengdu University.
With the addition of two visiting scholars from China, CI-UNH is now able to provide students here with a complete curriculum in Chinese. Also, the institute will work with K-12 schools throughout the state as well as with other schools in the University system to help them establish Chinese language programs. Through distance learning, Chinese language classes may also be offered in the North Country and to other interested schools. The institute will serve as a clearinghouse for cultural exchange opportunities for northern New England.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Abby Pavlik, a linguistics major, spoke about the increased academic offerings in Chinese and then asked the audience rhetorically: “All of this sounds great, but the question lingers—what’s the benefit?”
She answered her own question: “…my own goal is to teach English as a second language and reach out to people of different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Many American teachers of English can’t speak with their students in their students’ native tongues. I hope to do that with native speakers of Spanish and Chinese. Other students have a diversity of interests such as business, translation, or philanthropy, to name a few.“
The impact of this Confucius Institute is immediate. As Huddleston emphasized in his remarks: China is New Hampshire’s third largest trading partner. The institute can provide the state with new opportunities for business and industry.
The state’s exports to China include high-tech equipment, computer software, medical equipment, and timber. New Hampshire also imports from China. With better communication, these trading relations can be enhanced.
Before CI-UNH, codirector Wang taught just two courses in Chinese—elementary and intermediate. With the addition of two visiting scholars and increased offerings—business conversational, Chinese literature, and Chinese culture and society—enrollment in Chinese courses has doubled. Now, three courses in elementary Chinese are offered.
“Chinese is a difficult language to learn,” concedes Wang. “Speaking Chinese is easier than reading or writing it. Still we have about 10 students enrolled in the advanced class.” Wang whose native language is Mandarin also speaks a dozen Chinese dialects. Wang has earned master’s degrees from UNH in linguistics and English and is very familiar with Sichuan Province and the region. He’s published a photographic guide, The Road to Tibet.
Already, seven New Hampshire school districts have contacted Wang about hosting a resident teacher from China. “The teachers come through CI-UNH,” says Wang, “and they will rotate about every two to three years. So, the program continues.”
A rapidly changing world
In 1996, about 1,400 American students studied in China. In 2008, that number grew to 13,000.
Likewise, more Chinese undergraduate students are studying in the U.S., more than 26,000 in 2008-9, up from about 8,000 just eight years earlier according to the Institute of Higher Education.
Chris Reardon, associate professor of political science and Asian studies coordinator, notes that it has become “much easier” to study abroad. “Now students have the Internet and can call home whenever they want to rather than having to sign up a week in advance to make an international call as I did in the 1980s,” says Reardon.
The world at UNH is suddenly both bigger and smaller. As audiences at these ceremonies enjoyed magician Yang Li’s interpretation of Michael Jackson, so too they enjoyed the UNH Chamber Singers’ rendition of two Chinese folk songs.
‹‹ back to top